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MVP Baseball 2003 (PS2) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info
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PS2 Screens (5)

It's a whole new ballgame for EA Sports. Rather than try to revamp their (in)famous Triple Play series, they have opted to take their baseball franchise back to the practice field and start from scratch. MVP Baseball 2003 is the product of that rebuild. Overall, the game is much truer to the sport than Triple Play; however, it still lacks the finishing power to get it to Game Seven of the World Series. While several of the features are excellent, there are still many areas--especially on defense--that need dramatic improvement.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
As to be expected, the graphics are top-notch. We've always been able to depend on great graphics on the whole from EA, and MVP is no exception. In fact, they've completely revamped the player models from Triple Play. In MVP Mo Vaughn is fat, and Jeter is skinny, not like Triple Play where Greg Maddux looked like he weighed in at two bills. The artists have done a much better job rendering the player models, and the faces are much more distinguished versus Triple Play where everyone seemed to be a small deviation of three or four basic player models.

You also get smooth graphics in the field, as players look realistic adjusting to liners and ground balls; however, the diving graphics are weak. Many times the ball will be flying straight into the back of your player only to suddenly appear in his glove. I was always taught to catch the ball with two hands, and that's a great rule in theory, but when you're diving to make the play, it's unreasonable. In MVP, every player dives with both arms forward in a pose that would make Superman proud.

The stadiums look like exact replicas, and you even get dust swirling around the batter's box from time to time. You can see the batter adjusting his grip as the pitch is delivered, and you even get a broken bat every now and then. This makes for a wonderful "perk". The ball trajectory is awesome, and the fielding markers don't detract from the game play. Plus, you can turn on or off certain features like the comet tail for the ball or the icons below skilled fielders among others.

Presentation/Audio : 90
The audio in MVP is solid. The sounds of the crowd are very good, as you can hear the San Diego fans chant "Beat L.A." when the Dodgers are in town. The vendors come through nicely without taking away from the game. You won't get the rich detail that World Series gives you as far as crowd noise, but MVP provides enough material to make you feel like you're really at a game.

The play-by-play is adequate. The commentary comes from San Francisco Giants' announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, and they provide some good insight and great one-liners throughout the game. I must admit, though, I've found the commentary gets relatively redundant rather quickly, whereas in Triple Play I could find myself in September hearing things I hadn't heard before. The sounds of the glove popping from a hard fastball are good, and on the flip side you can tell when you've gotten good wood on the ball, as EA does a fantastic job of replicating what I think is one of the greatest sounds in all of sports: the crack of the bat.

Interface/Options : 90
The menus and game options are basic and intuitive, making them easy to maneuver. The main options include: Play Now, Game Modes, Roster Management, Options, Harold Reynolds' MVP Tips, and EA Sports Extras. Game Modes include: Franchise, Season, Tournament (playoffs, including a round robin), and Home Run Showdown.

The main highlight here is obviously the fact that this is EA's first attempt at a baseball franchise mode. I jumped right in on this and found it to be a very good franchise setup. It's not as deep as World Series, but there looks to be 40-man rosters where you'll have to activate and inactivate players as you need them. You're also given goals from the beginning, and these goals correspond with the talent of the team. In other words, if you choose the Yanks, you're going to need to win a World Series (and soon), otherwise Steinbrenner will have you out on your ear. Pick the Padres and finishing over .500 is enough to keep your job. The more goals you attain, the better your grade, which creates a bigger team budget as well the opportunity to entertain offers from other teams. One of the more interesting features that sets MVP's franchise mode apart from others is the ability to jump into the middle of a simulated game. Should you simulate a game, you'll watch its progress inning by inning. If you see a need or have a desire to change the outcome, you can intervene with the push of a button. This becomes important because your team has a momentum meter that affects the outcomes of the games you play, especially the simulated ones. I prefer to play every game of a season, but I think this feature will appeal to more of the casual fans who don't have the time and/or patience that I do, i.e. they have a life.

The other main difference is the Home Run Showdown. Gone are the competitions where home runs are tallied and foul balls recorded as outs. You will go head-to-head through a split screen against your opponent in a race to see who can get to the selected total distance first. All your hits are measured in feet and any foul balls subtract from your total. Swing and miss and it will cost you 100 feet. The approach is completely different than the traditional home run derby format and I had mixed feelings. I liked the focus on the home run in the derby mode, but I have to admit, this showdown mode is a really fast paced and exciting approach. EA deserves props for changing the formula here. It's well done. The only drawback is the split screen doesn't allow for that feeling you get when you absolutely crush one.

One other feature of note is the Harold Reynolds' MVP Tips. While it was relatively informative, I was expecting something like Madden's Football 101 where he explains the play, and then you give it a try. This is a straight tutorial where all you do is listen to his points and watch it happen, but nothing more. That was a little disappointing, especially considering how much has changed. Some type of practice mode would have been a great benefit from a player's perspective.

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Gameplay - Pitching: 95
The pitching aspects of MVP are among the best of the baseball games on the market. In fact, the new batter/pitcher interface is arguably the strongest feature of the game and is unique in the baseball genre as a whole. Rather than simply selecting a pitch, placing it strategically in the zone, and pressing the button, you're presented with a completely new interface similar to the kicking meter in Madden or the swing meter in Tiger Woods.

First, you use the analog stick to select the area in the zone you want your pitch headed. The ball cursor floats around nicely, allowing precise positioning of the pitch. After you've picked your spot, press and hold the button for the corresponding pitch you're looking to toss. The meter will rise to the top, and this will determine the power. Release the button as close to the top as possible, and the indicator will make its way back down. On the way back, a green area marks the accuracy of the pitch. Try to press the button again in the middle of that green shading. Keep in mind, though, the stronger the power, the smaller the accuracy area, so it will take some coordination on your part to get an accurate pitch. If you're off by the smallest of margins, the batter gets an indicator as to where the pitch is headed, and he will most likely crush it. This feature is true to the art of pitching and really adds some skill and excitement to being on the mound.

This new indicator is also a nice challenge and a nice change of pace in that it will take you a few pitches to adjust because each pitcher has a slightly different meter depending on the type of pitcher they are (starter, relief, closer), and depending on how skilled they are. In addition, the meter changes slightly depending on the type of pitch and how well he can throw it. Also, as pitchers tire, their accuracy indicators get smaller and smaller, keeping you engaged throughout the game.

As far as I can tell, there are no passed balls or wild pitches. Also, if you're playing the CPU on the All Star level, there doesn't seem to be a distinction between the hot (red) and cold (blue) areas of the hitter's zone (see description below). Every pitch seems to be hit equally well, especially with the good players.

Gameplay - Hitting: 90
Another strong aspect of MVP is the hitting. There are several angles to hit from, but they all display the hitter's hot and cold areas in the strike zone as red and blue, respectively. This is key because you know to lay off pitches in the blue areas where your batter is weak and to jump on pitches in the red zones. I found this indicator to be accurate. My guys clubbed pitches left in their red zones, and dribbled anything hit in the blue.

While the computer handles the majority of the mechanics of the swing, you are still able to control the timing and whether you want to try and turn on the inside pitch or take a pitch on the black to the opposite field. You can also swing up for that crucial sac fly late in the game, or you can pound one into the ground for a hit-and-run.

The hits seem very realistic. If you pull an outside pitch, chances are you'll ground out weakly to short or third. While the home runs are much harder to crush, you will see a lot more triples and doubles, which is a real improvement on the Triple Play series.

I found the bunting to be miserable. Since the computer more or less takes control of your bat during a bunt, the direction of the ball will pretty much follow the pitch. In other words, a pitch down the middle tends to produce a bunt up the middle. I found drag bunting for base hits to be maddening since you can't push the bunt in a certain direction like down the line. However, this feature is adequate for sac bunts.

I make my next statement under the assumption that there is not a baseball sim out there that can fix this problem; but I would love to see a game give the gamer an idea as to the spin of the pitch i.e., what type of pitch is coming to the plate. I played baseball in college, and in every at-bat I had I could tell from the seams on the ball and the spin what type of pitch was coming. I have yet to see a baseball game produce a feature like this. As a result, you're more or less left guessing. To make things even more difficult, the CPU does a great job masking changeups to look like fastballs and vice versa. Granted, though, this is both a weakness and a strength, but it keeps the game challenging.

Gameplay - Baserunning: 90
Again, MVP has brought back a feature long since abandoned in the next-gen baseball games: the ability to watch your runners in real-time around the bases at the top of the screen rather than seeing a colored and meaningless dot trace the diamond. The ability to see exactly where your runners are, in relation to the bases, is great because you can determine whether to risk stretching a double into a triple or if it's going to be a bang-bang play. You also have full control of leadoffs, should you choose. Take an extra step if you're looking to steal, or be conservative with your lead if you've got a big slugger up. The folks at EA have done a great job with this feature. Even the graphics of the baserunners look great as they round the bases.

Another strength in the running is that the computer takes control, but it allows you to override if you prefer. Actually, though, I found the computer to be right on the money in terms of deciding when to risk it and when to be conservative. The A.I. really handles the decisions of the runners very well.

As far as leadoffs go, if you have the bases jammed, it's tough to get everyone an extra step before the pitcher comes to the plate. That's because you have to push the button of the baserunner you want to move, then you have to move him. This gets tough going from runner to runner in such a short amount of time.

Gameplay - Fielding: 70
(Nothing like saving the worst for last.)

The fielding is the most disappointing aspect of the game. The only saving grace is the power meter you use for each player as you throw. This meter is similar to the pitching meter, except you only need to press and release. The longer you hold the button, the stronger you'll throw the ball. Before you get too excited, the stronger the throw, the more likely it'll be offline. Rarely do they make throws that are way off the mark, but missing by a few feet can be the difference between ending the inning and starting a bad rally. That really is the only positive I could see as far as the defensive play is concerned.

Where to begin? Well, I have to start with the biggest disappointment-- the automation of the A.I. when it comes to making great plays like dives, jumps, or wall crawling. You no longer have the option to press a button when you think you've timed it just right to make a diving play or rob a homerun. The ability of your player to make a great play is completely dependent on the A.I. True, your player's defensive ability factors in, but ultimately the computer decides when and when not to dive, jump, or climb the wall. The trouble I had with this feature was that I would have my outfielder sprinting hard on a ball in the gap, and I would take a sharp angle thinking that he could get there on a dive, only to see that the A.I. didn't feel like getting the guy's jersey dirty, so the ball floats innocently by leaving me left to scramble to get the ball in before a double turns into an inside-the-park homer. That really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Another problem seems to be a glitch in the outfielders' abilities to catch routine fly balls. This doesn't happen every time, but it happens enough to be frustrating. I would get myself in perfect position to make the catch on a routine pop-up (at least in perfect position according to the fielding indicator), when the ball would fall harmlessly (and perplexingly) to the ground completely untouched. Or, better yet, my guy would be camped under it only to suddenly make a botched dive attempt and drop the ball. This was infuriating to no end!

A major problem with defensive play also involves how the players catch and throw. They take excruciatingly long to get into throwing position after fielding or receiving the ball. Granted, for the outfield this isn't as much of a problem; however, infielders need to get the ball out of the glove quickly, especially with double plays. Great technique, it just takes far too long.

A spin off to the throwing problems is the ability of the fielders to make a tag on a baserunner. Regardless of the situation, any time a fielder catches the ball, he immediately goes into the proper throwing position. This is especially annoying when my centerfielder makes a perfect throw to the plate. The runner is bearing down, my catcher grabs the throw, and instead of applying the tag to the runner who's right in front of him, he wheels and aims as if to throw to second base. Needless to say, the runner gets in safely behind him. Only then does my catcher turn and swipe a tag. Too late, buddy!

Replay Value : 90
The replay value is good. The new pitcher/batter interface alone will take some time to get used to, especially on the pitching end since each pitcher's meter is slightly different. Plus, we've all been waiting for the franchise mode from EA for a long time, and while it can be a bit more robust like World Series, it is a very nice mode, especially since it's their first next gen attempt. Plus, the ability to simulate and intervene will really keep people coming back to finish out that long, grueling 162-game schedule.

Overall : 85
While I'm disappointed in some aspects, I'm not out to make this game a bad one. I really saw a lot of progress in MVP vs. Triple Play; however, it looks like even the studs at EA are entitled to make some rookie mistakes. While the stronger features like the new pitcher/batter interface are outstanding, I'm not sold that this is the king of the mound. The major problem is with the defense, and I think defense wins championships. If you're a big fan of EA and of their graphics this is a game worth picking up. If you're a die-hard baseball fan like I am, it's looking like World Series Baseball may take Game Seven this year.

By: Chris Kelly 3/20/03

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