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Mike Piazza's Strikezone

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Reviewed by Mike Wales GT Interactive delivers arcade action with a vengeance in this 96-megabyte mauler. How about 939-foot home runs? Curve balls with enough bend to go around an oak tree? Fielders who run into walls and fall down, Three Stooges-style? And that's not counting the many secrets GT promises are packed in this game, including faster fastballs and curves more crooked than Al Capone's tax return. Development shop Devil's Thumb recently updated the rosters for all 30 big league teams, including the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks. Nostalgic Marlins fans will be happy to know that 1997 rosters are also available. You can play in all 30 big-league ballparks. Statistics from the 1997 season cover 50 categories. You can edit league names, team names, team abbreviations, team uniforms, city names and manager names. You can rename a player, give him a new number and max out his abilities, but you can't change his stats. In Season play, you can rename the World Series Trophy, switch home stadiums and give each team a new logo. StrikeZone's GM functions include drafts, trades and free agency. The artificial intelligence will reject lopsided trade proposals. Saving a Season swallows 123 pages of Controller Pak memory. Rejecting motion-capture technology, the development team fully animated all the athletes with polygons. "The problem with motion capture is it's boring," says Brian Ullrich, project director. Nevertheless, pitcher and batter graphics suffer from lack of detail and halting animation. In the late version we played, a lag in the batting sequence often has balls flying into play just as the swing begins. Flat textures on turf and outfield walls can make it tough to judge distances. In a stadium with a Jumbotron, you'll see the on-field action replicated on the big screen. While dazzling light trails make it easy to track batted balls, the arrows highlighting fielders are too small. Fancy camera work in the Home Run Derby tracks the suborbital yard jobs from just about every perspective you can think of. Surprisingly, the derby's field of eight sluggers excludes such luminaries as Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa and Mo Vaughn. There is no pitching or batting cursor and only one view while batting, which turns out to be almost purely a matter of timing: as long as you don't swing too early or too late, you'll probably make contact. One you're on the bases, tap the top C Button once to steal second, the Left C to take off for third and the Bottom C button to heist home. You can't select the weather conditions for a game. Instead, an algorithm in Season mode uses a ball park's location and the month to select likely weather conditions for each game. Don't expect chilly daytime weather in Phoenix in August! In cool weather, some players will sport long-sleeve jerseys. Rainy conditions change a field's appearance and ball physics. StrikeZone may be the most Control Stick-centric game yet, but what do you expect from a development house with "Thumb" in its name? Game play is quick and responsive, especially when a fielder is zipping to a batted ball. Scrolling through the many menus with the oversensitive stick can be tedious, but selecting pitches proves to be surprisingly intuitive. StrikeZone hides your pitch selection when you're in two-player mode. Like a power pitcher in spring training, the version we saw needs more work before it's ready for the big leagues. GT hopes to have this game in store shelves by early summer.

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