Hardball 4

Once flashy but shallow, Hardball has improved with each new version, and the same can be said with number 4. It’s a game with some obvious upgrades, but also some minor drawbacks. The batter/pitcher screen — with its digitized-video renditions of the batter’s swing and the pitcher’s delivery — is much improved. So how can a game that looks this good, built on a solid statistical foundation, possibly go wrong?

5You find out quickly, as soon as the ball is hit into the field. When you switch from the batter/pitcher view to the full-field perspective, the players still look great, but they’ve suddenly become giants. These guys are huge, as tall as the outfield walls. They look like a team of Shaquille O’Neals playing on a pee-wee baseball field. OK, maybe I can live with these bigger-than-life players, but the action on the field just doesn’t measure up to the graphics. The plays and the flight of the ball look canned, and the exaggerated size of the players allows them to cover a lot of ground in the field. There’s just no sense of uncertainty — you know immediately if it’s a hit or an out.

The new focus on stats is a welcome change to Hardball, but there’s still some work to be done. When simulating a season on “background” — with the computer playing all the games — the results are reasonable enough, with the numbers-crunching producing believable statistics. But the games in which the player actually participates yield considerably more suspicious results. Hardball 4 suffers from the same flaw as its predecessors — too many home runs, most of them solo shots. In fact, a dozen home runs isn’t uncommon in Hardball 4.

Hardball has always excelled at arcade play, and the new version is no exception. Despite beefing up its statistics, that’s still where Hardball 4 belongs — in the arcade category. Controls for pitching, hitting, and fielding are all friendly and intuitive. Its strength as an action game makes Hardball 4 an ideal two-person sim. With this game, the series once again steps up to the plate with fresh graphics and more attention to statistical detail. The result is a friendly, fun, and beautiful re-creation of Major League Baseball, minus much of the realism.

System Requirements: 80486/33 MHz, 16 MB RAM, DOS

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