Sean Pearce
1986
Sport: Action
£8.95
£1.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

36
John Gilbert
Chris Bourne

Baseball in the US is a good deal tougher than its UK equivalent - as the C4 screenings this autumn will prove!

Big bucks, fast action and battling bravado both on and off the pitch. Sponsorship, hot dogs and hype. It's the American way of sport.

And now its all being brought to life in Hardball a sports simulation from a new company, Advance. Judging from a first look, Advance is hoping to find a gap between the poorly animated Ocean-style sports simulations and menu-driven programs like those from CCS.

Hardball manages to be a very neat combination of animated perspective graphics - covering the main action - and clever joystick controlled menus giving the strategy.

The two teams - Champs and All Stars are already set when the game begins. Unless you want a two-player game the Spectrum takes the All Stars. They're favoured as the home team but if you're not confident of a win, you can change the venue in your favour.

The only other setting you need to worry about, before you can start the game is something strange that goes under the term 'Intentional Walk'. This turns out to be to do with deciding if your hitters standing on first, second or third bases run only if your batsman runs or if they can take it into their own heads to run, even if the current batsman hits and chooses not to. It doesn't crucially affect the proceedings if you're just getting started.

The great strength of Hardball is you can switch between all three parts of the game - team selection, batting and running - by using the Break key whenever you choose. It doesn't matter if you're about to bat - you could still press Break to take a look at your team and bring on a substitute.

The team lists initially show the name of a player - Cram, Tramiel and Lineker to name but a few - quite what any of them are doing here is beyond me, but there you go. The selection board shows a player's position in the team, type of batter or fielder - whether he's left- or right-handed - and his game details.

The performance data isn't just there for decoration. It tells you how well a player's done during the season while his position and the way in which he holds his bat or catches a ball will determine how you play him.

If you select to bowl, your bowler has four speeds at which he can pitch, selected by menu from the top of the screen. Then there's the pitch angle menu. Here again, four types of pitch including Outside and High Pitch. Once you've chosen your bowling attack the ball will shoot towards the batsman. If he misses the catcher might catch the ball in his glove. The umpire will shout 'strike!'. If the throw was legal the batsman will then have one strike against him. Three strikes and he's out.

When you're in to bat the batsman has only one menu to control - whether he uses the bat to take high, low or body shots. Selection is part guessing game and part skill, watching the bowler in front of you for the slightest move. In the real thing the batsman shouldn't look behind him but here you can tell where the bowler is about to pitch by the way in which the catcher moves his glove.

Smash the ball as hard as you can and pelt for the first base. All nicely shown in animated close-up.

When you run the screen view switches to an overhead one with tiny dots representing the players and fielders. If you get to first base you bat again with your next team member..

The action is fast and as each player comes home your score-board at the top of the screen racks up the runs for the team while keeping a log of your innings, the balls pitched and the number of batsmen who have struck out.

Advance has got itself a winner here with Hardball its conversion may not be as colourful as the original Commodore 64 game - published by Accolade in the US - but the animation is fast and there's little hint of attribute clash.

Actually it turned out to be the most addictive sports simulation I've yet played. It's mainly the variety of graphics screens - close-up, birds-eyeview, and the menus - combined with easy-to-operate joystick-selected options which makes programs like Football Manager look dated and very primitive.

Label: Advance
Author: B Whitehead
Price: £9.95
Joystick: various
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: John Gilbert

*****

An on-the-ball sports program. Clever use of graphics and the thought given to gameplay make it a superior simulation.

5/5

Screenshot Text

The umpire prepares to call it a 'Strike'. Only if the catcher grabs the ball in his gauntlet though.

An overview of the field. The layer on first base decides to run for second.