Publisher: EA Sports
I was recently gifted with an X-Box and a new game for it: EA Sports' Triple Play 2002. In the days when PC games were king, a friend and I used to buy all the baseball games that came out, and we'd invariably play against each other frequently. Now, console games have replaced my PC gaming fix, but I still buy a lot of sports games, which my roommate and I play often.
I'm really glad I didn't buy this one. Triple Play long ago stopped being a baseball simulator and developed an arcade-game style of play. Other games like High Heat rose to claim the crown in the sim ranks, but those who wanted to bash their way thru a few games would always buy Triple Play. If you want easy hitting, lots of homers, and a general feeling that your team is made up of a bunch of steroid freaks, then this game is for you.
Graphics and Sound:
Considering the power the X-Box has under its hood, Triple Play's graphics are very pedestrian. High Heat for the PS2 has graphics that are at least the equal of Triple Play, and probably better. Close-ups of the players look reasonably close to their real-life counterparts, but the polygonal assembly is obvious to see. Triple Play 2000 for the PC, the last game in the series I had played before this one, boasted of better overall graphics and more lifelike player close-ups.
The animations are fairly good. Players running the bases seem to do so slowly, no matter how fast they're supposed to be. On my custom-drafted team, Carlos Beltran, who's no slouch when it comes to running speed, hit a slow roller to short. It's the kind of play I expected to be close, but I figured he'd beat it out. Nope. He was out by four or five steps. Players in the field move naturally and fluidly when chasing, fielding, and throwing the ball. Pitching motions are smooth and there are a few variances; Pedro's windup and motion will be different from, say, Freddy Garcia's. Batting looks realistic, though I expected to see more distinctive stances, which games have had for years.
A brief note here about home runs: you'll hit a lot of them, and they're not very impressive to see. Most games use multiple camera angles and cinematic sequences for homers. Triple Play, however, uses the spectacularly boring UMP-CAM! Yes, your view of the ball soaring into the night is from home plate, so you get to squint as the white dot shrinks into the distance. Fear not, though, for it will always bounce back into play, as will any ball that goes into the stands near the field. Obviously, there is an epidemic of fans getting drilled in the head with batted balls in the EA universe.
The sound in Triple Play completely outclasses the video. The announce team is Bob Costas and Harold Reynolds, both of whose voices have been captured very well. There is a bit of lag in their commentary sometimes, but that's always been sine qua non to a baseball game. I was surprised to hear them sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. It's a nice little feature that gives the game a baseball feel it lacks in other areas. Neither Costas nor Reynolds will be confused for Pavarotti anytime soon, and you'll probably get tired of hearing them sing after the first few games, but their singing is one of many examples of the excellent sound in the game. Score: 6/10
Triple Play is an enjoyable enough game to play. However, its gameplay is deficient when compared to other, better franchises like High Heat. I think the best thing Triple Play captured is the difficulty in hitting a changeup. It looks just like a fastball coming in, but that 15-mph difference in speed will have you swinging like a confused windmill far more often than not.
Fielding and throwing are fairly simple; baserunning is a little more complicated, especially considering you have to slide on your own. Just for you purists out there, you get the option of a traditional feet-first slide, or a Pete Rose-style headfirst dive. Variety in lousy features isn't a plus. After a few games, you should be pretty adept with fielding and running. I like the different types of throws you can make depending on the situation: throw a soft toss to first on a hard grounder to second, or gun one across the diamond on a slow roller to third. Aggressive throws tend to be less accurate, of course, as they should be.
Batting is easier than in any other game. Triple Play has always been known for an easy batting interface that lends itself to offense-heavy games. While the interface is a little different than it was two years ago, I still slugged four homers and scored a dozen runs in my first game. If you like playing that style of game, this is the title you should buy.
The AI for the computer opponents is good, if a little conservative. There were several times I thought the computer could have taken an extra base or scored a man from second, but they didn't go for it often enough. Perhaps on the hard difficulty setting (I played on Easy and Medium), the computer is more aggressive, but I didn't notice a significant difference between Easy and Hard. Score: 5/10
Triple Play is NOT a sim. If you're a baseball fan who wants a video game to capture the on-field game as closely as possible, spend your money on High Heat. If you like arcade-style play, lots of offense, and shoddy attention to detail, Triple Play would be more to your liking.
The ball physics in this game are terrible. You can hit a wicked line drive with a right-handed batter, and half the time it will hook foul, and the other half, it will just kind of linger over the line before it drops. Also, just about every line drive hit into the outfield curves toward center field. Considering most balls that are pulled tend to hook and not slice, this is an inexcusable offense. Apparently, all stadiums have a large magnet in centerfield, and the ball has been covered with iron.
Another area Triple Play fails in is the accuracy of its player ratings. Some of them are spot-on, like Pedro and Randy Johnson being rated at 100 and 99, respectively. However, some of them just boggled my mind and made me wonder who came up with the numbers, and how drunk they were when they did it. Did you know that Anaheim's Jarrod Washburn is the absolute worst starting pitcher in the majors? Me either, but some programmer at EA must think Washburn diddled his wife. Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter are given paltry ratings of 82 and 81, respectively, while underachievers like Jose Cruz are rewarded for their one good season with an 87. It's obvious that the people who make High Heat are real fans and students of the game, while the EA folks are just interested in continuing their baseball franchise before they go to work on the fall and winter sports games. Score: 2/10
Triple Play is pretty standard in this regard. You can play a season with any major-league team, or you can dump all the players into a fantasy draft pool and pick your own teams. While I'm glad games are coming standard with this feature now, Triple Play's fantasy draft interface is the picture of inelegance: instead of simple menus, there is a bipartite screen for picking players. Also, you are forced to fill the "core positions" on your roster (the eight field positions, two starters, and one closer) before the game will allow you to pick someone else. Want to stock up on strong pitching? Not in this game. The best you can hope for is a three-deep rotation, with fourth and fifth starters you'll just have to take a chance on and hope they can produce.
You have the option to play or simulate games, and you can even simulate your team's entire regular season and head to the playoffs, if you were good enough to make it. During the season, you can add players from the free agent list (good luck finding anyone who's not a scrub) and make trades. The trading AI is hopelessly stupid, though, which is sadly a "feature" on all the baseball games I've seen this year. The game will happily get you trade your worst player for someone else's superstar. The game's not good enough overall for me to be angry about this, but it's a disappointment nonetheless, as Triple Play lacks any serious redeeming quality. Score: 4/10
Doing The Math:
There are other baseball titles out for the X-Box, and unless you're a diehard fan of Triple Play, I'd recommend looking into one of those. Sega's World Series Baseball might be the next game I pick up, though I still have nightmares about how godawful the 2001 version was for the Dreamcast. Triple Play has always been an arcade game, but it was always a fun arcade game in the past. The 2002 version is too bogged down in crap, though, and the fun I had with past versions has been replaced with a mild diversion with I fire this one up. After one game, I'm ready to call it quits, which is a shame, considering I can play High Heat for hours. If you're lucky enough to have a PS2 and an X-Box, get High Heat for the PS2. If you lack a PS2, get High Heat for the PC, but whatever you do, don't shell out your money for this turdburger. I'd have a hard time sleeping at night if I actually paid for this game. EA's still new at coding for the X-Box, but they'd better get it right soon, as football season is fast approaching. A lousy Madden, and my armies march at dawn. Overall Score (not an average): 2.5/10