MVP BASEBALL 2004
Release Date: March 9, 2004
Well it's March again and you know what that means, the baseball season is right around the corner! First out of the 3D baseball gate this year is EA Sports with MVP Baseball 2004. After completely rebuilding their baseball title last year, EA Sports seemed on track for a great 2004 season. There was a lot of things that needed work with last years game, but over all it was still a very good baseball game and EA really introduced some groundbreaking features in that title. With no other baseball games hitting till at least the 23, and ESPN Baseball being pushed back all the way to April 15th, it seems that EA has a big advantage this year. But where they able to make enough improvements in the off season to capitalize on their early release?
Right off the bat you are greeted with a very slick interface in MVP 2004 that is loaded with options. MVP has all the standard modes of play you have come to expect in a baseball title and a few more. MVPs strengths are not in tossing in many different and unique modes of play on top of the standard modes, but in taking the standard modes of play and really expanding them greatly compared to other baseball games. I won't cover all the basic modes of play, as they are pretty much universal, but instead cover the main modes of play and the exclusive ones. The full list of modes of play in MVP are Play Now, Exhibition, Dynasty, Home Run Showdown, Pitcher Showdown, Manager Mode and Scenario Editor. The mode most of will be spending the most time in is the all new Dynasty mode. Dynasty mode serves as your season mode as well as your, well "dynasty ". Here you will start a season with a team of your choice and have full control over your team. EA has done an amazing job with this mode and it is one of the most in-depth season modes I have ever seen for a baseball game. You have full control over pretty much every aspect of your team all from one single screen. All your standard season mode options are there, like Schedules and what's going on around the leagues. But where it really shines is in the management options. When you start a season in MVP you are not just playing as the team of your choice on the field, but also as the manger as well. And that is a very important role in MVP as well. As manager you are responsible for a number of different things, one of the most important is dealing with the day to day players and keeping them happy. Every player has a rating that shows how he's currently feeling about things. If you are not giving a player the playing time he thinks he deserves he will not like that very much and this will affect his player rating negatively. But the rating is not all that will be affected; his performance on the field will also start to be affected if he is not happy. This really adds so much more depth to the game, as not only do you have play games and win, but also keep your team happy as well. This sounds like it's a lot to deal with, but it's really not as bad or as complex as it sounds. And EA has done a great job with helping you keep up with everything. On the Dynasty mode screen there is a "mail box" option where you continually get new updates about everything from injured players around the leagues to helpful hints about managing your own team. This really makes it easy to keep track of every thing that's going on in your season. Besides keeping your team happy, you also have the task of making player transactions, updating your teams' rosters, dealing with the payroll and even offering players new contracts. If you are a hardcore baseball fan you will be in heaven with the shear amount of options and control you have over your team. If your not don't worry as EA has done a great job of letting you do only as much as you want to do. If you just want to play a season and not really have to worry to much about the other front office stuff you have nothing to worry about as you can do all of that just fine with out ever touching any of the management options. On the other hand you can handle every aspect of your team and build your own Dynasty for up to 120 seasons if you want.
One of the new features in MVP 2004 is the inclusion of every AA and AAA baseball team as well. Not only are all of them, as well as all of the players, but you also have the option to play as them too! When you go to play one of your games in Dynasty mode, you will see the games listed for that day of the week, not only for your MLB team but also for your minor league teams as well. You can sim them and play only your MLB game or play in any of your minor league games as well! This is a fantastic new feature and is sure to please the most hardcore of baseball fans.
As far as the other modes go, you have Home Run Showdown mode which is pretty much your standard home run derby. New how ever is the Pitcher Showdown mode, which puts you in the pitchers shoes and has you trying to get strike outs. Both modes have a points system that adds a bit of spice to these modes. In the HR Showdown mode, you have a set total distance you are trying to reach. HR gives you a 100 foot bonus while foul balls and strikes subtract feet from your total distance. In Pitcher Showdown strike outs give you one point while HRs allowed and walks subtract one point from your total. While nothing ground breaking, both of these modes are quite entertaining to play, especially with a friend.
Manager Mode (not to be confused with the manager option in dynasty mode) is a fully text based sim that puts you in the role of manager and let's you make the call on all the plays. For anyone who has played any of the text based PC management sport sims you will be right at home here. This is a very addicting mode of play and is a nice break in-between games.
Rounding out the options is the Scenario Editor which lets you put your self in any game setting you can think of. You have the ability to pick the number of outs, who is at bat, who's pitching, stamina level of the pitcher and many many many more options. Then it's up to you to see if you can get out of the scenario you have created.
Now that you know about all the modes and features of MVP 2004, it's time to take a look at how it plays. This year EA has really done there work and made a lot of improvements to the game play of MVP. The most important feature of any baseball game is the pitcher/batter interface. It's also the hardest to get right. While many developers have done a good job with the batting part, none have really captured the feel of pitching, which is one of the biggest parts of baseball. Well that is no longer the case as EA has crafted a pitching system that is very realistic and nearly perfectly captures the feel of pitching. Unlike other baseball games where all you do is pick a pitch and a location and hit the button, in MVP you actually have to "throw" the ball. This is done by way of a pitch meter that is a lot like those found in golf games. You have a small green zone on the meter which is the accuracy zone. When you select a pitch and pick the location, you have to hit the button to start the wind up and then hit it again to try and stop the bar in the middle of the green zone. This adds a whole new level to base ball games and so much more depth. You are in full control of your pitcher and just like in real life, mistakes do happen. If you stop the bar to the left or right of the green zone, that curve ball on the inner part of the plate suddenly ends up in the middle and not curving all that much, which in turn means there a high likely hood that it's going to get hit hard some where. This new pitching system really puts a lot more realism into the game as well as pressure. No pitch is a given anymore, if you are trying to throw a fast ball on the inside on the hands to a power hitter to jam him, you know you have to hit that green zone, if you miss by only a tiny bit trying to throw it in that location, depending on what side you miss the green zone on, you will either hit the batter or throw one right down the middle. The meter it self is set up in a way where it is easy to get it close to the green zone, but still tough enough so you wont always hit it. Just like in real life, there will be many times during a game where you will miss the green zone on the meter and miss throw a pitch. Depending on how much you miss the zone will determine how far off your pitch will be. Nothing else comes close to this system in baseball games to capturing the feel of pitching and EA Sports has done an amazing job of balancing this and getting it nearly perfect.
But what good is a great pitching system with out a good batting system? Thankfully EA has done a great job with the batting system in MVP baseball. The batting system, or as EA calls it "Pure Swing" in MVP is a old school timing system where you just hit the button to swing when the ball is crossing the plate. There are no boxes to move and aim or anything like that. At first this sounds like a step back, but there is a lot more depth here. You also can "aim" where you want to try and hit the ball to on the field. Using the right joystick to aim, you can try and hit pop fly's, grounders or pull the ball. But just because your pointing it up and to the right, does not mean you will hit a pop fly to right field. Timing plays a big role in where your ball goes too, if you swing too early or late this will greatly effect where your ball goes. This is a very simple system, yet it has a good bit of depth to it too, while at the same time very realistic. In real life you can not "aim" balls to where ever you want them to go, which is the case with other baseball games that use the "box" system. In real life, you can try and hit balls in the direction you want but they can end up any where depending on your timing. Pure Swing captures that perfectly.
Probably the most challenging part of MVP baseball is getting use to the fielding. Fielding in MVP is a lot like the fielding in most baseball games in many ways, but in a few key areas it's quite different. When a ball is hit you go and move your fielder to the icon on the ground were the ball is going to land, nothing special there. The infield plays great like this and thanks to the "Big Play Control" system, you can dive for the ball, do a sliding catch or jump for the ball all by pressing the right joystick in different directions. Pressing it left or right makes your player drive for the ball, pressing it up makes him jump for it and ect. Much like the batting system, this is a very well done take on fielding. Instead of having multiple buttons for each one of those moves, there all mapped to the right joystick, which really simplify the controls greatly. You can also rob homers and swipe towards different sides of the base with the right joystick as well, giving you total control of your fielders all from one place. The other unique feature is the throw meter. When ever you go to throw a ball after you make a play, there is a meter over your players head indicating how much power he got on the throw. The face pad buttons on the Xbox and PS2 controller correspond to all the bases, if you tap the button of a base to throw to, the fielder will make a quick toss to the bag. If you press and hold the button down for a few sec the meter will fill up and when you release your fielder will throw a rocket to the base. Quick tossing works great for most in field plays, but most anything from the out field will need some power on it. But you have to be careful not to put to much on it, if you hold the button down till the meter fills up the red zone, it will have a lot of power on it, but there is also a good chance that the throw will be off line or that a error will be made. This is all based on the stats of who is actually throwing the ball. If you have say, Andrew Jones of the Braves throwing the ball from the red zone of the meter, chances are it will still be on target or only a little off line. If you have some one that is not known for a good arm, then the chance is much greater that it will be greatly off line and may even get past the fielder. This is another fantastic feature of MVP that gives you much more control over what's going on and really makes you feel like your more in the game.
That being said, there are some small problems with the fielding, mainly the out fielding. It is pretty easy for balls to get past your out fielders and roll all the way to the wall as they by default are pretty slow, too slow in fact. But thankfully there is a whole set of game play tuning options that you can adjust. You can speed up the out fielders speed and slow down the base runners a bit to make things much more realistic. At default there are quite a few problems with it due to this. It's never a good sign when catchers are getting triples on hits that should have been nothing more then a single due to the ball getting past your out fielders and rolling to the wall. Once you adjust the speed of the base runners and out fielders a little bit though, most of these problems are fixed.
MVP also makes great use of the cut off man. This is not really a problem, but more something you got to get use to. While other games have had cut off men to throw the ball to for a few years now, MVP really makes you use them when you need them. If you get the ball deep in the ball park and need to get it in quick, you MUST throw to the cut off man first. If you don't your out fielder won't be able to get the ball all the way in resulting in extra bases for the runner. This to is very realistic, but it does take a little getting use to as most people are just use to hitting the corresponding button of the bag no matter how deep in the field they are.
Graphically speaking MVP Baseball over all looks good, but there are a few things that keep it from looking great. The player models are very well done and look quite realistic. The uniforms are nicely textured as well as the rest of the model. A lot of the player faces how ever, while looking good from a texture standpoint, look not much like their real life counterparts. The stadiums themselves look good over all and hold true to the real life ones. But there are some really really really bad textures here and there on them that really takes away from their over all look. And when I say bad textures, I really mean just some nasty, ugly textures that are very pixelated and look like they were ripped right out of an N64 game. There is really no excuse for textures like that, even on PS2 nowadays, much less Xbox or Game Cube. Speaking of bad textures, the Sky back ground in some of the cities are just plane ugly. It appears the same guy who did some of the textures in the stadiums got a hold of some of the sky backgrounds as well. Now that the bad is out of the way, lets talk about some of the good, or in these cases, the great. The lighting in this game looks very nice. Day time looks like day time, dusk looks like dusk and night looks like night. There is a noticeable difference between each and they are look very realistic. The animation in this game is easily the game's strongest graphical feature. No other baseball game really comes close to the animation quality of MVP Baseball. There are so many different animations in the game it's mind boggling. Even after a season I am still seeing new animations here and there. And there are very smooth too. Even the transition animations are superbly done. While some of the other areas of the graphics bring down the games realism a bit, the animations more than make up for it and are a true site to behold. Also making things sweeter is the fact that the Xbox version supports 720p HDTV resolutions. This really makes the game look a lot sharper, although considering how bad some of the textures look at 640x480 resolution, making them sharper is not a good thing. Still a nice touch and good to see EA Sports supporting some of the HDTV features of Xbox. When you factor in everything, MVP Baseball is a good looking game that comes close to looking great, but a few bad textures and models hold it back a bit.
The AI in this game even on the easier settings is very good, especially when it comes to hitting. The AI is quick to capitalize on miss located pitches and hit them hard. You also will see the AI make some very realistic decisions like walking the 8th place hitting to get to the pitcher and pulling a pitcher when he starts to get into trouble. EA has done a great job of crafting a very realistic AI and in so doing so, the games are played out in a very true to life fashion.
Sound wise, MVP does a great job of capturing the noise of the crowd. After big plays, the crowd will start going nuts, and there is different noise levels depending on what just happened. They will also chant some player's names when they come up to bat and make some not so nice comments here and there. This really adds to the whole atmosphere of the game. Another nice touch is the music that is played as players come to the plate for home games. The commentary is also pretty well done, but still comes off a little dry and robotic at times. Sega Sports is still the king in that area.
Over all MVP Baseball is an outstanding game that no baseball fan should miss. No other baseball game so far as been able to fully capture the feel of pitching, fielding and batting like MVP has. The pitching and fielding interfaces are unmatched and are down right groundbreaking, yet extremely simple to pick up on and use. And that is one of the best things about MVP, it gives you loads of depth and control over every aspect of the game, but it is presented in such a way that does not overwhelm the gamer. There is little difference between the Xbox, PS2 and GC versions of this game. The Xbox looks the best and runs the smoothest, fallowed by GC and then PS2. But the difference is really not that big and all versions look and play great. The PS2 version is the only version that supports online play, so if that is something that is really importan to you then you might want to pick up a copy of the PS2 version. EA Sports has really done a great job on this title across all systems. If you are looking for the best playing baseball sim out there, look no further than MVP Baseball 2004.
Xbox/PC : 9.1/10
GC/PS2 : 8.9/10
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