Like other baseball games, Inside Pitch 2003 allows you to create your own custom players and trade them onto existing teams. The process is a bit labor-intensive, however. First, you have to complete training drills before you can assign skill points to a new player. The game includes a handful of drills for each position, which can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to complete. The number of skill points you earn is based on how well you perform in the drills. If you need more skill points, you can earn them by winning games in the exhibition and season modes or by satisfying the championship challenges. Skillful performances during a game can also unlock a series of hidden stadiums. Most of them are mock-ups created just to add spice to the lineup of actual MLB ballparks, although there are a few noteworthy parks included, such as Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico, the home away from home for the 2003 Montreal Expos.
If you go to the ballpark to watch your favorite team, you'll appreciate the level of detail evident in the stadium designs.
For the most part, the problems and shortcomings evident in Inside Pitch 2003 can be explained away with the knowledge that this is Microsoft's first attempt to create a baseball game for the Xbox. It is surprising, however, that the game doesn't really flex the graphical or audio capabilities of the system, considering that Microsoft's own products tend to offer the gamut of HDTV, Dolby Digital, and custom soundtrack options. Unlike the majority of sports games available for the system, Inside Pitch 2003 doesn't support widescreen, 480p progressive scan, or HDTV display modes, and the implementations of Dolby Digital and custom soundtrack support are both halfhearted at best.
Just looking at the game, it's hard to believe it's running on the Xbox. For every visual that lives up to the system's capabilities, another falls terribly short. The player animations and camera transitions are smooth--as you'd expect--but batting stances and field plays are woefully generic and repetitive. Throughout a nine-inning game, you'll see the same throws to first, double plays, and relays from the outfield more than a dozen times each. Player faces are remarkably lifelike. You'll easily recognize your favorite superstars and second-tier stars with little difficulty. As for the stadiums, they're highly detailed--right down to the specific signs and video screens that are associated with each park. Fenway has the John Hancock Insurance sign, Pac Bell has its giant Coca-Cola bottle, and Minute Maid Park has its flags in the outfield and choo-choo on the wall. The turf and wall textures don't have much color or depth to them, however, so the actual playing surfaces seem flat compared to the intricate grandstands and landmarks within the stadium. Microsoft really needs to improve the animation quality and sharpness level of the graphics in next year's version of Inside Pitch if it wants to go head-to-head with Electronic Arts and Sega.
The mustache is a little thick; otherwise, that's a respectable likeness of Jeff Kent.
The audio is pretty much the same story: The crowds are too quiet, and PA announcements and player introductions are few and far between. Even though the game supports Dolby Digital audio setups, there really isn't that much channel separation to speak of. The audio is just too subtle to give an expensive sound system a workout. Inside Pitch does give you the option to use your own music tracks for player introductions, and it's a good idea to take advantage of this feature. Depending on the songs you rip to the hard drive, your own soundtrack is bound to provide more excitement than the default tunes. Unfortunately, you can't assign each player a specific song, which is somewhat disappointing. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver provide the play-by-play commentary, and they're really the highlight of the game's built-in audio. They turn in a fairly organic performance filled with anecdotes about each particular team, and they tend to repeat themselves only on routine calls such as groundball outs and double plays.
In light of all of its inadequacies, the only reasonable justification to add Inside Pitch 2003 to your collection is if you want to play online against human opponents. The majority of flaws and gaffes that are so painfully obvious against the CPU are much more tolerable when they affect both players equally. If you don't intend to go online, you're better off picking up one of the better available alternatives, such as Sega's World Series Baseball 2K3 or Acclaim's All-Star Baseball 2004--the latter of which also offers downloadable roster updates from the Xbox Live service.