Even though I mentioned that I had downloaded Ultimate Baseball Online months ago, it wasn’t until this weekend that I actually had a chance to play it. I must admit, though, that I haven’t played a video baseball game in a long time. I think I played a little MVP 2003, but that was only for a few minutes. I have no idea what the last baseball game I played — Super Bases Loaded? Needless to say, it’s been a while. But I’ve been anxious to try out a Massively Multiplayer Online Sports Game (MMOSG) other than Shot-Online, so I dusted off the virtual mitt and gave UBO a try.
As with every other game, the first step is the character creation. UBO’s system was pretty simple, there weren’t a lot of choices, just basic options like body and face types (EA Sports Game Face it ain’t). I made a right-handed catcher named “BMasher” and set off to do the tutorial.
As I said, I haven’t played video game baseball in years, so I don’t know how the current gen handles mechanics like hitting and fielding, but UBO control scheme isn’t too bad. For batting, you determine how much power you want to put behind a swing, which subsequently affects the “sweet spot” of your swing. The more power, the smaller your sweet spot. You have a catcher’s-eye view of the pitch. You see it coming in but you don’t know where it will cross the plate. Clicking the mouse button swings and if you’ve guesses right and the pitch falls in your zone, you’ll hit the ball. Pitching works in a similar fashion. You pick the pitch, choose a location, and a meter to determines speed and accuracy. Fielding is straight forward, as well. A little red indicator shows where you should go to catch the ball and clicking the mouse holds up your glove to catch it. Every aspect is pretty simple but there’s enough wiggle room to make it more challenging as your skill level changes.
After the tutorial, I went to the “Practice Clubhouse” and jumped right into a game. You can play a game with as few as 4 players, but in the game I played in, it was 4 vs. 5. It was a 3 inning game and we were the away team. After informing my teammates this was my first game, I led off the top of the first. I made nice contact, hit a ball towards the short stop, ran toward first and was thrown out before I was half way down the base path. It appears my speed (currently at level 7) makes me run like I’ve got a backpack full of bricks. It would become apparent that speed is plays a major factor in this game. Watching a guy get forced out at second from short left field made that very apparent.
On defense, I started the game as catcher, but it was suggested I switch to third after my first throw back to the pitcher ended up in centerfield. Fielding was pretty easy and I only commited one error. I thought a game like baseball would be BORING to play on defense, but it was actually quite engaging. I clocked about 5 seconds in between each pitch, and you don’t know if the next batted ball will be coming your way, so you’re always on your toes. Kudos for making defense playable.
The game went into extra innings, with the other team winning on a bases loaded single. Since it was 5 on 4, the CPU handles the empty spots on defense but only actual players bat. In the 4 innings we played, I batted 4 times (going 0-4, striking out twice. Yeah BMasher!). The game took about 20 minutes or so to play, so it isn’t much of a time investment. I only earned a couple experience points, but I don’t think it will take long to “level” my player. Leveling up involves earning “Parameter Points” and “Skill Points” which obviously increase your players abilities. There’d be no point in playing if you can’t get better, so the skill progression elements of the game seem pretty solid.
So far, I’m liking UBO. It looks and feels like a baseball game, and the fact that I played with 8 other players is quite cool. I’m going to give it a fair shake and play it a handful of times before I give it a final thumbs up, but so far, so good.