World Series Baseball 2K3 is the sequel to what many considered the best baseball game of last year. In general, Blue Shift has set out to fix the problems of last year such as the lazy computer baserunners. So, have they made a better game than last year’s iteration? We shall see.

The graphics are as beautiful as last year, but some of the same concerns are still there. One such concern is that the players still do not get any dirt on their uniforms (this time around there are multiple uniforms, which is cool), which of course goes against the realism the game is trying to portray. Although I am not sure if this belongs in graphics or not, the collision detection is still off a bit in this game. Yes, balls hit out of the park do hit things, but the physics have not quite been refined yet. Most of the time the balls still just disappear once they go over the fence.

The players for the most part look like their real-life counterparts except for one thing: there is no difference in the frames of the players. A player the size of Mo Vaughn is put in the same frame as A-Rod, who is much lighter. Hopefully this is something Blue Shift will work on for the coming year as I think they can pull it off. It also seems as if they have taken the stances from last year and put them into this year’s game. This means for you Cub faithful that Sosa’s stance is not the correct real-life one. For many people this is a crutch on the game, but to me Blue Shift has gotten so much right that I overlook it.

If there is one thing this game has over the other baseball games I have played this year (MVP and ASB) it is that it is very bright and colorful. The players seem larger than life when compared to the other games. The ballparks look beautiful and there is even some animation in the clouds and in the stadiums themselves. We still do not get the treat of time passing and the sun moving to a different spot in the sky, but these are just nitpicks.

Like other Sega Sports games, this game gets the ESPN license for the first time. Overall it is a good use of the license, although I honestly would like the menus to be set up like they used to be. I could also go without the square looking pitch selection overlay. It just looked so much smaller and blended in better last year than it does this year. Overall it is good use of the license and makes it seem more real for some reason. It certainly feels like “Baseball Tonight” as I play it.

This game does support 720p scan with widescreen support. I do not have a television capable of this as of yet, so I was not able to test it out. I have heard that the widescreen mode is beautiful and the graphics are even sharper.

This is a hard one to judge, especially when I think about the other baseball games I have played this year. The fans are not as involved in this game as much as they are in, say, MVP. The announcers are not as involved as they are in, say, All-Star Baseball or MVP. The benefit here is the sounds of the game itself. The crack of the bat, the sounds of the ball hitting leather, etc. This is not a sonic tour-de-force and if you are looking for one, look away from this game. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is used pretty sparingly in the game. The biggest rear channel sound is the umpire calling balls or strikes and he even says it on the side that the pitch finished at. The other cool thing in the sound department is that there is some team/stadium specific noise that comes out. Let us say you are in Boston and you are playing the Yankees, there will be many anti-Yankee sounds going on in the game. It is the little things that count the most in this game.

The control is much like last year with a few added elements. Let us start with the defensive controls. The four face buttons (X, Y, B and A correspond to 3rd, 2nd, 1st and home plate) are used to throw to bases. You are given a 9 box matrix of pitches and the ones you can use are highlighted. You aim your pitch (with the option of turning off the strike zone and pitch indicator to make things more realistic) and press the A button to throw your pitch. The R trigger is used to dive, jump and wall jump (3 added abilities for the defensive players this year). You can also push your buttons before you get the ball to pull off a double play more easily. In fact I found double plays easier to pull of this year than I did last year. I think it may have to do with the fact that the players no longer turn toward home plate before throwing, they can throw from any position.

Now onto the offensive controls, also a little different from last year. Last year you had one button you hit with. This year they have added a power hit to the B button. You have 3 modes of hitting, including one you get power bars on (I have not played this, probably would not enjoy it). You can choose to hit like last year or hit with the added B button. I have yet to hit a home run with a simple contact swing (A button), but I have hit many with the B button. I will get more into batting in the gameplay section, let me move onto the baserunning controls.

Baserunning is a lot easier to control this year. You can move 1 or multiple players to different bases with different buttons. The X button is the “All” button where you can move them all at once. When a player is on base you can take control of him by hitting the base button he is at and you can lead off bases with the L button. It takes a simple push of the D-pad toward the next base before a pitch is thrown for the player to attempt a steal. If you lead off too much and the pitcher does a pitchout, you hit the R button to retreat back to the bag. It takes a bit to get used to, but I find the controls a lot easier to understand and work with than last year in this regard.

This game simply is better than last years. This game is for players that like the option of being able to be the GM/manager of a team or playing from the player’s perspective. I can finally get into the batting and franchise updates that have been made this year. Let me start off with the batting.

I have been playing the game on the Pro difficulty and I obviously need to move on to a harder one for batting’s sake. You have your option of doing cursor batting or timed batting. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. With cursor you have the control of hitting under the ball for a higher arch, hitting above the ball for a grounder or hitting it in the sweet spot for the line drives. The problem with cursor batting is that it is very complicated and you have to learn to read pitches from the outset. If you do not learn, cursor batting becomes a hindrance. Timed batting also has its strengths and weaknesses. With timed batting you are able to watch the pitch and decide whether it is going to be a ball or a strike without worrying about getting a cursor into the ball. You swing at the right time and the ball leaves the bat. The problem with this mode (at least in Pro mode) is that it becomes somewhat easy (but not at whim) to hit home runs when using the B button. I need to try higher levels to see if this hindrance is also on them, but I have a feeling it is not. I should not be able to pound as many home runs as I have. On some games I have not been able to hit a home run even while using the B button. Now onto the franchise

Franchise has seen an upgrade this year, mostly in the forms of less inter-computer trades and a higher ability for you to pick up high-caliber talent through a trade. I still consider World Series Baseball‘s franchise mode to be the best overall in the games. With All-Star Baseball you get far more in-depth with statistics, but it does not necessarily make a better franchise mode if you are not that hardcore into all the guts of baseball such as the Rule 5 draft, arbitration and all that jazz because this game does not include these. Even though I enjoy baseball, I have never been hardcore enough to crunch numbers on a game. I feel that WSB brings the best franchise mode to the normal baseball game player. The one that maybe wants to control a team on a GM/managerial level or the one that wants to play the game more than sim. Both parties seem to be appeased in this game. Franchise is what got me attached to this game last year and they have done a good job of bringing it to me this year. I enjoy playing seasons as a GM/manager only, making structural changes and trades while allowing my team to play their own game. I even won a World Series in my 3rd year with my beloved Minnesota Twins.

A couple small things of note here. The computer is able to run the bases far better than last year. They are far more aggressive. Last year they would sit at a base when they could easily have stretched it for more bases. This year with a player on second base they will come home on a single and not stay at 3rd base. This makes the computer more competitive and I have had quite a few close games. The other thing is that you can warm up your pitchers in the bullpen before bringing them in. If you bring them in cold their stamina will not be very high. This makes the game a bit more realistic.

The last thing to talk about in this section is that you cannot play this game over Live as you could other Sega Sports games. Microsoft’s own Inside Pitch will be the only baseball game this year you can play online, but it is not coming out until May. All-Star Baseball 2004 gives you downloadable rosters via Live and it certainly would have been a good extra had Sega added that into this game. However this does not bother me very much as I am not a member of Live yet, but I know the no online play aspect bothers a lot of people.

Of the baseball games I have played this year, this game gives me the best bang for the buck. The other games do better than this one in specific places, but this game is a jack of all trades for lack of a better phrase. The length of time you give to this game is dependent on your love for the game of baseball and your interest in the franchise mode. The franchise mode is the bread and butter of World Series Baseball 2K3. There are better baseball games out there for simple pick up and play abilities (MVP Baseball) and deep franchise/statistics (All-Star Baseball). In my opinion WSB gives you the best of all worlds, even though it may not do each section the best in everyone’s personal taste. The franchise mode on its own makes this baseball game a worthy one to pick up. I have not seen another baseball game this year that has given me such joy just playing as a GM/manager. You can literally get lost for hours in this game if you open yourself to it.