Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PureSim Baseball 2007 Review

PureSim Baseball 2007, developed by Shaun Sullivan and published by Matrix Games.
The Good: Meticulous league options, integrated Lahman database for real MLB players from any year, realistic results
The Not So Good: Information could be better organized and easier to access, team salary limits are too high (especially for small markets)
What say you? A good baseball simulation, but only minor upgrades from the previous version: 6/8

Ah, summer. Hot temperatures. Hurricanes. Inept government. But in terms of sports, summer can only mean one thing: NASCAR! But apparently, there is a niche sport with a small following that takes place during the hottest months of the year, and that’s baseball. Computer games have long simulated this sport in both arcade and simulation modes, from the earliest stat-based text simulations to today’s 3-D reflex arcade offerings. PureSim Baseball 2007 is the sequel to PureSim Baseball 2005, a game that I reviewed a scant eight months ago. Who knew that two years could fly by so quickly (although, to be fair, it was the “gold” edition)! We’re looking for improvements on the game from the previous version: added features, improved graphics, and the like. Does PureSim Baseball 2007 deliver a grand slam, or a 6-4-3 double play?

There are very few (and by very few I mean two) graphical enhancements from the 2005 version of PureSim. The first are ball animations during simulated games, which actually work very well. In the last version of the game, the ball path was simply shown as a line, but in PureSim Baseball 2007 the ball is animated as it travels up and towards its destination. It’s kind of fun to watch the ball path and try to predict whether it’s going to be a successful hit or not; this is the peak of excitement in PureSim Baseball 2007. The other enhancement is pleasing (at least for a primarily text-based simulation) player cards that have a nice style reminiscent of some good looking Windows themes. Sadly, these are the only two changes to the graphics, as the rest of the game looks exactly like the 2005 version (because it is). The player cards almost look out of place to be honest, when compared with all the other menus and information that are bland in comparison. At least in 2005, the game’s graphics were fairly consistent; it seems odd to improve one area of the interface and leave the rest unchanged. Some of the key pages in the game are still more than one click away (such as manage lineups and a schedule calendar); adding these components to the bar along the bottom of the screen would have been a good addition.

The sound of PureSim Baseball 2007 is well done. There is a non-annoying attention sound when an important event happens in the game, and the crowd noises during simulated games are pleasing. The crowd will react to the events on the field, particularly hits by the home team and home runs by the away team. The ambient noise of the crowd is very nice and seems to have been recorded at a real ball game. You can tell it’s looped after a while, but it still delivers a plausible ballpark atmosphere. I still keep turning around when the hot dog guy makes his rounds near my section. Compared to other text-based simulations (such as Total College Basketball and Bowl Bound College Football), the sound of PureSim Baseball 2007 is much more realistic and doesn’t appear to be a set of canned, abrupt recordings like those other titles.

Probably the biggest feature of PureSim Baseball 2007 is the options available when creating a league. In addition to all of the tools available in the 2005 version, the game now has the Lahman database incorporated into the game, saving download time and making adding real MLB players from any year since 1900 easy as pie (although, with my cooking skills, pie is not so easy). You may simulates a single MLB season or create your own league. One of the things I really like about PureSim Baseball 2007 is that most American cities are hard-coded into the game with appropriate climate and financial information, so that you can pick real cities to simulate any league or have the game randomly choose cities to build a fantasy association. The game can set a lower limit of available finances in order to limit the possibility of having small market teams dominated in the game, but there is no option for setting an upper limit, in case you want to simulate a single-A type league. Any league can be played with multiplayer options, so running a virtual league is fairly simple. When creating a league, you can set the start year, and the finances are appropriately scaled to the current year (so that multi-million dollar contracts aren’t seen in 1912). The game does seem to provide some outrageous spending limits for all market sizes, especially big markets. You can acquire all of the top free agents and still have close to 50 million dollars left over, and this is with a small market team like Erie. I realize that MLB doesn’t have a salary cap, but the limits imposed in PureSim Baseball 2007 never really come into play. You can skip all of this financial stuff if you’d like, but then the excitement of free agency (a fairly big deal in MLB) is eliminated. The game can create pretty much any arrangement of teams you’d like and assigns random nicknames to each of them (which you can change). You can also customize the roster sizes (full minor leagues are supported in PureSim Baseball 2007), season length, specific rules (like designated hitters), and which year to pull real players from. When you create your dream league, you can import team graphics and even customized ball parks (with an appropriate background image) to accentuate your association. PureSim Baseball 2007 gives you the flexibility to recreate any existing league or produce the association of your liking.

You play PureSim Baseball 2007 as the general manager and coach. Winning and losing isn’t determined by how accurately your can press a button on your controller, but by how you manipulate your rosters and develop young talent. This may not be exciting to some, but those people probably shouldn’t be playing text-based simulations anyway. The game does give you all of the information you need to make educated decisions about your ball club (although, as I mentioned earlier, it could be easier to get to). You can edit your lineup and rotation, send players to the minor (and call players up), set your manager tendencies during simmed games (such as how often to bunt and when to yank pitchers), and access every single statistic you’d ever want to see. PureSim Baseball 2007 adds a new HTML almanac that generates information about every player on every team at the end of each season (which takes a while) so that you can upload it to the Internet and people can browse through your geek-ness. During the season, PureSim Baseball 2007 provides ESPN-like information, such as highlights and interesting stats in a weekly webpage. If all of the information the game gives you isn’t enough, you can import user-made modules that can provide customized statistics. Although it may not be the easiest to wade through, nobody can say PureSim Baseball 2007 doesn’t give the user all of the information they need to run a successful club.

After you’ve created the perfect roster, it’s time to play the games. You can choose to simulate the games (watching or managing 162 games can take a while), from one day at a time to the entire season. The game will pause simulation if something important comes up (such as an injury), and you can even set which events will cause the game to stop. If you’d like more control over your squad, you can step into the manager’s shoes and make decisions during the game. Like in real life, managers don’t have too much influence over what happens in a game; the games of PureSim Baseball 2007 are largely decided by the stat ratings your players have. However, you can make substitutions (pinch hitters and relief pitchers), field adjustments (outfield depth and infield alignment), and other minor instructions to the batters (such as bunting, hit and run plays, and stealing bases). The game is fun to play for the most part, although you end up pressing enter most of the time and just watching the action so it feels like the game is playing itself (although I imagine that’s how real managers feel). After the season is over, all of the stats are saved, the rookie draft is held, and free agency begins. As I mentioned earlier, the financial model of PureSim Baseball 2007 results in every team being able to afford every player. When Jamestown signs the top 15 free agent pitchers and has tons of money left over, there’s a slight realism problem.

PureSim Baseball 2007 is a fairly complete baseball simulation. The game has exhaustive league options and complete statistics, providing a good perspective on what a real GM or manager has to deal with in the big leagues. There are a couple of minor concerns with the game (mainly the financial model issues), but overall the game plays very good. There aren’t many changes from the 2005 version of the game: two graphical improvements, the HTML almanac, more efficient simulations, improved AI, and more manager options, so owners of that game (the gold version of which came out not too long ago) might be hesitant to purchase a game that’s basically the same. There could have been more done with the 2007 version of this game, principally a more consistent and improved user interface (which probably would have been enough for me, as minor improvements are pretty much expected for yearly sports games). Still, fans of management games will find plenty to enjoy with PureSim Baseball 2007.