3DO's long-running baseball series is back with High Heat Major League Baseball 2004, a game that makes improvements to the series, but has just enough problems to compromise what it does right. Even the redesigned graphics, extra options on the field, and the new franchise mode frills aren't as exciting as they should be, thanks to an obtuse interface that doesn't offer mouse support and also has a number of apparently broken features. While you can pick up High Heat 2004 and still have a great ball game, the PC version's console-game-style menu system and other issues make it difficult to appreciate anything else, which is a real problem in a game where half of the fun is juggling your roster, tweaking your pitching rotation, and negotiating with troublesome free agents.
The batter-pitcher duel is still great after all these years.
High Heat 2004 didn't have to turn out this way. With the exception of the game's interface issues and the incomprehensible decision to leave out mouse support, 3DO has done some impressive work modernizing the look and feel of the series with its latest game. In fact, High Heat 2004 is easily the best-looking game in the history of the series. The graphics engine has been rebuilt from the cleats up. The game's motion-captured player models are loaded with more polygons than ever before, replacing the awkward, stiff player animation you may have seen in previous games in the series. The game also has updated graphics for the stadiums. Better shadow effects make parks like historic Yankee Stadium and even the antiseptic SkyDome loom above players' heads like the monolithic structures they are. Refined dirt and grass textures complete the look.
But even while attention to finer details helps give the game an authentic ballpark atmosphere, High Heat 2004's graphics aren't exactly perfect. Player faces still resemble mannequins more than human beings, although they are closer to their real-world counterparts than ever before. The game also has poor collision detection, so you'll routinely see infielders going back for pop-ups and then running right through outfielders coming in on the play, as well as some graphical clipping and tearing, especially with player uniforms. And the interface bars in the game screens don't scale with the resolution, so you'll be playing the "large print" version of the game even at resolutions of 1280x1024 and above, complete with blurred player photos.
High Heat 2004's audio is another matter. Specifically, the game's sound has been left largely unchanged, particularly the play-by-play commentary from Dave O'Brien and color commentator Chuck Valenches, who repeat the same lines they had in High Heat 2003 (many of which were used previously in High Heat 2002). Fortunately, the in-game sound effects have been greatly improved since last year, but that's largely because the developer has worked on clearing up the sound bug that sometimes caused the game's audio to be covered in static. The crack of the bat, the umpire calls, and even the hecklers in the crowd sound exactly the same as they have for the past two or three years, and the effects certainly aren't getting any newer.