MLB 2005 Review (PS2)
By Tim Martin -- Reviews Editor
In the last year and a half, 989 Sports has regained some credibility in the sports gaming world after years of embarrassingly awful games. The improvement has come behind strong showings in their professional sports games in conjunction with the most innovative online interface on the market. Last year's game, MLB 2004, was a solid effort and held its own against the stiff baseball gaming market. This year, the main improvements are a boosted franchise mode and new Total Control hitting, fielding and base running controls.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The looks of MLB 2005 are sometimes shining, but the attention to detail is lacking. Compared to MVP, MLB has less texture and detail on the player models. The uniforms have less swerve and lines. The lighting is real time, but only in 3/4 of the stadium as beyond the outfield walls the scene turns into awkward 2-dimensional sprites. You can see the dots of some skyline fixtures as the resolution isn't strong enough. The in-field aesthetics look pretty good, but, glaringly, there is an absence of anything in the dugouts. No players. No water coolers. No bats or helmets. As a gamer, you don't get the feeling of completeness.
Presentation/Audio : 70
The sound effects border cartoon-like at times, as the crack of the bat and the dink of a line drive off the outfield wall are often exaggerated. The play-by-play led by ESPN's Dave Campbell is obvious and slow. The menu screen music isn't bad, however, as the 16 songs blend rock and hip hop ranging from Black Eye Peas to Nickelback.
Interface/Options : 90
The interface in MVP is fantastic because it's easy to navigate and great to look at, both in-game and in the menu screens. Baseball games are hard to have a clean interface with because of the sheer number of statistics. EA is able to pull it off with good use of colors, and large player mugshots. League-wide news is delivered in an e-mail format that is also used with ESPN College Basketball. The in-game interface is also great, if not intuitive as you can access a great number of jobs and information with the click of a button. Warming up pitchers? L2. Switching defensive formations in the infield and outfield? R2. To look at the pitches you've thrown to a batter in all their at-bats? Press L3.
The game modes are nothing special, but there is a scenario mode and a neat pitcher's showdown where you have to strike out three batters without giving up a homerun. As of April 9, EA Sports had not posted a new rosters update online.
Gameplay : 88
The gameplay grows on you. At first play, the game lacks the flash and dazzle of MVP Baseball, but I believe the experience is just as thorough in the long run. The little, gritty baseball details enrich the playing experience.
All aspects of the game - hitting, pitching, baserunning and fielding - were augmented this year with TotalControl. The idea demands labeling as innovative. For hitting you select a difficult level ranging from rookie to veteran to all-star. The idea is ingenious. At the beginning level, you are faced with simple timing-based hitting. The difficulty increases at the next level by throwing in guessing the pitch and swing location. Just like in MVP Baseball and ESPN Baseball, there are nine hitting zones (think a boxed in tic-tac-toe board) where you can have hot or cold. The veteran mode allows you to cover six of the nine zones depending on where you push the left analog stick. The All-Star mode just gets ridiculous. While the Guess Pitch mode was seen in the High Heat baseball games in the mid-1990s, MLB takes it to a new level as you don't merely guess the pitch, you must also guess the location. Most gamers probably do this subliminally, guessing a high and away fastball will probably be followed with a low and in breaking ball, but this forces you to analyze and predict every pitch. The Guess Pitch is handled by another boxed in interface, but the nine zones are ditched for an eight-zone one that looks like a rectangular pie chart. That hitting difficult exhausts you, but it is fun nonetheless.
The pitching incorporates the "place the ball inside a box" interface, but the original placement does not factor in a pitch's break. That means, while you may be able to pinpoint fastballs on the lower left-hand corner, your curveballs and tailing pitches are an inexact science. This, of course, takes away precision and provides a more realistic feeling. You aren't quite as sure.
The TotalControl thing does come at a price: the learning curve is steep. Most gamers will probably lack the patience and discipline needed to master such an intuitive, thorough and complex system. You have to really think to even hit a single. I'll admit my frustrations with my lack of success, as after a few games of scoreless ball, I switched back to veteran hoping to sharpen my abilities. The game's completeness in the fundamentals serves as its strongest attribute and its weakest. The game lacks the fast-paced fun seen in MVP Baseball. MLB trades impulsive enjoyment for a more patient one. Even on the beginning levels on quick play, the game, based partly on its dull color palette, fails to provide the same electric energy of MVP.
Baserunning is also a chore. While retreating or advancing all base runners is not difficult -- a simple press or L1 or R1 - sending one runner but not another is near impossible. This is a problem with every baseball game. You can select one player, depending on their base at the time, with one of the four interface buttons. You then tell them to go to a base by using the directional pad. This system usually works, but every time I need a player to retreat to a bag while sending the other player or two, I run into problems. This constant button combination exercise reminds me of trying to pull off combination moves in Mortal Kombat or Virtua Figher. You want to pull off a button combination, but your thumbs can't quite stretch quickly enough. I get that type of feeling with all baseball games. This usually comes up when you have multiple people on the base paths; or when you send a guy from third to home and can't decide whether to send the other guy to second.
But main components aside, the little details make this a similar experience to High Heat baseball. In my first five games, I saw a few things I have yet to experience with MVP Baseball: a double switch, a double steal and a drag bunt. Sure, those are all rare experiences in normal baseball, but they do happen. What those gambles tell me is that the game intelligence is churning. Even some things as simple as an intelligent cutoff make me stop and think: "That was sweet!" It's little things, such as the first time I saw an infielder in High Heat intentionally one-hop his throw on Astroturf because it would get there quicker. It's something a baseball fan would pick up on that a normal fan would not appreciate.
The ball physics also impressed me. Usually exaggerated in other baseball games, the bounce off the outfield walls and the rebounds of ground balls was accurate. I didn't see many odd hops during infield hits, but that's the only complaint I have.
I do have some complaints with the throwing power of all players. Too often, a weak armed player or a strong-armed player in a fading momentum would throw Bo Jackson-like bullets. Throwing is not meter-based as in MVP Baseball, but rather it's a simple button press. It's too generic and doesn't factor in enough the momentum of the fielder. Other than that, the ball flutters while in the air and doesn't have a crisp zip.
Replay Value : 80
If you like the gameplay, you'll learn the complex hitting modes and enjoy a great online mode. Most of us, however, will probably quit before then. I love the attention to detail, but that said, I haven't played all the baseball games. The game offers enough with the Career Mode and a solid Franchise Mode.
Overall : 83
With a graphics overhaul (989 Sports: think louder and brighter with your color scheme) and more forgiving gameplay, MLB could be comparable to High Heat Baseball in its depth. And that would be a good thing, as High Heat was purchased by Microsoft and may or may not return to the Playstation 2. But the game builds on last year's solid game with another good effort. Compared to the other 989 Sports games, I think MLB 2005 is the strongest in its particular sport. NFL GameDay and NCAA GameBreaker are miles away from EA Sports and ESPN Games. NBA ShootOut wasn't up to par, and NCAA Final Four was a joke. MLB 2005, even if it is the worst of a very strong batch of Playstation 2 baseball games, is a solid effort that would put 60 percent of sports games to shame.