Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: February 22, 2005
Over the past two years, EA Sports has been able to revamp their baseball franchise into the very best this genre has to offer, with the MVP Baseball line establishing new standards and setting the bar high for any competitors. Sadly, this year will most likely be the last time we see any sort of sim-style baseball game from EA, thanks to the off-season deals that Take 2 and 2K Sports have made with Major League Baseball.
This has been a very touchy subject, but my opinion is on the side of fair competition. Over the past few years, I did not have any set favorites going into the baseball season, having purchased baseball titles from EA, Take 2/Sega and Acclaim. Since baseball is my favorite sport, I always went into each season with an open mind and took a good look at all of the games. Last year, I really enjoyed MVP Baseball and ended up picking that one as my baseball title for the season, but I won't have that choice next season. While Take 2's game might be the best baseball game ever, I really wish I could at least see what EA would bring to the table.
After making large strides in last year's incarnation, EA did not do a whole lot different with this year's version. While only one or two aspects underwent significant changes, there were many facets of the game that were slightly fine-tuned to make this a better baseball title than last year's excellent effort.
MVP Baseball 2005 has all of the same features and gameplay modes from last year's version in one form or other. Most play the same as last year's version with only a few subtle changes made to them, but MVP Baseball 2005 does have some new modes of play, and the game's biggest new feature is its Owner Mode. Owner Mode basically goes one step further than Dynasty Mode and lets you control every aspect of a franchise, and I do mean every aspect!
While Dynasty Mode allowed you to control every aspect of day-to-day stuff, Owner Mode allows you to control more long term aspects of your team. You are fully in charge of everything, from setting the ticket prices to building your team's own ballpark. This feature is a really cool idea, but the editor is a bit limited in what you can do. You can pick from different stadium layouts, grass and dirt designs, color of the seats and so on. Despite its limits, as you go through your career as owner, you can add all sorts of things on to the stadium such as fireworks, new scoreboards, and even more seating. This mode really adds a lot to MVP Baseball 2005 and is great for the die-hard baseball fans out there.
Making its return to MVP Baseball 2005 is the extremely deep Dynasty Mode, where the list of tasks you are in charge of has not changed much. You are still responsible for things such as setting lineups, trading players, adjusting player salaries and so on. The biggest difference in Dynasty Mode this year comes in the ability to play and manage Single-A baseball games as well as Double- and Triple-A teams that were in last year's version. This remains the most complete and deep franchise mode you can find in baseball games.
That about rounds up the big changes in MVP Baseball 2005, aside from online play which we will get to later, but there are lots of tweaks and new additions regarding the gameplay itself. Once in a baseball game, you still have the same level of control over your players that you had last year. You can choose how hard a fielder throws a ball, what type of slide a base runner performs, and you still have total control over pitching and batting. The pitching system is pretty much the same, but there have been a few tweaks here and there. You still use the same meter-style system where you pick a location then a try to time the meter to the green zone for a perfect pitch. This year, things are a bit more forgiving. If you barely miss the green zone, your pitch is no longer far from the original target. This year there is a yellow zone on the pitch meter that if you hit that one, your pitch will still be a pretty good pitch not far from your intended target.
The batting system is the same as last year's too but with one new feature. You can still select where to try and hit the ball with the joystick but aiding the batter this year is a new feature EA calls the " Hitter's Eye," which basically makes it easier for you to judge what kind of pitch the pitcher is throwing. As soon as the pitcher releases the ball, it will flash one of three colors, white means the pitch is a fastball, red means the pitch is a breaking ball and green is a change-up. The amount of time the pitch flashes for is determined by the batter's skill at the plate. If the batter is a good hitter, then the pitch will flash longer than if you have a weaker hitter at the plate. This is a nice feature in theory and one that the hardcore fans will probably like, but I actually did not like this feature, as it distracted me when I was hitting.
If you have trouble with any of the new gameplay tweaks and changes made to this year's version, EA has tossed in a nice set of mini-games that help you improve on your hitting and pitching. Also, you have mini-games in spring training for pitching and hitting that allow you to actually improve your players' rating and skill level before the start of the regular season.
This year marks the first year that MVP has been playable online for Xbox, and I must say that EA has done a great job with the online interface. The overall experience on Xbox Live has been great. We have not had any issues with lag, and the gameplay itself is so smooth you can't tell that you are even playing online. Aside from standard online play, you can also set up tournaments and download new content. Since release, a roster update has already been made available. The addition of online play has already proven well worth the wait and is a very welcome addition.
Last year when I reviewed MVP Baseball, I had a love/hate relationship with this area of the game. I loved the incredible animations and lighting, but the models had some issues and overall, the textures on the Xbox version were very low quality and even pixelated at times. This year EA has fixed some of these issues and cleaned up the game a bit. The animations are still as silky smooth as ever, and many new ones have been added in to add even more variety. The player models look much more like their real-life counterparts this year. The textures have been cleaned up, the resolution looks to be upped a bit, and the overall quality is better than last year's, but these just simply can't compete with the amazing texture work seen in MLB 2K5.
Overall, I was not blown away by MVP Baseball 2005 because there was not one new feature or tweak that stood out and really impressed me. While none of the changes on their own amounted to much, overall, they all made for a much smoother and more authentic baseball title. I really would have loved to see where EA could have taken this series with the power of the next generation of consoles, but that dream will have to remain just that for now.
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