Full Review: Warm, even smoking at times, but not quite on fire.
Since NBA Jam, Midway has been known for their fast-paced, over the top, and completely unrealistic sports titles. But lately, Midway has been shifting their titles slowly toward realism, and MLB Slugfest: Loaded continues the trend. While the game features all the craziness you'd expect in a Midway Sports title, it has options to dial up the realism, and features a very comprehensive franchise mode to boot. Sounds promising, but things don't quite fit together.
The game has so many options for tweaking gameplay settings that you can really make this game out to be whatever you want. But, there are three basic styles of play: Slugfest is the default mode, with the on-fire antics that you'd expect from a Midway Sports title; MLB Classic is Midway's more refined take on the sport, offering a more believable if still not sim-worthy style of play; and finally through numerous gameplay options you can customize the game to play however you'd like. In Slugfest mode, you'll see outfielders leaping 20 feet into the air to catch balls, flaming pitchers throwing 120 mph fastballs, and hitters knocking the ball deep into the next time zone. This is the style of gameplay Midway Sports fans expect.
MLB Classic is quite a different feel, with pitchers who tire and lose accuracy as the innings wear on, hitters who rely more on judgment and patience than biceps and triceps, and outfielders who frequently have to chase down balls hit over their head. The problem is that in this gameplay mode some things don't feel right. Players on the field may not be able to leap to huge heights to snag balls, but they can still make super-human dives after grounders. And, while those players covering the bases will no longer take swings at the runners as they come by, they'll now quite often let the runners run right through them without making a tag. This seems to be particularly common at home base, where I was able to frequently score runs despite the catcher being in position at home base holding the ball.
As you'd expect, Slugfest features all the current teams and players, and, as Xbox Live support has been added this year, owners of this game can also expect downloadable roster updates in the future. But, more important than that is the ability to take this game online this year and play against a friend over Live. With only two players lag is never a problem, but finding an opponent can be. Offline play offers plenty of options, but is lacking in ways to play. You can start up a single quick game, practice your hitting in a homerun derby, or dive right into the franchise mode. While the franchise mode offers a very comprehensive way to control every aspect of your team, from recruiting farm-team prospects to managing big-time salaries, casual players may be a bit put-off by all these options. A simple single-season gameplay mode is what's needed.
Graphically things are looking fairly good, with somewhat simple yet respectable looking player models, and large and detailed fields that unfortunately are filled with entirely 2-D spectators. Player animations are solid for the most part. On the audio side, the only thing worth mentioning is the play-by-play voiceover by Tim Kitzrow and Jim Shorts (as performed by Kevin Matthews). These two present an obnoxious sort dialog that some will find hilarious, and others will find terribly lame. I found little humor in their comments and would have rather listened to silence than their skits during the game's loading screens. But, considering the fan base that Kevin Matthews has in certain markets, many gamers will probably love the audio accompaniment these two provide. But, regardless of your initial feeling about them, after two or three games you'll have heard just about all the original wit they have to offer, and unfortunately there's no option to make them just call the plays.