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HardBall 4 (DOS)

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Written by  :  Condemned (76)
Written on  :  Apr 19, 2006
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars
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A PC Classic

The Good

This game has been a standard for the last 12 years for me (bought in 1994). One of those games you latch on to as a kid and that all other future games are compared to. In this case, all future baseball games.

The most outstanding feature of a PC-based baseball game is the option of printable statistics. OK, I realize not everyone is a stat-hound, but I love stats and having them in concise, printable form is a feature I've found missing in more modern PC baseball games. Sounds sad, but I still have print-outs of season stats, All-star game box scores, Post-season box scores, etc, for all of my 5 completed seasons on HB4! There's something exciting about printing out stat sheets and poring over them just like a big-league manager, trying to conjure up that magical line-up that will get a certain hitter more ABs, or in a position to drive in runs, or capitalize on a lefty-righty match-up down the road...

A really cool feature is the ability to generate a league of MLBPA players (circa 1994) or to start a generic league, with fictitious players (with some scattered Accolade designers names here and there). I always got the most enjoyment out of the generic league, starting my own franchise (by deleting a team) and stocking it with myself, family, and friends. You can even draw, pixel by pixel, your teams' logo! A very cool feature, though it is somewhat limiting...

Small thing, but the ability to save a game at any point, turn off the game, and go back to that exact save point at any time is a huge plus. Some modern games don't even have that capability!

Throughout the game, "Highlights" are automatically recorded - namely, key plays that are worth making note of (HRs, RBI hits, critical errors, etc). You can even "store" your own highlight if you exit the game directly after the play happens and select "store" within the "highlights" menu. You can name the clip whatever you want (ex: McGwire doubles, 2 RBI") provided it fits within the amount of characters allowed. You can go back to played game at any time during the season and see not only the box score, but watch the saved highlights as well. Pretty cool.

The Bad

Gameplay is...well...outstandingly easy. Over the course of a season (and I've played 4+ seasons to date), it is virtually impossible to have a hitter on your club, starter or bench (provided they get enough ABs) that doesn't have at least .500 batting average. Yeah, you read that right - .500+ for everyone on your team. That either makes an exciting and fun game full of constant action, or drives you nuts with its inaccuracy. Personally, I began playing this game when I was 12, and it was a lot of fun to have such amazing stats, finish the season with a team record of 160-2, and have everyone hit over .500. Nowadays, that's not as much the case, though I put up with it since I've become used to it...

Second dislike is the glitches and limitations found in the game...most are petty, but still worth mentioning:

1) There is no such thing as "career" mode. Once you complete a season, there's nowhere to go. You literally have to create a new league and import your team/players into it. Then you face the same schedule as last season! Not cool...

2) There are no minor leagues. Struggling player? (As in, a player hitting .503 when everyone else on your team is .550 or better!) You can't delve into your farm system to call up a literally have to overwrite your struggling player. And guess what? The new player assumes all the old players' current stats - so now your new player is struggling also. Lame! Basically, once your roster is set on Opening Day, it's stuck - unless you don't mind stat inaccuracies.

3) Human controlled players hit less home-runs than computer controlled players. That sucks. My team, as good as they've been in 4+ seasons (everyone .500+) has never had a player surpass 44 home-runs in a season (in 800-900 ABs). Players on other teams are routinely hitting 60+ a season, albeit with a lower batting average. Kind of sucks...Also, some CPU players go on unrealistic power streaks - a certain player will just have your number, and homer in every at-bat in the game. Or a player with 0 homers on the year starts cranking them out against you for no apparent reason...I used to quit the game at that point and turn it off in disgust when I was a kid...

4) Limitations -

In regards to custom players, all you can set up for your player is - name (limited # of characters), position played (only 1!), uniform # (not actually visible on your player), Batting L or R, Throw L or R, Skin (only two options - Light or Dark), arm strength (scale of 1-5), running speed (1-5), and "average seasons stats" (ABs, average, average vs LHP, average vs RHP, HRs, RBIs, SBs, CSs, Errors). That's it as far as customization. So you're either white or black, you have no control over your batting stance or pitching delivery, and can't go further into depth in regards to ability or secondary positions.

5) Little glitches - throughout the league, some players never record stats for some reason! At the end of the year, they still show 0 ABs, .000 average, etc, even though they have been in many games.

Play an all-star game mid-season, continue with the season, and a month or so later go back and check the box score - names magically have changed! This must tie in with the game's processing who deserves to be an all-star, and editing the old box score to keep up to date. Annoying. Must remember to print out box score for records BEFORE continuing season...

In the field, everyone throws left-handed...yeah I know, WTF?

Stats are not always accurate:

RBIs stop being recorded after 255 in a season. Yeah, again, those are bloated numbers...but if it's so easy to surpass 255 with the easy gameplay, why not count higher than this? I usually have 3-4 players a season go higher, and I end up manually counting them. Yes, I am a sick individual.

The game counts triples and doubles when it should really be counted as a single, runner advanced on throw. Example: When the computer throws to the plate to try and get a base runner out, and your hitter moves up to 2nd base, it logs as a double. Annoying, though not a fatal issue.

The Bottom Line

Nowadays, this game pales in comparison to what's available. For its day, it was an amazing piece of work - I remember getting so excited when I first bought it. I had owned Hardball 2, and knew the series was reputable. But when I popped that CD-ROM (my first ever CD game) into my new computer (1994), and saw the blew me away. Sound-wise, Al Michaels called the action, and it was pretty accurate (Sound hasn't worked on any new computer since, since the game is setup for old, old sound cards).

It says something about the game that I can fire it up in the year 2006 and still have a blast with it! Finish a game, print out stats, and pore over them with a manager's eye...then adjust my game-plan and load the game up to play another's stood the test of time, and despite a myriad of glitches and annoyances, it's still something I go back to play a season of every few years.