Say what you will about the 2004-2005 sports season, but one thing cannot be denied: it was definitely full of competition, dramatic moments and controversy. Curiously, the same could be said for its video game counterpart, with EA’s acquisition of the NFL license, followed by Take Two’s response by taking MLB off the sports table. This battle of league rights left plenty of franchises in the lurch, the latest of which was EA’s excellent (and recently retooled) baseball series, MVP Baseball. So while the recently released game will be the last one released for almost ten years, it’s certainly going out with a great bang. Let’s head out to the ballpark with MVP Baseball 2005.
Like previous sports games, MVP 2005 features a number of improvements to this year’s installment to make the game more realistic than older baseball games. Perhaps the biggest change made to this year’s title is the inclusion of what’s called the “Hitter’s Eye.” It’s well known that professional players have split seconds to react to an incoming pitch and swing accordingly. The “Hitter’s Eye” is a visual aid to batters at the plate that provides a specific color and trail to a pitch that’s thrown. For instance, breaking balls are red, sinking pitches are purple and so on. Thanks to this, gamers will be able to pick up the kind of ball that might be approaching the plate and decide if they want to take a chance at swinging for the fences.
This is especially important considering that batters can attempt to throw off opposing pitchers by moving around in the batter’s box. It’s become a well-established feature of baseball games to have hot and cold zones for every hitter that steps up to the plate. Not only does it give pitchers an additional target to aim for, but it also provides a visual idea of each player’s strengths and weaknesses, making pitching and hitting a more strategic feature of the game. The ability to move inside the box actually throws these hot and cold zones off-center, making it harder for a pitcher to place a throw in a bad location. Of course, this also means that the umpires can potentially make a bad call, calling an apparent ball a strike and vice versa. Fortunately, MVP 2005 now gives players the ability to argue calls with a new Manager Argument feature. On bum calls or replays of pitches, you can send your manager out of the bullpen to yell about the decision, even going so far as kicking dirt on official’s shoes. This can jazz your team up and provide them with a definite boost to their play, although if you take it too far, your manager will get ejected.
While pitchers weren’t completely redone for MVP 2005, there was some retooling made towards the pitching meter and other facets of throwing in the game. Previous games in the series essentially redesigned the pitch meter, providing a better sense of power, accuracy and speed when the ball is released. However, these games also suffered when players were even the slightest bit outside of the “optimal” green zone for pitching release. In MVP 2005, this meter has been given a larger amount of leeway than before, meaning that gamers can release a pitch in the green and even the yellow zones of the meter while still receiving an adequate throw. Obviously, balls hurled in the green area will be much more accurate, but it definitely decreases the number of wild throws.
Similarly, fielders and runners find themselves governed by what’s known as “Big Play Control,” a system that provides more realistic plays in the game. First of all, fielders have the option to make difficult plays by stretching out for balls, leaping for flys over their head or climbing walls to rob batters of home runs. Regardless of how successful that initial play is, these fielders can then attempt to whip the ball towards a base with as much strength as they want. If properly timed, these throws can quickly get a ball to a baseman to make a play; if it isn’t, however, the ball will most likely be overthrown, missing cutoff men entirely along with its target. Runners also have a chance to combat these defensive moves, particularly by choosing a side of the bag to slide into, along with how they choose to slide. Whether it’s stealing a base or outrunning a pick-off attempt, runners can perform headfirst, pop-up or hook slides, which can potentially give you an advantage in beating a throw.
As far as modes go, MVP 2005 features the standard exhibition mode for quick play, as well as a scenario mode for any/all baseball moments in history. Simulation lovers have the chance to play any game in Manager mode, where commands control every aspect of a match. Home run derby has returned, along with two new mini-games. The batting mini-game works on a player’s ball placement ability, placing them in a field with a number of obstacles, ramps and black holes (among other things). Accurately directing fly balls in specific directions, as well as hitting objects nets you points. The pitching mini-game, by contrast, is sort of a strike zone-meets Tetris, where each one of the pitcher’s balls corresponding to a color on the screen. Hitting a color with the matching pitch clears all of the blocks associated with that area of the strike zone, making blocks fall and scoring points as well.
Outside of that, there’s the customary season play, which has been distilled into two separate modes. The first is Dynasty mode, which gives you the option to play up to 120 seasons with a franchise and its multiple farm clubs, attempting to continually fulfill one year and three-year goals. The second, and more encompassing feature is the Owner mode, which packs every single aspect of Dynasty mode with the additional challenges of creating new ballparks, setting stadium prices and handling fan expectations. While Owner mode is limited to 30 years only, you’re in complete control of every facet of your team. Often times, this is somewhat tempered with the new addition of single A teams, making you responsible for four separate clubs during your Owner mode. If you’ve played Madden in the past two years, you’ll be right at home with this option.
Graphically, MVP 2005 is perhaps the sharpest baseball title that EA’s ever turned out. The character models look exactly like their real counterparts, right down to their faces and physical dimensions. This bolsters the numerous animations that capture everything from batter rituals to run robbing catches. In fact, the fluidity of every single move in the game, from pitching to double plays runs even smoother than it ever has, making gameplay the most realistic it’s ever been. This is particularly highlighted with the camera angles, which seem pulled directly from broadcasts of real games, including shots from the bases and cameras that are glued to the action of each play.
Sound feels appropriate and accurate to every ballgame, down to the echo from a bat connecting to a ball and the rising cheer of the fans during a developing play. You’ll be able to notice the difference in sound levels when certain games are played as well, such as taking on a league rival. The commentary for each game, headed by Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, is perhaps some of the best and most natural dialogue presented in game to call play-by-play. Their statements are interesting, non-repetitive and more than not accurate to everything that’s going on in the game. It’s just a shame that the soundtrack can’t support it. There’s only about nine or ten songs, which becomes extremely repetitive.
Although this is one of the greatest baseball titles ever made, there are a couple of hiccups that trip up the game. First of all, the number of choices for the create-a-ballpark feature in Owner mode are incredibly shallow. In fact, considering that there are only a few options for each section of the stadium, you’ll probably find yourself constantly recreating the same kind of ballpark. There are other features with this mode, such as the lack of control of advertising space, changing different kinds of park attractions, and other facets of creating this park that seem so confined that purchasing upgrades seems much more like an afterthought than an actual plan. You can also find that you can skip your way through numerous years of both Dynasty and Owner mode without there truly being any repercussions affecting your teams or your park itself. For example, you’ll get up to around 34 or 36 emails in your box, sometimes on extremely busy days (like trade deadlines around the league), and if new or more pressing info comes up, like demoting players or dealing with injuries, you’ll be alerted to it, but you’re not necessarily in trouble if you choose not to do anything about it. This is completely unrealistic in the multi-million dollar boardrooms of these organizations, and either you’d lose your fan support entirely or you’d probably have to sell the team to repay your debts.
Overall though, MVP Baseball 2005 sends EA’s baseball franchise out in a blaze of home run glory. With an extremely realistic presentation, augmented control system, and additional attention paid to the overall gameplay, MVP 2005 could be one of those games baseball fans keep returning to in the upcoming years of exclusive sports games.