EA Sports’ MVP Baseball hit the shelves in late February, kick starting the new crop of PlayStation 2 games in a baseball genre that has changed dramatically in the last two years. Gone are former heavyweights High Heat Baseball (3DO) and All Star Baseball (Acclaim), two games that were industry leaders in simulation gameplay and customization. MVP, which used to be called Triple Play Baseball, underwent a name change for the same reason MCI all of a sudden became WorldCom: bad publicity. The game quality has improved steadily since the name switch three years ago.
Presentation/Graphics : 92
EA Sports has always taken pride in its player face mapping and stadiums. Last year, I said MVP Baseball was the best looking sports game ever. The graphics are still solid, but sports games have maxed out the PS2’s capabilities in this area. Next year when the PS3 arrives, we’ll probably see bigger strides made and wider gaps between competing games. And so, graphics are gauged now not as much on the number of pixels but rather the quantity of accessories, such as uniforms, player equipment and ballpark amenities. In this area MVP succeeds, just like all the other EA Sports games. Teams have four or more uniforms, ranging from throwback jerseys to spring training uniforms. The stadiums look great and are mostly accurate.
Presentation/Audio : 73
The game’s soundtrack is decent, with baseball-themed songs from groups like Dropkick Murphys and the Donots. You do get a baseball stadium ambience, organ player and all. The in-game commentary lacks the humorous chemistry or non-routine insight prevalent in good sports games, often sticking only to the routine comments. Achieving worthwhile commentary is understandably difficult, especially for baseball, but it succeeds or fails in that dead time between pitches or batters. It’s at that time when announcers provide a nugget of expert or background information that provides context, clarity or entertainment. The other facet to successful baseball commentary is emotion following a home run, a great diving catch, a whooshing fastball strike three. MVP’s commentary seems forced and sterile. Sports games can be innovative in the audio department. Think of Madden and its live talk radio show that plays while surfing your Franchise Mode interface or the player speech in the ESPN Videogames.
Interface/Options : 83
While the new additions are nice, the game offers little substantive customization and suffers from a lethargic simulation engine. The game added two game modes that really add to the long-term appeal. The first main addition is two mini-games (hitting and pitching) that you can play during spring training which can raise or lower your player ratings. This set-up was taken from Madden Football, which first introduced it two years ago. The hitting game is like batting practice, as you must slap the ball to certain sections of the field. The pitching game requires that you hit a precise spot on a color-coded grid.
The second main addition is Owner’s Mode, an alternative to the regular Dynasty mode that forces you to deal with balance sheets. However, EA gives you the option to either take on the micro-managed Owner’s mode or the traditional route. Owner Mode, which can be played up to 120 seasons, ups the ante in the human control over an organization but has logistical problems. You even have to design your own ballpark from the outset. Still, a boggy simulation engine stifles most of the potential fun. Not only does it take close to one hour to simulate an entire season, you cannot just click on “Simulate Season” and leave, because of pop-up screens for player injuries and suspensions. There is no option to turn those screens off. And when the off-season comes, the ease of signing free agents due to a lack of CPU aggression makes building a dynasty easy.
Regarding gameplay, MVP has an impressive number of batting and fielding camera angles; however, you cannot set separate camera angles for when you bat and pitch. MVP also does not provide AI sliders, a laughable omission in today’s sports gaming world.
Gameplay : 83
You must remember when playing MVP that its goal is to not provide an uber-realistic baseball simulation. Some of the rules of physics are smudged or bent. You’ll see more diving catches, snappier breaking balls, deeper home run blasts. The intended goal is to provide gamers with the most user friendly experience – and in that area, MVP succeeds. The batter-pitcher interface is a big part why. Pitching is a three-click meter, similar to those in golf games, that determines both accuracy and power. I like this set-up quite a bit, as it better defines workhorse and control pictures because the speed of the meter quickens or slows depending on a pitcher’s talent. For hitting, the strike zone is divided into nine zones, which can be colored red or blue depending on whether it’s a hot or cold zone.
The new feature to the interface this year is Hitter’s Eye, which allows you to spot the type of pitch right out of the pitcher’s hand because the ball glows purple, orange, green, red, or white depending on the pitch. This has a steep learning curve and it’s easier, at first, to just play as you would normally. The more deceptive a pitcher, the less time you’ll have to see the color of the pitch. Games playing on a smaller television (like me) will have a difficult time.
The core problems with last year’s game were base running and fielding. The base running has become more intelligent this year and the CPU is less likely to be suckered into an errant throw that results in a free extra base. The fielding provided frustration because the results of using the right analog stick were erratic. The set-up was supposed to be like the Freestyle seen in the other EA Sports games, but often produced a dive when you wanted a jump; and vice versa. The problems seem shored up this year, although a jittery throwing meter and slow running outfielders make winning a Gold Glove difficult.
The micromanagement of the actual game – warming up pitchers, reviewing previous at-bats, pinch batters – is a cinch, as you can cycle through most decisions by using the R2 and L2 buttons. A useful picture-in-picture screen pops up after most swing and misses, providing instant feedback on how badly you missed an offspeed pitch or fastball. But if you disagree with a call, you can have your manager argue the call. You can even adjust the intensity of the complaint by pressing the triangle button. You can give your team a boost in ratings, but you can also get tossed. If you do … you revoke all abilities to warm up pitchers, etc. to the CPU, who often makes oddball decisions!
The A.I. seems conservative and rarely provides a surprise move, like a hit-and-run or double steal. Small ball teams like the Twins play similar to brutish teams like the Cardinals. Worse off, teams using the “every pitch counts” strategy, like the Oakland A’s and the Boston Red Sox, are as guilty as anyone when it comes to first-pitch outs. The diversity of team strategies is not present. Small problems, like slow player running and the over effectiveness of the check swing could be fixed if there were A.I. sliders.
Replay Value : 84
Ever since online compatibility has allowed for updated rosters, the shelf life of sports games has increased tenfold. The Owner Mode requires a lot of management and time, but will whet the appetite of hardcore baseball fans – assuming you don’t want to simulate most your games and zip through various seasons. The mini-games are a fun skills builder. Like other EA games, MVP is great as a multi-player experience. The games can range from offensive fireworks to a pitcher’s duel.
Overall : 85
MVP has improved greatly since the Triple Play days. Most of the bugs from last year’s game are fixed, although A.I. sliders would have been nice. The new Owner’s Mode, while not incorporating all of the interface bells and whistles of Madden, allows for complete control of an organization. While MVP will likely fall short of fulfilling gamers wanting a true simulation, the game blends realism and arcade successfully, just as many other EA games have done in the past.