When I first played Acclaim's All-Star Baseball 2000 last year, I was convinced that this was as good as baseball could get on a console and quickly proclaimed it the best baseball game I've played in recent memory. If someone had told me that another developer, High Voltage Software, could pick up right where Iguana had left off and actually deliver a superior product to the masses, I would have dismissed that person. That is what is so shocking about All-Star Baseball 2001. The highly touted Quagmire engine was believed to have been maxed out with All-Star Baseball 2000, but here it has only been perfected. Player animations are much more fluid and realistic. The player models are not not quite as angular as with the previous game, and the fields are rendered with exquisite detail. I would even go so far as to say that when using the Memory Expansion Pak, All-Star Baseball 2001 actually rivals that of Sega's World Series Baseball 2K1 on the Dreamcast.

As Chi mentioned, all the little intricacies of the baseball are thrown into the game without missing a beat. It's nice to come across a baseball simulation that doesn't limit the action mere to the stats. Naturally, .200 hitters are not going to hit grand-slams when the game is on the line in All-Star Baseball 2001, but if they are in a hot streak and their team is gaining some momentum, he may eke out a double to keep the inning alive. It's a great balance that is rare in baseball games these days and even more so with this year's releases.

After playing the likes of EA's Triple Play 2001, Sony's MLB 2001 and World Series Baseball 2K1, I was beginning to think that no one knew how to replicate major league fielding without some how stacking the deck against the runners. High Voltage surprised me again with a truly authentic representation of the action. There are rules inherent to the game that must be followed; when they aren't, no amount of special gimmicks and features evangelized by marketers will hide that. It was refreshing to see fielders play by these rules. I couldn't throw out a runner who singled to the outfield, it was actually possible to beat out a grounder to third base if the defender was playing deep, and I could actually command my outfielders to hit the cut-off man — thus increasing my chances of gunning down a runner at homeplate. When seen in action, the game is sure to draw a sigh or two from anyone with even a passing interest in the sport.

Where Chi and I differ lies in our assessment of the game's difficulty. Chi referred to it as challenging, but in my opinion this game can be downright unforgiving. If you make a mistake and offer the computer a pitch that is just on the inside of the plate, then he will definitely hurt you. Success becomes predicated on learning each hitter. You are also advised to keep in mind such things as the hitting count, batting average, who is on what base and the inning you're in. This can be a bit too much for the more casual gamer ,and considering the only alternative is a far too simplified arcade mode, it is only through playing half a season before someone will actually improve his or her skills to the point of being competitive. On the bright side, the game does still shine when two human players of equal skill take on one another.

That said, All-Star Baseball 2001 has far more going for it that it does against it. Its wealth of features, mix of great controls, excellent graphics and sound and firm grasp on the ins and outs of the national pastime make it the game of choice for baseball fans this year. Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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