- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

All-Star Baseball 2005 plays a lot like Jose Canseco: lots of flash, lots of power, lots of juice and little grace.

The latest version of this annual baseball series features something Acclaim calls FielderCam, but what was meant to be an innovation winds up being a flaw that mars an otherwise worthy effort. FielderCam places you in the perspective of the fielder (hence, the name), allowing you to use one analog stick to move him and the other to move the camera to watch the ball.

It’s an admirable idea to allow you to mimic the way a fielder runs one way while looking toward the infield at the ball, but in terms of a video game it’s unwieldy. In fact, it’s fairly easy to look the right way and run the wrong way. As a result, trying to change history — this year’s game has something called This Week in Baseball Challenge, which allows you re-create highlights from the 2003 season — but getting Moises Alou to catch the foul ball in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series can be fairly tough.

The other facets of game play don’t suffer the same way. Hitting can be adjusted so it’s anywhere from easy (simply timing) to nearly impossible (timing plus a three-dimensional cursor) to accommodate all users. Pitching involves a cursor, which isn’t hard to locate.

Stat geeks will love the depth of All-Star Baseball 2005’s franchise mode, which allows you to play multiple seasons with an existing team or an expansion team from any number of North American cities, including the District. A number of things stand out here. Each season begins with a run through the Grapefruit League, which allows you to improve the abilities of your players before the regular season. You also can move players up and down through your minor league system (though these minor league “teams” don’t actually compete).

There’s more. Right before the All-Star break, you get a chance to add some prospects to the fold through the entry draft. And after the season, you can attend the winter meetings, where you can select players through the Rule 5 draft or sign some marquee free agents.

And, of course, there’s the chance to run your franchise through its 162-game schedule, monitoring everything from tired arms to waiver wire. Downloadable rosters will allow you to have the latest call-ups for your favorite team.

One of the more interesting parts of using an expansion team is picking a stadium. If you decide to place your franchise in D.C., it makes sense to pick the fictional D.C. Stadium, nicely located in downtown so you can see the Capitol in the distance over center field. (Well, you know that’s impossible.) You can take a virtual stadium tour of D.C. Stadium or any of the stadiums provided by the game, showing the care Acclaim took in creating or recreating the ballparks.

If only the same care were taken with the players, whose faces are a little bit too block-like to look realistic, especially on Xbox. The players also appear a bit too stiff when they move, particularly at the end of a home run trot. Making up for these deficiencies a bit is the excellent play-by-play by Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons.

But it doesn’t make up for FielderCam, an inspired idea that just doesn’t work. Score it as an error — but not an irredeemable one — in a decent baseball simulation.

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