The newest Major League Baseball game from Electronic Arts, MVP Baseball 2005, will likely be the last EA published MLB game for quite some time thanks to the recent rush by various companies to gain exclusive rights to precious sports enterprises. EA managed to secure exclusivity for the NFL, but lost the MLB. Be that as it may, EA has put together one hell of a goodbye game in the Xbox version of MVP Baseball 2005. Last year’s iteration made some huge improvements on the series – and baseball videogames in general – and the 2005 version improves on those foundations even more.
The game contains all the stock-standard stuff you’d expect to find in an MLB title, including updated lineups, stats, teams, uniforms, stadiums, and a create-a-player mode. That stuff is practically par for the course in all sports games these days, though. Good gameplay, however, is not a standard feature in all sports games, but is definitely in evidence here. The improvements implemented in the previous version of the game have all returned, been improved upon, and are accompanied by even more new features.
First up to bat is the pitching. Each pitcher has a number of different pitches they can toss, each assigned to a particular button. You have a grid that appears over home plate showing the current batter’s hot and cold zones through the use red and blue squares. Using this grid you aim where you want to throw the ball. You select the pitch you are going to throw by pressing its corresponding button, and by using a power meter you select when you want your pitcher to throw. In addition, while aiming your pitch, the controller will actually vibrate if you aim outside the strike zone. This is an excellent feature that really helps you get an idea of where you should be pitching. The pitching system is completely simple and easy to use, and it works extremely well. It does take some practice to get used to, though, so if you are new to baseball games, it may be wise trying the game on an easier setting first. Having 13 home runs hit off your pitcher in one game is bad for a player’s self esteem.
The batting controls are also simple to use, as they basically consist of pushing the one button that swings the bat. There is also a button for bunting, and you can use your thumb stick to check your swing, but, for the most part, it’s just pressing the button at the right time to swing. Again, simple and easy. What EA has added is something called the Batter’s Eye feature, which causes the ball to flash a certain color as it is being pitched, and which lets the batter know what type of pitch is hurtling their way. The better the player, the longer the flash of color, thus increasing the odds of connecting for a solid hit. You also have the option to charge the mound if a pitch hits your player, which is definitely cool. Nothing like a good throw down in the middle of a baseball game to get the blood flowing!
Fielding is basically the same as it has always been in most baseball games. You choose the player closest to the ball, and run towards the circle that indicates where the ball will land. Simple yet effective. When throwing the ball, you have a power meter similar to that of the pitchers. The longer you hold your button, the harder and farther the player will hurl the ball. One really cool aspect of MVP Baseball 2005 are the many types of errors that have been included. If the feature is turned on, there is a chance that the fielders may make mistakes like bobbling and dropping an easy catch, etc – you’ll see many different errors while playing. Their inclusion works wonders in making the gameplay seem much more realistic and true to life.
Of course, there is the standard trading and releasing of players, and this is available in both the season-type gameplay and the exhibition type games. Updating the rosters is always an important feature, and EA did not overlook this. Speaking of season-type gameplay, MVP Baseball 2005 has not just one, but three variations on season play. First, is the standard Dynasty mode, in which you take a team and control it for 120 seasons! This includes the standard fair you would find in any season mode: injuries, trades, playoffs, season stats, various awards at the end of each season, etc. In addition, you have to make sure your team’s chemistry is good. You have to keep your players happy, and make sure everyone is getting their time on the field. You can scout your opponents, and develop strategies on how to defeat them. Lastly, you control all of the farm teams associated with your pro team. You can actually develop players on your farm teams into something special, and then call them up to the big leagues. This really adds a huge amount of depth and longevity.
Then there’s the Manager mode, in which you don’t play the games, but instead coach the team. You tell the pitchers how to pitch to each batter, and tell each batter what you want them to do (i.e. swing away, bunt, hit and run). Aside from not actually playing the games, the Manager mode is very similar to the Dynasty mode, except you aren’t in control for 120 years and you could be fired if you stink.
The third, and brand new, addition is Owner mode. This one is pretty different. While you want your team to win, in this mode you aren’t focusing as much on the actual games as you are on the behind the scenes stuff. Here you are cutting costs and trying to raise revenue. You can negotiate player contracts, add new features to your ballpark, and create theme nights where fans get free bats, caps, or other cool souvenirs and merchandise. The focus of Owner mode is to rake in the dough, which you accomplish by attracting more fans through a winning team and a stadium that has all sorts of cool activities and attractions. Building the stadium up over time is intriguingly fun, but your choices are limited. For example, you can’t design your own stadium from scratch, which is a little disappointing. This mode will be attractive to those who enjoy sim-style games, or those who just can’t get enough math in their everyday lives.
As you play through any of these season-style modes, you earn MVP Points for accomplishing certain game-related goals. You can use these points to purchase bonus content, which includes 25 legendary players and 25 legendary teams. Once acquired, you can use any of these players on your existing team(s). The game also keeps track of every title, championship, and award that you win, which is a fun feature to have. There are even batting and pitching mini-games that you can play if you don’t have time or patience for a full game. These come in handy for practicing both hitting and pitching.
The players’ faces are about 85% accurate when compared to their real-life photos, and that also goes for the over quality of the graphics in the game. The graphics are adequate, but it’s the animations that really honor this game with a higher graphics score. Every little nuance from the game of baseball’s movements are included. The way the players move and react is truly amazing. If a player makes an error and bobbles and misses a catch, his head actually turns and his gaze follows the ball as it bounces off his mitt and lands on the ground behind him. The animations for running, catching, and movement in general, all capture every little detail of the game.
The sound doesn’t really play much of a part in the game. It is good audio, but aside from the cheering crowds, the satisfying crack of bat hitting ball, and a few other small effects, the majority of the audio comes from the announcers – and they’re extremely well done as far as videogame announcers go. They use a lot of the players’ names during their dialogue, and have a real casual way of calling the action, which makes it more fun to actually listen to them. Another cool little tidbit is the fact that each player has a different type of music that plays when they are at bat – just like in the real world. Lastly, the soundtrack to the game is excellent. It is full of great music from all sorts of up-and-coming alternative groups, including Hot Hot Heat and Louis XIV.
MVP Baseball 2005 has a very high level of quality gameplay, which spans batting, pitching, and fielding. The level of detail that went into its development is quite amazing, and the sheer number of options you have in the Dynasty, Manager, and Owner modes will keep players occupied for hours and hours. The graphics and audio capture the look and sound of baseball down to every last blade of grass out on the field and the faintest boo from that fan in the nosebleed section. EA has proven they’ve developed an excellent formula for baseball games and, since they won’t be making any more after this one, I recommend you pick up MVP Baseball 2005 if you’re a fan of sports games. It may be a while before a baseball game as good as this one comes along again.