Even though it has all the traits of a simulation, High Heat 2004 isn't complicated to play. When you're up to bat, there aren't any batting cursors or power meters to deal with. Instead, the timing of your swing is the primary factor that influences your ability to make contact. To improve your odds, you also have the option of trying to guess which pitch the pitcher will throw. Predict it correctly and you're more likely to eek out a hit. As you swing, you can push or pull the ball by angling the control stick. This lets you aim for holes in the infield or reach for a surprise hit. Pitching is much the same. You have your choice of pitches and can select the general placement of the pitch in the strike zone, but it's your pitcher's real-life mastery over specific pitches that dictates whether you'll throw accurately. Each player has between four and six pitches in his repertoire, and there are more than 30 different pitch types available overall. Every so often, a player in the field will catch a line drive or a ground ball before the graphics actually show him doing so, but this is about the only flaw even worth mentioning. Overall, the gameplay is right on target.
For the most part, the graphics do a good job of depicting the action on the field and presenting a realistic stadium environment. The stadium dimensions are reasonably accurate and contain many of the landmarks you'd see at an actual game. Cubs fans, for example, can zoom in on the outfield using the instant replay camera and observe the spectators on top of the sports bars across the street from Wrigley Field. Inside the stadium, jumbo video screens display a live view of the hitter at the plate. Little touches, such as flapping flags and spectators on the bullpen runways, are also included. On the field, the players show off a wide range of motion. Plays such as leaning grabs, relay throws, and spinning double plays all have specific animations devoted to them.
Going on play mechanics alone, High Heat 2004 is as real as you can get.
Overall, the game has a clean, sharp look. The players look vibrant in their uniforms, and you can easily make out all the lettering on the signs in the outfield. Even so, High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 looks plain compared with the other baseball games that are currently available. It's great that the players' bodies are so large and that they have such a wide range of motion, but their faces look nothing like the faces of the MLB players they're supposed to represent. At the same time, the ballparks are lacking the dancing mascots, dynamic audiences, and real-time scoreboard displays that make other games seem much more interesting. The visuals are certainly realistic enough--they just don't reach out and grab your attention.
The same holds true for the audio. The sound effects are crisp and clean, to the extent that they reflect the actual sounds of players warming up, the bat making contact, and catches made in the dirt, but you'll never hear things like trains going past the stadium or the audience getting pumped up for a ninth-inning rally. The game does include a fair number of stadium announcements and heckler comments, and they bring a modest amount of atmosphere to the ballparks. ESPN's Dave O'Brien and popular minor-league broadcaster Chuck Valenches have the play-by-play duties, and they're generally pretty good. They call an accurate game and serve up plenty of baseball trivia during batter walk-ups and slow innings. The main flaws in their commentary are that they tend to repeat themselves on routine plays and speak up less often during exhibition games. Overall, the audio in High Heat 2004 is fine, but 3DO really needs to pump up the volume on the spectators with their next release.
The player animations are really lifelike, such as this diving grab.
For those of you wondering how the Xbox game compares with the version that's currently available for the PlayStation 2, the differences are significant enough to warrant playing the game on Microsoft's console. In addition to the availability of roster updates, the graphics are much cleaner. The textures are sharper, the lighting is more realistic, and the action doesn't stutter whenever the camera switches to the dugout or on-deck views. The game also supports the widescreen display mode of the Xbox console.
Just like it predecessors, High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 puts authentic gameplay ahead of any other detail. The game is a joy to play because it simulates baseball exceptionally well. For those of you who've followed the series on the PlayStation 2 for the past three years, the improved visuals and the addition of downloadable roster updates should offer ample incentive to embrace the Xbox version.