Well, even though EA has monopolized football and pulled ESPN right out from under Sega’s feet, they got bumped off the baseball pedestal in a deal between MLB and Take 2. So, that pretty much means that the 2k baseball games will be the only ones worth playing in the future. While this year’s MLB 2k is solid in its gameplay and franchise mode, it isn’t too hot in the graphics or sound departments. The game is also very tough to get the hang of. As a whole though, it is still a palatable game.
Baseball is a game of deep strategy. The speed, strength, defensive and offensive capabilities need to be taken into consideration. To match this, the controls of ESPN MLB 2k5 are insanely challenging to catch on to.
With pitching, the player simply aims where they want the pitch to go, selects the kind of pitch, but in multiplayer the pitch can be secretly re-aimed to make hitting less predicatable. After, they must time the vertical and horizontal positions of the ball on a pair of lines, which becomes increasingly more difficult as the pitcher gets fatigued.
Batting can be slightly more difficult, but is still decent. Before the pitch is thrown, the batting player must guess where the pitch is going to land, and must then attempt to hit the ball accordingly. This often makes hitting quite difficult, since sheer luck is a factor in how well the ball can be hit, but isn’t impossible.
What really becomes frustrating, however, is the fielding and base running. The fielding controls are usually very sensitive. Pressing on the control stick too hard often results in a booted ball, and touching the control stick while throwing to a base can often move the catching player out of line which will send the ball flying into the wall.
Base running is flat-out annoying. Once the ball is hit, the player must rapidly hit a button corresponding to the base they are starting out on (the hitting player uses X, the player on second uses Circle, and so on) to make them run faster. Here’s where it gets annoying. Obviously, not all players are equal in speed, and it isn’t uncommon that a player on first can reach home on a double, while the hitter holds at second. Well, to have a single runner advance a base, the player must hit the assigned button and press L1, or R1 to move back, just in case. However, to do this, all button-mashing exploits must be put on hold, which greatly slows down some of the bulkier players, and if the two buttons are not hit properly, the player will just slow down, and not advance at all. The easier way to advance bases is to simply hit left and right on the control pad, but this moves all players forward or back a base, which can often result in needless outs when players get in a pickle. Stealing bases is often the same way. The “Play as Runner” feature is often fun, which allows the player to control lead-offs, and advise the batter for an easier run. However, if the steal button (R1) is held too long, the runner will sprint past second or third, and just keep on running, which is a guaranteed out. Eventually, a player can get used to this, but it takes many hours of anger and swearing. Veterans of the series will probably have work through it, though.
The graphics and commentary aren’t particularly impressive. Take 2 didn’t do much to address the many different body types of baseball players. Almost all basketball players are tall and slim, most football player are either tall and muscular or tall and heavy. Baseball, on the other hand, has lanky players, big fat guys and so on. All the players in MLB 2k5 have the same muscular look, which makes Randy Johnson and Moe Vaughn have a similar figure. Their faces aren’t particularly well rendered either and since the replays usually zoom in on their face, it becomes quite apparent. Considering ESPN had a hand in creating the commentary of the game, it is amazingly mediocre. Before each game, there is the pitching breakdown which has a grand total of two comments for each pitcher, so if somebody plays as the Red Sox, they will hear about Curt Schilling’s bloody sock over and over and over and if they hit a home run, they’ll hear “you could get two meals and a movie on that flight.” Needless to say, this can get redundant quickly.
The in-depth management of a team (Franchise Mode) is now a very important factor in the quality of all sports games. Well, the Franchise Mode in MLB 2k5 is decent, but isn’t as in-depth as it could be. Contract management, trading, budgeting are all still present, but ticket prices and many of the other fine details present in some sports games are AWOL. To make up for it, the ESPN.com feature offers incredibly in-depth statistics for both the controlled team, and the league. However, this mode is still quite fun, and can keep a gamer returning and completing multiple seasons, which guarantees many, many hours of gameplay.
Despite some initial difficulty, ESPN MLB 2k5 is a fun game. The incredibly complex control scheme has several rough spots which bring down the game. However, once these hoops are cleared, this year’s installment offers many hours of entertaining ball, which will satisfy casual baseball fans. However, the Franchise Mode isn’t quite as deep as the EA baseball games, so their series may be more satisfying to hardcore baseball fans. But it’s a solid game for only $20, and is well worth it.