Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: RBI Baseball 17



For many people there’s something special about baseball, the experience of going to the park and rooting for your home team through the ups and downs of the long season. To me baseball games have always been challenged to try to capture the essence of what is most enjoyable about the sport in a virtual form. It seems that the two classic approaches have been to go with a more simulation feel, where you are managing rosters and line-ups and the action is a bit more slow-paced and nuanced, or arcade where the action is the emphasis and traditionally the control has also been simplified. There’s no question that RBI Baseball 17 is on the simulation side of the fence, sporting the MLB license, full rosters, official uniforms, pictures and representations of players, and carefully recreated versions of the major league parks. Unfortunately, even with all of that effort invested, the more essential element of fun is brought down by both overly-simple and typically sluggish controls.

Starting with what the game gets right there’s no mistaking that time has been spent making the most of the MLB licensing. As I started up the game for the first time I was prompted to get the latest update of team rosters (though I can’t comment on how quickly they may be updated), players are reasonably represented on-screen though there isn’t a tremendous amount of detail, the parks look mostly accurate, and details like the various team uniforms being represented do show some care. If you’re a huge baseball fan you should at least be able to enjoy your team being authentic and accurate with regards to presentation, and for a game going the more sim-oriented route this is an important goal to meet.


As you start up you’ll notice that your options are to play an Exhibition, a Season (that can have its length altered to make it more manageable), or Post-Season (that can also have its length shortened). In the end this is just about how you want to approach things, perhaps kicking around with a friend in Exhibition, slogging out a full season to see how you fare, or trying to take your team to the World Series. As has become commonplace you will have the option to take your chances and simulating the results of games if things get a little too lengthy for you and you feel like you have some room to risk some losses. You’ll also have to keep an eye on your roster, being sure to be on the lookout for people who may need to be switched out. It checks the boxes for basic mode and management options you’d expect but nothing more. If you were hoping for something more modern like a mode where you follow the growth and progress of a player you create or something along those lines it isn’t here.

Now getting into the problems we’ll begin with the bare bones nature of the game as it relates to control and precision, and how that seems very at odds with the slow and more simulation style of the game. I’ve always been more of a fan of faster-paced arcade-style baseball overall, it just eats up less of my time. That said, over time I’ve played some excellent more arcade-style baseball games that have given you a great deal of control over pitching and batting specifically, letting you choose your pitching style or even giving you the ability to aim your pitch. Similarly with batting many of the better games will let you choose where to aim your bat, giving you an opportunity to hit the ball lower or higher depending on what kind of hit you’re hoping for. None of that nuance is here. RBI Baseball 17 has taken it back to the likes of the original baseball games, letting you move around in the box while batting or simply moving back and forth on the mound to pitch. From there you’re not even able to dictate your style of pitch beyond pressing in a direction when you throw and roughly hoping you’re getting the type of pitch or placement you were hoping for. Since these are the most crucial elements of any baseball game the fact that it has been released in this day and age with such limited control and nuance in these two areas is pretty well inexcusable.


Unfortunately, once the ball has been hit I’d say things only get worse. Setting up fielding to somehow be intuitive for people without completely taking it over I won’t argue is a challenge. That said, the way RBI Baseball 17 handles it is among the worst I’ve encountered. Beginning with the fielder that the game automatically chooses for you to use things quickly go downhill, especially in the outfield. Once the hit goes up the game has already chosen which outfielder you’ll be taking control of and if you aren’t already having them move in the direction of the ball you won’t likely be anywhere near it when it gets there. One crucial problem with this? It takes time for the camera to pan out to the outfield and you can’t always even be sure of which person you’re in control of depending on how the ball is flying. To make matters worse while I’ve seen computer-controlled players make diving catches and the like I couldn’t consistently get my players to do much anything of real value in the same vein. Across the board and at all phases control feels sluggish and muddy.

While RBI Baseball 17 is the first game of its kind on the system I have substantial reservations with recommending it even to die hard fans. It really feels like all of the love and substantial efforts in the game were geared towards making the most of the license, not on making a game that is fun to play. Perhaps against a friend you could both muddle through games on equally bad footing but in general I struggled to get into any kind of meaningful groove no matter what team I chose. My understanding is that this has been a faltering franchise on the whole, it seems like the best thing to do would be to go back to the drawing board and try to find some passion, the game is really a disappointing mess.


Score: 4

Pros:
  • The full MLB license and all associated elements to go with that
  • The ability to update rosters periodically via the Internet


Cons:
  • The pitching controls are embarrassingly primitive
  • Batting is slow, generally forcing you to choose to swing early to have time to connect
  • Fielding is a complete mess


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