In the past, the only way you could play 3DO's popular High Heat Major League Baseball series was to do so on a personal computer or a Sony video game console. This year's installment, High Heat Major League Baseball 2004, is available for all three major consoles. It may not offer as many features or have the same level of graphical pop as the other baseball games on the shelf, but you'd be hard-pressed to come away dissatisfied.
High Heat 2004 for the Xbox allows you to download roster updates from the Xbox Live service.
Right off the bat, the Xbox version of High Heat 2004 has a leg up on its PlayStation 2 and GameCube counterparts because it includes the ability to download mid-season roster updates using Microsoft's Xbox Live service. Since baseball games are shipped before the season begins, the rosters are always stale by the time April comes around. High Heat also has an edit mode that allows you to modify existing players and create custom players of your own, but it's much easier to just go online and download the current league. For people who want up-to-date rosters, this is a priceless option.
The play options are about what you'd expect from a game that's billed as an authentic baseball simulation. Standard options include exhibition, season, all-star game, playoffs, batting practice, and home run derby. There are also two career modes, both of which allow you to create a team from the draft level and take it through multiple seasons. Unique to the High Heat series is the two-on-two showdown mode, in which you select a pitcher and hitter from one team and have them participate in a scoring contest against a pair of players from another team. There aren't any other players on the field. You earn points by throwing strikes and getting base hits. Each team gets three outs apiece, and the scoring is usually pretty outrageous, which makes it a perfect mode to play with human opponents.
The franchise mode includes most of the necessary options. You can't create expansion teams, hire coaches, or select alternative stadiums like you can in Acclaim's or Sega's baseball games, but High Heat 2004 emphasizes player management, placing the focus on tracking team finances and managing your roster. You can sign free agents and make trades, and there are three levels of minor league teams available, so you're free to promote rookies and send slumping or injured players down for rehabilitation. At the same time, the players you sign in the off-season or acquire in trades count against your overall budget. Like a real general manager, your job is to put together the best team in your price range so you can eventually reach the playoffs.
One of the game's better features is its tuning menu, which lets you adjust 20 different gameplay settings, such as runner speed, human batting averages, contact power, and the frequency of foul and fly balls. You can even tweak the speed settings for every specific pitch in the game. Each aspect has a slider that lets you choose exactly how difficult or realistic it should be. In this manner, you can customize the game to suit your tastes and skill level.
High Heat 2004 has 30 different pitch types, some of which were contributed by Diamondbacks ace Curt Schilling.
The most impressive aspect of High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 is that it re-creates the on-field experience of baseball perfectly. Everything you could possibly see in a real baseball game is here. This includes the basics, such as relay throws, CPU walks, and pitcher warm-ups, as well as a plethora of uncommon situations such as dropped third strikes, passed balls, and appeals to the baseline umpires. The level of intelligence shown by the computer is remarkable. It will play lefty vs. righty matchups and give intentional walks to players who are on a hot streak. If you're leading the CPU by a bunch of runs late in a game, it will replace its star players to rest them for tomorrow's game--just like a real MLB manager would.