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EA Sports turns a Triple Play... again

By CNN Interactive Producer Dave Ragals

March 19, 1998
Web posted at: 12:35 PM EST (1235 GMT)

(CNN) - Ahhh, spring. It means different things to different people. To some, it means it’s time to break out the shorts and t-shirts. To others, it means it’s time to fire up the grill. To the videogame industry, spring means it’s time to release the latest baseball titles.

EA Sports, the self-proclaimed leader in sports titles, has wasted no time, getting Triple Play ‘99 for the Playstation out while the Boys of Summer are still in Spring Training. The PC version is slated for release on March 31 - opening day.

Triple Play ‘99 boasts a lot of improvements over its predecessors. In fact, it’s quite an impressive, and ambitious, list of new features. But, it’s not a whole new game. Anyone who’s played the ‘97 or ‘98 version will find a familiar friend in this new one, albeit a friend with a lot of cool new toys.

EA’s success has been largely due to the amount of attention it pays to “the little things.” And Triple Play ‘99 is full of little things, from pitchers shaking off calls and batters knocking the dirt off their cleats, to the sounds of hot dog vendors and frustrated fans. The players don’t all look the same, nor do their batting stances or pitching styles.

One of EA’s other strong points is in-game sound. The crowd noise in this game is excellent. The fans boo and heckle when you let them down, and they cheer like crazy after a good play. I even heard a jet take off from nearby LaGuardia Airport during a game at Shea Stadium. The play-by-play and color commentary from Jim Hughson and Buck Martinez of ESPN are virtually seamless. While in some titles, announcers sound choppy as player and team names are inserted awkwardly, EA makes it sound almost real. But, Martinez’s repertoire seems a little small, and some of what he says is either irrelevant or too obvious.

There are a few missing ingredients from the atmosphere, like a stadium announcer, something that worked well in NHL ‘98, a game that really raised the bar for sports titles. Also, a nagging detail in baseball titles - baserunners, for all the speed burst you give them as they try to beat out an infield single, stop in their tracks once they reach first base, rather than overrun the bag like they’re supposed to. But, all in all, the game feels pretty real.

Attention has also been paid to the artificial intelligence, which is considerably better, making the game more challenging and more realistic. There are also a bunch of neat new moves, like making an outfielder climb the wall to rob someone of a homerun or a shortstop throw to first from his knees. You can even collide with the catcher and try to knock the ball out of his mitt on a close play at the plate. Sometimes, however, the game gets a little choppy, especially when cutting from different “camera angles” during a play. And the play-by-play sometimes lags behind the action.

One big bonus about this game is it lets you learn how to play. Often, sports titles come with two or three levels. One is ridiculously easy, and after playing a few times, it’s no challenge at all. The others become too difficult, unless you’ve played for a while, and often a gamer gets stuck in “difficulty level limbo.” Triple Play ‘99 has four levels, and you can customize them to help you learn different elements at your own speed.

Other nice touches include a draft mode that lets you build your own team, while the computer drafts for the competition. And, during that long boring period of time while it loads a new game, you get baseball trivia, instead of staring at a blank screen. The game is also loaded with statistics, which are tracked throughout a season. The downside is it takes up a lot of room on a Playstation memory card - a whopping 14 blocks. You may want to invest in a new memory card for this one.

Triple Play ‘99 won't be the only baseball game in town this year, but no matter what anyone else puts out, it’s sure to be a contender. It has great graphics, sound and gameplay. And there are enough nice extras to keep you hooked all season.


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