Looking back on the past year's baseball titles, I can't help but be underwhelmed by the overall quality of the genre. Most baseball games released in 1998 offered something of value - good graphics, good gameplay, good statistical realism - but none came close to offering a complete package. VR Baseball 2000 from VR Sports doesn't change this situation much. The game does back into playoff contention thanks to impressive graphics and solid gameplay, but an array of flaws and missing features keeps it from being a true contender.
VR Baseball 2000 offers exhibition, season (20, 40, 86, or 162 games), and home run derby play modes. The game is licensed by Major League Baseball and the Players' Association but for some reason does not include complete team rosters. There are no glaring omissions, but each team has exactly five relievers, and the selection of those relievers seems random in some cases. Also, you cannot shorten or even modify your starting rotation in this game, which is ludicrous. You also cannot save changes to your daily lineup, which was even more annoying, as I had to make the same changes before every game.
The same sort of theme is intact during trades as well. The game will only allow you to trade a fielder for another fielder and a pitcher for another pitcher. This is simply way too restrictive. A player-movement system like the one in EA Sports' NHL 99 would be more elegant, where you can make any move you want so long as you maintain a minimum number of players in each category (fielders and pitchers).
Roster management issues aside, VR Baseball 2000 can be pretty impressive in the gameplay department. The game uses no visible pitching or batting interface, which I felt made the game just slightly more realistic - or at least immersive - than other baseball games. Fielding is pretty straightforward, though I ran into occasional problems convincing my outfielders to move diagonally. This happened with three separate gamepads (and two different sound card gameports). Batting is easy on the basic setting but gets tougher as you raise the difficulty level. Hits spray all over the field, and, unlike in Triple Play 99, the locations really seem to depend on the timing of your swing. There are lots of foul balls in this game, as well as a good amount of bloop singles, doubles, and high choppers to the infield. All in all, the hits in VR Baseball 2000 are realistic and well varied.
The difficulty and AI levels are highly customizable, so you can modify the game to suit your particular skill level. Even on the lowest difficulty level with the highest possible setting for computer-assisted fielding, the game can be challenging. Computer-controlled teams are feisty and will punish you for any tactical error you make. For example, I allowed my starter - who had given up only two hits and held a 4-0 lead - to come out to pitch the ninth inning in a crucial game. The computer promptly jumped all over him and launched a three-run home run before I brought in my closer. VR Baseball 2000 does a great job of depicting a believable nine-innings and of keeping each game competitive without giving the impression that the AI is "cheating."