All-Star Baseball `99 won the baseball wars on the Nintendo 64 a year ago and was deservedly proclaimed one of the best baseball games ever made. In fact it was considered to be pretty close to perfect and many wondered how Acclaim would top themselves. Now, a new season is upon us and All-Star Baseball 2000 (ASB2000) has arrived, bringing with it high expectations and I can tell you that they have delivered.

As soon as I started up ASB2000, I could tell that Acclaim set out to create a game unlike any other. You are given animations of players going through their motions tossing the ball back and forth or swinging for the fences and celebrating afterwards that just bowled me over. When Iguana created the Quagmire Engine for ASB '99, they used it to produce a high resolution game unlike any seen before; somehow, they've managed to come back this year with an engine that tops its predecessor.

Players are rendered with incredible detail. Every crease and shadow and wrinkle can be seen on uniforms and I could now tell which player was which not by his jersey, but by his mustache or sideburns or knee-high socks or physical quirk he had in real life. The developers took everything from the real life player and crammed it into the game, leaving nothing out. None of this would matter if all the players did were look good while standing still, so again Iguana set their sights up high. ASB2000 offers over 100 different batting stances and over 400 unique player motions, adding up to an unparalleled level of realism. At times, it was as if I were watching full-motion video clips and not graphics rendered on the fly. Combined with the ambient sounds of the ballpark crowds and the crisp and clear sound effects throughout the game, ASB2000 is more than halfway to being perfect.

What takes it over the top is the player interaction. Thankfully it has not been overlooked for the sake of eye candy. Iguana took it upon themselves to tackle what is the most screwed up and critical part of any baseball game, and that's the hitting and pitching interface. Instead of programmers simply dumbing down the physics, making it easier to make contact with the ball, ASB2000 places more control in the player's hands. The hitter's contact point is represented by a square placed over the strike zone box and oncoming pitches are represented by a small circle that the player must line up with to make contact. Now here's where it gets good. If I want to smack a few pitches to the opposite field and move the runner over, I change the square into a cube that faces away from the batter. And if I want to pull the ball, conversely I would angle the cube towards the batter. With this feature, the game truly opened up for me, I felt like I was doing everything in the game myself and not some random bit of code determining the outcome. It's a feature that was a long time coming and now may be copied (at least it should be) by other developers for future baseball games.

ASB2000's other selling points are its features. In fact it has features on top of features. They key ones are the manager and GM features and the create-a-player feature. If I wanted to micro-manage a ball club, I now could thanks to the accurate stats and slick simulation feature. If a player was mired in a slump, I could trade him or pick up someone new in the draft with ASB2000's realistic draft and free agency system. And If I'm tired of playing from the outside, now I could really jump into the game, thanks to the create-a-player feature. I choose a race, height, weight and then anything else from batting stance, pitching motion, hairstyle, and aggressiveness to whether or not he is a clutch hitter. I have a say in everything that goes into this pseudo-me and I was impressed with the result. It's an unbelievable feeling to connect on a Pedro Martinez fastball with my doppelganger player. Without a doubt, this amount of player involvement has been missing in sports games and games in general and Acclaim should be credited for finally offering it.

ASB2000 is the most complete baseball experience available on any console right now. With high quality graphics and sound providing such a realistic backdrop, complimented by dead-on controls and interactive features that are easy to use and enjoyable, Iguana has outdone everyone in the market. It was my pleasure to review it. Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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