Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: February 22, 2005
As George Carlin once quipped, "Baseball is about as interesting as watching flies fornicate." Of course, George didn’t say "fornicate," but I kinda have to if I want to keep my gig here at WorthPlaying. Either that, or Judy goes nuts with the cyber-red pen. (Love ya, baby).
I have always felt pretty much the same way about "America’s Pastime." It moves too slowly, has too much down time, and no aggressive contact (unless you were one of the unluckies who ticked off Ty Cobb back in the day). I am now, always have been, and always will be a die-hard NFL fan. I always believed that baseball was for little mama's boys who were too scared to take a real hit on the gridiron.
As a child, my mother tried to encourage an interest in baseball by signing me up for little league, and buying a subscription to a thing called the "Junior Orioles." This was a really cheap package deal where you got a strip of tickets out in the bleachers for about 10 of the least-anticipated games of the season. I never got to see the Yankees, or the Dodgers or any of the "good" teams, and as far as Little League was concerned, suffice it to say I played right field. 'Nuff said? I thought so. Baseball. Yawn.
On the other hand, however, I have been consistently blown away by EA Sports' impressive roster of titles. Sports that I otherwise disliked (basketball), felt passé about (golf), or downright didn’t understand (rugby) became part of my regular gaming regimen. (Shameless Plug: Look for my review of EA Sports' Rugby 2005 for the Xbox, coming soon.) Hell, I even have a copy of the import EA Sports' Cricket for the PC. Don't get me wrong, I still don't really understand Cricket, but the game is a hoot and a half to play.
Keep all this in your minds, loyal readers…
Let's start at the beginning. Much is made of "who gets the cover" on an EA Sports game. I'm pretty sure that only Tiger Woods has a lock on the honor. I still beam with pride each and every time I open Madden 2005 and see my hometown hero, Ray Lewis on the cover. As far as MVP Baseball is concerned, I have no idea who the guy on the cover is. It really doesn’t matter to me, and if I ever find out, I’ll probably forget in a matter of nanoseconds. After all, he’s only a baseball player (ducking from angry Red Sox fans hurling peanuts and Cracker Jack).
Ya know what? I have just said virtually all of the truly negative things I have to say about MVP Baseball 2005, and those things are relative to the sport itself, not this latest in a string of winners for perennial heavyweight EA Sports.
This game is a tonic for those of us who couldn't bear to sit through a four-hour extra-inning pitchers' duel without the temptation to take our own lives. You can play an entire game in a matter of 20 to 30 minutes! Less, if you have two really accurate pitchers out there.
In the days of short attention spans, this is a revelation to me. At last, the strategy becomes clear, the setting of outfielders to one side or the other, the depth of the infield, the choice of pitches, the subtleties of base running. You can even storm out of the dugout (in great old Baltimore Earl Weaver style) to confront the umpire about a bonehead call.
This will not become a discourse on the rules and strategies of baseball. I figure if you are reading this, you already know the what, where, when, why, who and how of the game. Either that or you are an insomniac who doesn’t react to heavy sedation and are going through a marathon reading session of my body of work here, hoping to bore yourself to sleep.
MVP2K5 had me at "Hello." You can begin straight out of the box into an exhibition game, and wonderfully, the controls are all very easy to pick up.
Pitching is handled by aiming the pitch with the right stick, choosing a pitch with the buttons, and then utilizing a golf-type-press-hold-press affair with a power and accuracy meter, to execute said pitch. So simple that a 41-year-old baseball hater can do it!
Batting is again, blissfully easy. Use the left stick to decide where you want to hit the ball, then press the button to swing away. You'd be surprised (as I was) how much actual control can be placed on your swings.
The fielding controls are also quite instinctive. When a fielder gets the ball, think of the four buttons on the PS2 controller (conveniently arranged in a diamond shape) as the three bases and home plate. Pressing and holding the corresponding button will launch the ball to that location. A power meter appears as you press, and if you hold too long, and go "in the red zone," you run the risk of making a throwing error and allowing your opponent to gain an extra bag.
Running the bases is similar. Once you have hit the ball into play, you press the "base button" and use the shoulder buttons to tell that guy to either "go for it," or "stay where you are."
During running as well as fielding plays, the right stick can be used as to put a little extra "oomph" into what you are doing. During fielding, you can utilize this Playmaker function to jump or dive to snag a previously uncatchable ball, and during running, you can choose from a number of slides, or if you wish a bull-rush usually reserved for the catcher at home plate.
That's the game mechanics in a nutshell. After one inning (two, if you are dense) you will have most of the skills necessary to compete. You may not win a lot at first, but it won't be because you don't know how to do what you want to do.
From this point, the game takes on an almost insane level of complexity and customization.
If you decide to play just one game at a time, with no league standings, injuries, and the like, you can do that to your heart's content, but "Owner's Mode" and "Dynasty Mode" are where this game comes into its own.
Owner's Mode starts you at the very beginning. You choose your favorite MLB team, and take to the field for a full season of baseball. Not only can you play off of the games on the schedule, you also have the option to play as all of their farm club, teams like (for the Baltimore Orioles organization) the Bowie Baysox, the Frederick Keyes and the Cal Ripken-owned Aberdeen Ironbirds. If you see someone doing particularly well in the minors, you can "bring them up" and see how they do in "The Show." (Okay, most of the baseball slang I know comes from repeated watchings of "Bull Durham.") Conversely, if a major leaguer is slacking, BOOM! Back to the bush leagues.
As team owner, you are also responsible for your home stadium, and everything from the name (in my case, "NO SPONSOR FIELD," a show of disgust for large corporations smearing their logo on every sports arena from here to Timbuktu) to the physical layout of the filed is under your control. Think the center field fence is too close? Move it back! Don't like the mowing pattern? Change it! Place concession stands and set their prices, build restaurants and arcades, have "Fan Appreciation Day" and anything else you can think of. Bear in mind, however, if your team isn't winning, people will not come to your stadium no matter how beautiful it is.
The Owner's Mode lasts 20 seasons, and then you can retire. Dynasty Mode lasts 120 seasons, and from this standpoint, your options deepen even more: drafting, coaching choices and more than I have time to list here are at your beck and call. ... and I almost forgot to mention the addictive pitching and batting mini-games that you can use to hone your skills before taking to the diamond.
Graphically, the game looks amazingly lifelike. One could almost smell the grass growing in the hot sun. The players look uncannily like their real-life counterparts, and the game flaunts this fact by showing an actual photo of the player in the lower right-hand corner when he is at bat.
The sound… Who cares, really? The crack of the ball on the bat is satisfying, and the music sounds good, if it is a little pseudo-punk-white-boy in content and the announcers are decent, if a bit repetitive over 120 games. They may be famous. Having never watched a baseball game on TV, I really wouldn't know.
I already filled you in on the great control scheme, and the amazing depth and variations of play, so in the final analysis, EA Sports' MVP Baseball 2005 is by all accounts a home run for those of us who would rather have root canal than watch a real baseball game. That being said, I'd be willing to bet that true fans of the sport will be playing this over any and all competitors this summer.
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