- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Here’s a look at some multimedia baseball fun for the latest generation of entertainment consoles that take fans into the game without their ever having to stand in line for a hot dog.

Before even attempting to enter the big leagues on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, I suggest using either console to warm up the brain with some of the excellent DVD tributes to the professional players and teams.

Two recent additions the New Video library, “Chicago Cubs Legends: Great Games Collector’s Edition” ($79.95) and “Baltimore Orioles Legends: Cal Ripken Jr. Collector’s Edition” ($59.95) together offer more than 35 hours of viewing.

The Cubs set includes eight complete games, each on a disc that covers specific athletes’ accomplishments. Included are second baseman Ryne Sandberg’s seven-RBI game in 1984 and pitcher Kerry Woods’ 20-strikeout performance in 1998.

Being a serious Cubs fan, I would like to have seen much earlier games showcasing stars including Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ken Holtzman and Ron Santo. Alas, I was just teased with some bonus highlight footage of these heroes of my youth.

More intimate is the six-disc Cal Ripken Jr. set, which has five complete games that concentrate on the man. Especially cool were his appearance in the 2001 All-Star game and the disc devoted to his record-breaking accomplishments spearheaded by a documentary of his 21-year career.

My biggest gripes with both sets are the low-definition quality of many of the broadcasts (remastering is an option these days, folks) and the lack of interactive content.

Before sliding into the baseball video-game area, I should note that both titles reviewed below offer similar features, including loaded team rosters, beautiful stadium presentations, franchise modes, the ability to create players and take them through a career, expert color commentary, broadband multiplayer games and a rocking music track.

My perspective, however, is: Keep it simple and fun, please. Fewer statistics, less micromanaging and more seamless action.

So, after the DVD immersion, the Xbox 360 owner can move on to Major League Baseball: 2K7 (2K Sports, $59.99) where he will find action that looks as if it was ripped right out of an ESPN broadcast.

A minor problem is that the players’ facial sculpts look culled from a horror wax museum, although the body motions and overall animations are spectacular.

The title is distinguished by options down to throwing to a cutoff man and climbing the wall to steal home runs; quick access to a roster of Hall of Fame players such as Nolan Ryan, WIllie Stargell and Phil Rizzuto; and one-button pitching, hitting and running controls.

It is the easiest-to-jump-into game out there for two players, and the Xbox Live multiplayer connectivity is painless.

Under the PlayStation 3 banner, in addition to MLB: 2K7 ($59.99) being available, those console owners also get their own Sony Computer Entertainment-built, big league title in MLB 07: The Show ($59.99).

The good news is the players’ facial features are much better, but the game is not as realistic because of cavernous views of the action, stiff player animations and the potential for some confused fielders.

Some other features make the game well worth the purchase. Under hitting, batters can guess the pitch and even get tips to see what they are doing wrong. Pitchers can use a meter, similar to the control on a Tiger Woods golf game, and take advantage of the Adaptive Pitching Intelligence interface.

That mumbo jumbo translates into an intelligent catcher calling the pitches and spots for the player to deliver maximum damage.

Additionally, a slick sports ticker keeps track of the real world of baseball, and the Road to the Show mode enables the gamer to create a player and control him through a full season, including spring training. (The games are even sped up to get to his action.) The better the rookie performs, the more points he gains to beef up skills.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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