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Inside Pitch 2003

Developer: Microsoft
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Sports
Players: 1-2
Similar To: All-Star Baseball 2004
Rating: Everyone
Published: 07 :10 : 03
Reviewed By: Matt Hart

Overall: 6 = Fair


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Inside Pitch 2003 marks Microsoft's first attempt at cracking into the already saturated market of Xbox baseball sims, and it is the first such game to take advantage of the Xbox Live service. Boasting an impressive Create-A-Player mode, full MLB and MLBPA licenses, accurately recreated and unlockable stadiums, and a plethora of options for online and single-player games, Inside Pitch 2003 certainly enters the game with an impressive repertoire. But with the current amount of quality baseball games already on the market combined with the numerous, game-inhibiting flaws and online play may be the only reason to purchase Inside Pitch.

Gameplay: 6/10
In my book, all games are created equal. Whether immersive 40-hour RPG or a reflex-testing twitch-fest shooter, all games start as a perfect 10. Only after they are completed and decisions are made regarding things like controls, graphics, audio, testing, and debugging do games take the final shape in which they are shipped. For this title, I will start with the assumption that the game is perfect to begin with, and only after I play it does it start to lose its value.

Upon booting up the not-yet-judged, perfect 10 Inside Pitch 2003 and clicking through the subsequent title menus, I noticed my first major caveat--the lack of a franchise mode. Here we are in the year 2003 and a sports game has neglected to include the backbone of almost every game about every sport made in the last 3 years. Refusing to include a mode where one can create a team and watch that team grow in experience and ability while fighting salary raises, old age, injuries, and ticket sales is one of the most enjoyable features of any modern sports game, and the lack of it is sorely missed. -1.

Oh well. After running through a brief, but helpful tutorial mode to acquaint myself with the game's intricacies, I started up a season as the official 2003 New York Yankees with full roster. Starting up a season was easy and their is no lack of options for choosing a season length, difficulty, innings played, adoption of the DH rule, use of errors or injuries, etc. The game even allows for a draft that clears all rosters and allows the player to restock their team of choice. Still these aren't unlike options offered in almost all of Inside Pitch's competitors.

But the bread and butter of baseball isn't modes or options--it's hitting and pitching. To fulfill these oh-so-necessary tasks, Inside Pitch 2003 adopts the standard 9 square grid. Choose one of up to four pitches (depending on pitcher) by pressing the coordinating face button, choose if the pitch should be a strike, ball, or pitch out, and choose where in the grid to place the ball and it goes. A good, if not generic, system that allows for easy control--too easy. Now granted, I play as the Yankees--but whether Roger Clemens is on the mound or if my newly created pitching atrocity "Pitch Pitchington" (lowest ranked pitcher in the MLB--my own creation) is hurling, the pitches never seem to stray from their projected paths. It's almost as if each players stats don't do much of anything. Sure, once the stamina dips down too far, some strikes turn to balls and vice-versa, but otherwise there's just not much difference. -.5.

Hitting is very similar. The Y buttons handles bunts, the A button handles swings, and the black (!!!) button handles the power swing. I can't begin to explain my frustration when reaching to the nether regions of my gorilla-sized Xbox controller to thrust at the black button when I'm swinging for the fences. I just don't understand why power swing can't be one of the unused face buttons. -1. Additionally, there seems to be no difference between the power I get when I swing with the power swing versus the normal swing. Each type of swing is adjustable on three different heights depending on the pitch, but as long as the pitch is in the strike zone and the swing is correctly timed, a base hit is all but insured. In short, the game quickly becomes very easy and hitting almost feels flawed it's so simple. -1.

The base running AI is spotty at best. By default, base runners won't be aggressive runners--all hit and runs, bunts, and sacrifice flies must be initiated and controlled by the user. On several occasions my runner was even tagged out as they returned for a tag-up because the defending baseman was in the running path, inhibiting my runner from returning to the base--stellar. -1.

The other modes flesh the game out nicely--single game exhibitions, playoffs, home run derby, tutorials, create/train player, championship challenges, and network play. While the first 4 modes are standard fare, Inside Pitch 2003 really stands out in its create/train player mode. Using points won from playing games or special modes, players can create and train their own players. As an ability is raised closer and closer to perfect, more and more points are spent--a well-thought out system. But as good as this feature is, what fun is creating and training a player WITHOUT A FRANCHISE MODE?!?! The championship challenges are fun--break the tie of the 2002 All-Star Game, help Derek Lowe achieve his no-hitter, or tie Shawn Green's 19 total bases. Sure, they are a bit obscure and anemic, but they help to spice up the game.

Online play is done via Microsoft's Xbox Live service and performs admirably. Playing versus other human opponents helps to level the playing field (pun very much intended), as everyone must deal with the rather unremarkable controls and AI. Overall, my few games were very heated and fun matches--easily, the best part of Inside Pitch 2003. +1.

Then there are the various bugs and anomalies--games freezing (6 times in about 25 hours of play), the fact that ground balls DIE upon hitting the turf, and no way of comparing stats side-by-side in the trade screen. Ugh. -.5.

Graphics: 7/10
The Inside Pitch 2003 folks have really outdone themselves to recreate each stadium with such precision and love right down to the smallest detail--palm trees in San Diego, the skyline of New York City, and the John Hancock sign of Fenway in Boston. Night games are lit impeccably and really lend a feeling of immersion to the game. +1.

But that's about it.

Character models are bland. Yankees' slugger Jason Giambi looks 25 lbs. lighter than his real-life counterpart, yet his face has somehow transformed into some sort of dough substance. Batting and pitching stances vary, but they all have a very generic appearance. Ken Griffey Jr.'s unique swing of beauty is reduced to banality. Randy Johnson's sprawled delivery is represented well, but the snap of his arm is just bleh. Only Nomar Garciaparra (the game's cover boy) is fluid and life-like. The cameras don't fare much better. Striving for some neat effects, the camera will pan and zoom around the ball as it travels from fielder to basemen. And although some of the effects are downright cool, they bug up too occasionally to like them overall. Ever watch a player hit a homerun and just know the ball is gone as soon as they hit it? Well I hope you don't like watching the ball travel over the fence, because Inside Pitch 2003 shows the player beginning his jog down the baseline in lieu of watching the ball sail over the fence...ugh, way to ruin the fun of hitting homeruns. -1.

Sound: 6/10
Much like the graphical representation of the stadiums, the accompanying audio recreations of heckles, boos, and cheers is spot-on. The away team will feel very unwelcome upon hearing the audiences recommendations on what pitches should be crammed where. Commentators Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are neither obtrusive nor are they particularly noticeable--just there. PA addresses and player introductions are similarly bland, as are the various other effects that accompany baseball. Gloves snapping shut, contact off the sweet spot, and grunts all sound like they were bought for a dollar from the sound-effect dealer on the corner. Simply generic.

Control: 5/10
Fielding and base-running are all handled very logically and well, but players may find themselves mashing the throw button or jamming the run button--the controls just feel jittery. By default, throws are handled by pushing the right stick in the proper direction--right for 1st base, up for 2nd, left for 3rd, and down for home. It's a system that works, but all users of analog sticks know that hitting the cardinal four directions on a whim can be a bit tricky--expect an accidental throw to home in the midst of turning that crucial double play at least once. The controls also offer a face button + d-pad throwing alternative, which leaves me wondering why exactly did they need to offer two choices? It's like the developers didn't trust any one control scheme, and neither do I.

Overall: 6/10
Inside Pitch 2003 is a basic, generic baseball simulator that fails at nothing, nor does it succeed at anything except maybe its online play. While all games may be created equal, this game must have been born into poverty and had a rough start in life. It feels rushed in almost every area--from the lack of a franchise mode to the flabby and inconsistent player models. But there are some pluses too--realistic stadiums, fun challenges, and--most importantly--online play. In short, Inside Play 2003 is a very simple, bland, and easy game that doesn't really shine in any one category, making its online play the only reason for anyone to purchase this game. However if online play isn't important, and you are looking for a realistic, accurate, and good-looking baseball simulator for the Xbox, look elsewhere.

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