It must be a difficult task to sell a baseball game to a generation reared on videogames, MTV and the WWF. It would be safe to assume that these gamers lack the attention span to enjoy such a slow-paced sport that emphasizes strategy and stat tracking. If anything, an arcade rendition with all those "whacky" bells and whistles specific to that genre would seem to be the order of the day. Still, even though their numbers have diminished compared to years past, there are some gamers who actually want the realistic ballplaying experience. It's this audience that 989 Sports is clearly catering to with MLB 2001, but in its effort to provide a sim-like playing experience, it left little in the way of actual enjoyable gameplay.
This late in the lifecycle of the PlayStation, where there is little a developer can do to offer anything snazzy to a sports game, 989 Studios takes the not so novel approach of throwing everything at gamers hoping that something will stick. The default baseball features like Spring Training, Full Season, All-Star Game, Playoffs and Home Run Derby are all included, but the other modes seem to run the gamut to appeal to die-hard sports fans. MLB 2001's Franchise Mode, for instance, lets you build a team from scratch and take it through a season. It's your chance to be George Steinbrenner (Owner of the Yankees) and take your team to the World Series. All its potential to appeal to the fanatics are thrown out the window once you come to terms with the fact that there isn't even a free agency feature while in this mode. If you want to obtain a franchise player, you can do so by trading in points accumulated with victories and usually that takes a lot of time to do so. Since, to my knowledge, this is never done in baseball—prior to the trade deadline—I can't see the logic behind putting this in a baseball videogame.
There is quite is a good deal of customization for gamers who, like me, tire of playing with year-old rosters. Its simple create-a-player mode allowed me to add personalized players to the rosters with ease. If I wanted to bolster my line-up or pitching staff and the tailor-made players were not cutting it, MLB 2001's commendable free agency mode was a welcome addition. Here each player is assigned a numerical rating that must be matched for a trade to take place. This puts an end to the nonsensical trades so common to other baseball games. Draft mode filled the bill when I wanted to take a chance on a long shot from the minor leagues. Who knows, after taking him through a season, one of my guys may turn out to be the next Derek Jeter or Ken Griffey Jr. (sorry, pitchers are not selectable) on my ball club.
MLB 2001's Manager Mode is another mode aimed at the control freaks. Here, command of the individual players is denied in favor of offering managerial control. I can certainly see the appeal after a game or two, and anyone who keeps track of a player's career batting average against left-handed pitchers in American League ballparks will probably love this mode, but I grew bored quickly. There is, of course, the option of having the computer instantaneously simulate each game or the entire season, but unless my cable box quit on me and I'm dying to see a ballgame on TV, I would never put this thing to use.
Everything after this is entirely pedestrian. The pitching and hitting interface is as standard as they come. Its lone distinction is that it incorporates a "guessing system" that allowed me to guess the pitch as it was being thrown. While the pitch is in the air, I had to hold down the L2 button and one of the four face buttons. If I guessed right then I was more likely to connect for a hit or homerun; if I guessed wrong then things only got harder. This is another classic example of something sounding good on paper, but never succeeding in execution. It's not that I couldn't predict the pitches successfully, it's just that I could never do it on a regular basis. Adding such a gamble like this to the game is silly and out of place.
Other aspects of the game that failed to impress are the visuals and sounds. After viewing the high-quality FMV, to see the game in its real-time engine took some getting use to. It's not as if the graphics were first-generation quality, but they will never be mistaken for state of the art. The character models are blocky and animate poorly, and the colors in the game appear washed out—combining to give the game a decidedly aged appearance. MLB 2001's audio suffers as well. The play-by-play announcers may be full of fun comments and quips, but their banter quickly becomes repetitive. Many more times than not, they were either wrong with their calls or they took too long to relay what happened on the screen. It got so bad that in one instance, I was already in the batter's box awaiting a pitch as the announcers were still relaying the marvelous triple play that was pulled off in the previous inning.
In short, this title offers a lot to players, but since 989 Studios didn't bother polishing these features, it didn't result in anything special. All its gameplay elements are standard baseball fare, and with the exception of the gimmicks I mentioned, it is all forgotten once the controller is put down. The emphasis on stats seem to be the only thing that makes the game stand out, but never enough to make me recommend over the many other baseball choices on the market.
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