GRAPHICS: Blue skies and green grass rule here.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: Head-to-head options available for those starved for personal contact.
ADDICTIVENESS: You think a baseball game is long in real life? Try an entire virtual season.
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: As close as it gets. Just don't try spitting out your chewing tobacco on the floor at home.
Crippling cold snaps in march got you down? Keep this in mind -- there's less than four weeks left until the opening day of major league baseball.While baseball fans wait anxiously to see whether the Yankees' big spending and Cuban defector of the day will buy them another world championship or if J.P. Ricciardi's defiantly young team can put something together this year, there's always the PlayStation to do the hard work for us.
High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 is the first of almost a half-dozen baseball games set for release this season, and already the bar has been raised.
That there's been any noticeable move forward is worth noting. The rapid evolution of sports games is almost more interesting than the games themselves. Sports sims, from baseball and hockey to golf and soccer, have become so lifelike, so realistic, that it's hard to improve on them from year to year.
With virtual players already looking like the real deal and the bounce of the ball as close to life as possible without the astroturf, the only real attraction to buying the latest instalment of your favourite basketball or baseball game is an updated lineup. Is seeing a new player's name on the screen worth shelling out $80 for? I didn't think so, so game manufacturers have been forced to come up with new and unique attractions to draw fans back year after year.
In basketball, this includes the option of taking the game out of the building and onto the street courts of New York and Los Angeles. In High Heat, it means giving you the chance to run your own franchise, from top to bottom.
You can be the Toronto Blue Jays, but you can also control the AAA Syracuse Chiefs, the AA Knoxville Smokies and the A St. Catharines Stompers. Want to bring up a young star from the minors to the big leagues? It might take you months, but at least you can.
There are the expected lineup tweaks, stellar graphics and advanced game-play alterations, but it's these managerial advancements that will have the strongest appeal for serious ball fans. Casual players probably won't notice the difference, but for hardcore baseball fans this is where you want to be, at least until the ground thaws. email@example.com
HIGH HEAT MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL 2004 for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NNNN