Reviewed: July 3, 2003
Released: May 20, 2003
As the resident sports reviewer I get to review pretty much every sports title that comes into the GCM office…including the stinkers. Unfortunately, and most surprising to me and everyone who played this game with me, Microsoft’s Inside Pitch 2003 has got to be one of the worst baseball games I have played in all my years of sports gaming and easily wins the award for the worst baseball game on the Xbox.
Perhaps what disappoints me so much is that I love Microsoft’s football and basketball sports games and I was expecting the same level of quality from their long awaited baseball game. The more I play this game the more I realize it was built upon a flawed foundation and that there is nothing the designers could have done to save this title except to scrap everything and return to the drawing board.
I’ve played some stinkers in the past, even as recently as 3D0’s High Heat 2004, but this one pales in comparison to any of those previous travesties. I’ll keep this review brief and factual so you can be on your way to read another review and not to the store to pick this game up.
The problems begin the moment you start to play Inside Pitch. Batting and pitching are intuitive enough and are based on traditional standards set forth by just about every other baseball game you may have played. I was frustrated that the designers chose to use the black button for power swings while the B and X buttons are left totally open and useless. Last time I checked the black button was far from convenient, even on the new S-Controller.
Pitching consists of picking one of four pitches (out of nine total) and throwing into the portion of the tic-tac-toe style strike zone while batting is reduced to your batter attempting to guess the type and location of said pitch and having the swing connect with the ball. The timing seemed way off in this game and I often felt I was swinging the bat a millisecond after the ball left the pitcher’s hand just to connect.
Fielding is another matter and things get nasty if you try to use the default mode of control for base throwing which uses the twitchy right stick rather than the face buttons. After throwing to the wrong base more times than I could count I finally found the options to change this to the more conventional face button mode.
But even after you get the controls somewhat functional the design cripples the gameplay. Most games (even the arcade games like Slugfest) allow you to select a base to throw to as your fielder is approaching the ball. This is called preloading a throw but Inside Pitch will have none of this. Instead, you must pick-up the ball and then pick your base only after all the animation has played out. This makes you very detached from the game creating a noticeable lag between pressing the control and seeing the action performed; a lag that often results in runners reaching base when they should have been thrown out.
There are all sorts of other gameplay issues that result from some crazy camera angles and illogical ball physics. The ball defies logic at times slowing or stopping for no reason. It takes forever to throw the ball long distances, even using the cutoff man. It’s hard to explain without having you play the game but it just never “feels” right.
Inside Pitch 2003 is lacking in gameplay modes as well, most notably a franchise mode. What were they thinking? I didn’t know you could release a baseball game without a franchise mode and anyone would buy it. You can choose from traditional modes like single game, single season, play offs, Home Run Derby, training, Championship Challenges, and (to its credit) online play.
Online play is definitely a plus, or at least it would have been if the game were any fun to play in the first place. Just because you can play a stranger 3,000 miles away doesn’t make this game instantly better. It just makes it that much more frustrating that the good baseball games still don’t have online play.
The Championship Challenges could have been the shining star for this title but they are nearly identical to the challenges found in Acclaim’s historically rich ASB 2004, and while that game had some issues it is by far a better representation of baseball than Inside Pitch. These challenges take memorable moments from the 2002 season and let you recreate that event, or perhaps rewrite history. Successful completion earns you points you can use to create your own custom players, but without a franchise mode creating your own character isn’t really worth the effort.
The graphics are all over the place in this title. In a sport where you are up close and personal with the players it is important to have them looking as good as possible. Only the most recognized players seem to have been given any attention to detail, at least in the face department. The characters are all scaled according to their real-world counterparts and the uniforms all look good enough but things start to fall apart when they start to move.
Normally, you can expect a few dozen signature moves to be mo-capped and replicated. I’m guessing the Microsoft company softball team took turns in the mo-cap studio for this title. Not only did these animations not match any of the real-world players, several just didn’t look like major league moves.
I’ve already mentioned the clunky animation scripts that must run before you can enter a command to start the next sequence of animation creating a very disjointed feel to the game. These are apparent for batters, pitchers, runners, and fielders alike. No one is left out of this mediocre experience.
The final slap in the face of sports lovers everywhere is the total absence of any replays, either game generated or manual replays activated by the player. Sure, this might be considered a nitpick but when every other baseball game, nay sports game, is offering replays of some sort the lack of any is inexcusable.
I’ve never thought of baseball as needing a soundtrack. I’ve always been comfortable with whatever organ tunes or licensed music the designers chose to stick in their title during those transitions where batters approach the plate or the sides switch positions. The fact that a custom soundtrack option is available seems superfluous in a game where so many other critical features are lacking.
Sound effects are pretty bad. In a game where you only need a dozen or so effects, a crack of a bat, a thump of a ball in a glove, a cheering crowd, etc. you would think it wouldn’t be too challenging to deliver. Microsoft seemed unprepared for this challenging task.
Perhaps the game’s only saving grace is the exceptional commentary delivered by Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. Joe has some play-by-play that is truly amazing in how accurately it ties into the events down on the field and Tim’s color commentary is actually quite educational. I learned a few things I never knew about a few teams and their stadiums.
Assuming you can tolerate the gameplay, Inside Pitch 2003 offers the same unlimited potential as any sports game, although the lack of a franchise mode will scare off any serious baseball gamer. The Championship Challenges extend the overall length of the gameplay but don’t begin to make up for everything else this title lacks. Anyone looking for a more casual baseball experience will have an exponentially better experience with Midway’s SlugFest 2004.
I had high hopes for this title, partly because of the fine track record of previous Microsoft sports titles and the online support definitely sparked my interested even though baseball is best played together, whether it be electronic or real. I prefer two controllers, some friends, and a comfy couch to a modem and some stranger any day of the season.
Inside Pitch 2003 is a game that is best avoided by anyone considering it. You can have loads more fun with just about any other baseball title out there, even the bad ones. Hopefully, Microsoft will take a step back and rework this title from the ground up for 2004.