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MLB 2003
Score: 93%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: 989 Sports
Developer: SCEA
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports

Graphics & Sound:
On the dying PlayStation console, good graphics are hard to come by. Fortunately, 989 Sports' MLB 2003 delivers. Player models look as good as can be expected on the 32-bit system, and stadiums are equally impressive. Moreover, player animations are very smooth and add to the essence of the game.

MLB 2003's commentators also add an outstanding perspective toward America's pastime. The way they complement each other is uncanny and never tiring. The only problem I had with these announcers is that on occasion, they disagree. No, not like Snapper and Bill (from the NBA on NBC), but with reality. It seems that there is some confusion in the booth with what's actually happening on the field. These discrepancies are a direct result of poor programming, even though the rest of the time the sound in the game is very well put together, including the moody crowds.

MLB 2003 includes so many options that to really get in depth with the game, you just have to play it. For starters, the game includes the normal Exhibition, Season, and Playoff Modes. You will also be able to play with and as the best players in the game during an All-Star Game, as well as swing for the fences in the Home Run Derby. But what makes MLB 2003 stand out from the other baseball games out there are the unique Spring Training and Franchise Modes of play.

In Spring Training, it is your goal to bring up top prospects and build up their stats, eventually leading them to the Majors, and hopefully to stardom. The Franchise Mode is a subset of playing a normal Season. Unlike the Franchise Modes in other sports titles, MLB 2003's Franchise isn't about playing multiple seasons. There's more depth to it than that. Instead, the game's rosters are reset so that you start your Franchise with players from the bottom of the barrel and have to earn points to trade for the cream of the crop. Points are earned in various ways, including getting hits and, more importantly, getting victories. But if you get in a slump and hit a losing streak, your points will deplete faster than Harry Carey's beer glass.

The single hardest thing to get used to with MLB 2003 is the controlling scheme offered. The controller's button layout is much different than that of any other baseball game I have played in the past. Not only are the face buttons' layout opposite from what you would think they would be, but the act of throwing to a particular base is much, much different. Instead of using a single button in combination with the D-pad to throw to a base, you simply push one of the four face buttons relative to the baseball diamond. Although this method does seem to work for the most part, there is a problem with an aspect of it. When fielding a ball, you can turbo using the O button. However, if you fail to release the button before fielding the ball, chances are that your player will automatically throw to first, which is corresponding base for the O button.

Although there are different options for the difficulty setting, it seems that the biggest difference is actually that of the style of hitting you choose. You see, in MLB 2003 you either use a batting cursor to precisely make contact with the ball, or choose not to use it for simpler gameplay. With the cursor on, getting a solid hit is much more difficult and harder to come by. Turn it off and the game almost becomes a slugfest. The computer AI does a pretty decent job of keeping most games fairly even, as long as the competing teams are matched up well.

Game Mechanics:
Although the button layout may not be the best, the menu system in MLB 2003 is hands down the most impressive that I've ever seen... anywhere. A quick tap of the R1 button offers a 'Quick' menu, so virtually anywhere you want to navigate to is at your fingertips. This is very helpful when you want to save a game, so that you don't have to back all of the way out and then surf through the menus to get to the Options screen.

On the downside, the poor programming job (or better yet, the lack of testing the game pre-release) is inexcusable. Some specific examples include the following: a) After pitching a ball, one announcer calls a strike, and the other a ball; b) An announcer once said, "Last time up he popped up," when the player actually hit a home run instead; c) Sometimes when batters strike out, they stay at the plate and take a warm-up swing instead of walking away, then they abruptly disappear and play continues.

Don't let this get you down, however. For the most part, MLB 2003 stands above the rest in nearly every aspect of the game. For those of you out there that have yet to upgrade to the 128-bit generation of console gaming, MLB 2003 offers solid gameplay and loads of options to keep you satisfied.

NOTE: MLB 2003 contains anti-MOD protection and will not play on a chipped PSX.

-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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