MVP Baseball 2005 REVIEW

MVP Baseball 2005 Review (Xbox)

In my college and single days, I ate way more than my share of fast food. McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, you name it; if they had a drive-thru, chances are I’d been there. Now if you ask me my opinion about McDonald’s based solely on my experience at "Mickey D’s", you would get one answer. If you asked instead about how McDonald’s compares to the other rapid dining establishments, the answer would be completely different. What does that have to do with sports, sports gaming, and specifically about EA’s new “MVP Baseball 2005”? Well, when “MVP Baseball 2005” made its way into the tray of my Xbox, I made the decision to play nothing but this title until every word of this review was written. So, no Whoppers, no Grande Soft Tacos, and no Arby’s Melts, metaphorically speaking of course. This review is about McDonald’s…err…"MVP". If you’re looking for a piece about how it stacks up to the competition, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re here for "MVP", please pull around.

The first thing about “MVP Baseball 2005” that really blew me away was the amount of game modes and options available. Yes, you can still jump right into the action in a matter of moments with a quick Exhibition Game, but there's so much more to choose from out of the box this year.

Starting with what's become the bread and butter of most sports series, “MVP Baseball 2005” actually offers two very different and very deep versions of Franchise mode. The first, simply called Dynasty Mode, is what we saw last year from the "MVP" franchise. You’re basically playing the role of Manager/GM of your favorite organization for 120 full seasons. Note that I said organization, and not team. “MVP Baseball 2005” once again offers playable and manageable minor leagues systems, including the addition of Single-A leagues. In this mode, you are given goals to achieve at all levels of your organization. Achieve a goal and your Manager’s rating goes up, which can directly affect your team’s chemistry and happiness. Fall short at any level, and the opposite will be true. And the best part? You choose how much or how little you want to participate in each game. Want to simply sim your Major League team’s game? No problem. Just feel like managing the AA team? Do it. Or, if you have the time, you can play every game in your entire organization from the farm system all the way up. Unlike last year, the “progression bug” that forced you to play almost 100% of your games in order to get correct progression for your players has been fixed!

With the new franchise-type mode, the team at EA must have figured what’s good for the Turducken is good for the…well…anyway, they decided to borrow Owner’s Mode from the "Madden NFL" series and move it to “MVP Baseball 2005”. If taking on the on-the field managing and GM roles isn’t enough for you, now you can add the financial duties of owning the team, as well. Yes, baseball purists can call it fluff and talk about how setting the price of hot dogs has nothing to do with baseball. Fine, I’ll give you that. But what it does do is add a ton of replay value to the game and simply provides a new twist. It's definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was a welcome addition for me.

You can have the greatest modes, the prettiest graphics, and the best price on the market, but it doesn’t mean anything if the game doesn’t play well. I’m happy to report that this game plays very well. Everything is back that made "MVP" what it is. The pitching and throwing meters that, as I predicted two years ago, have become the standard in baseball games, are still there and working better than ever. This year they added what can only be described as the "yellow zone". There is now a difference between a good pitch and a perfect pitch. Before, all you really needed to do was stop the meter in the green section. This year, the green section is much smaller and it’s flanked by two yellow zones. Stop in the green and the pitch is perfect. Stop in the yellow and the pitch’s accuracy will suffer. Stop in the red, well, you might as well be throwing them underhand. And did I mention the size of each colored zone changes based on the pitcher, his stamina, and how hard the pitch is thrown? Nice.

The throwing meter, conversely, leaves the green and yellow zone out all together. It’s all about releasing the throw before the meter hits the red. Let that meter drift into the red and your chances of offline tosses or overthrows increases exponentially. How you field the ball or whether or not you’re set in your throw also determines how large the red zone is. But be careful, you don’t want to “girlie throw it” either. If you don’t give that infielder’s throw enough power, he may skip one across the diamond or throw a short pop-fly to first.
I know. I know. Chicks dig the longball. You want to know about hitting. Well, first let me squash the worries of many out there. The so-called “lefty home run bug” is gone. Some would argue that it never existed, but this is not the time or place for that debate. Just let me tell you that I hit about 65% of my homeruns so far with left-handed batters (Yes, I kept track).
The hitting system itself is a pretty standard timing system. Getting good wood on the ball is based mostly on swinging at the right time. You can use the left thumbstick to dictate a fly-ball or grounder or to which side of the field you are attempting to spray it, but for the most part the output seems to be based on where the pitch is and when you swung at it. Not my favorite hitting system all-in-all, but I don’t think it takes anything away from the game.
While you’re in the batter’s box this year, you can actually look around a bit. “MVP Baseball 2005” allows you to move around in the batter’s box, and your Hot/Cold zones even move accordingly (a very nice touch).
“MVP Baseball 2005” has also added Big Play Controls on the fielding and base-running end. The right thumbstick lets you choose your slide, jump, dive, or wall-climb move. No more canned, AI driven plays. You decide when the time is right to make that risky lunge or when to try to barrel over the catcher.

Overall, the gameplay in “MVP Baseball 2005” is a great mix of sim and arcade that should appease the masses. But, and this is a huge Kirstie Alley-sized but, for the fine tuners out there, you will be happy to know that "MVP" comes complete with over 40 different tuning options to tweak the game to your exact liking. Slider gurus unite!

I’ve always been someone who is more than willing to forgive some visual deficiencies in a game if the gameplay is solid. That being said, I am not completely oblivious to visuals and I am certainly one to give credit where credit is due. “MVP Baseball 2005” may be the best looking sports game that EA Sports has ever released. The animations are absolutely unbelievable and smoothly transition at every point in the game. Unlike other titles, you never feel like you are stuck in an animation. And that includes the most over the top animations, like climbing the walls or diving all the way to very routine throws and put outs. All this occurs without any noticeable frame rate drop at any point in the game, unlike last year.

The player models have improved as well. The first two versions of this series suffered slightly from that famous EA "chubby" look. This year every aspect of the player’s look, motion, and body expression has been fine tuned to give a much more realistic feel. The oft-sought player scaling is there as well. From the very thin Ichiro to the more, well, plump players like David Wells are really captured well in this title; with literally hundreds of actual facial models in the game to make your favorite player look like your favorite player. You’ll even notice the nice little touches like the Detroit Tigers sporting the All-Star Game patch and uniforms that get dirty based on the flow of the game.
So we have great looking players performing slick, lag-less animations, but they need a place to play. The stadiums in “MVP Baseball 2005” are as good as I’ve seen in sports gaming. I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few major league stadiums in my day and I was really blown away by the depth and detail of the parks. Are they perfect? No. And they likely never will be. Sure, some of the little things are always going to be missing, but they got all of the big things that make each park special.
If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you know that I believe that the most important factor in a game's audio is that it doesn’t detract from the action. What I really want is not to "notice" the audio. If you think about watching a real sporting event, most often the sounds of the game and commentators just become part of the action and you don’t even take special note of it unless you hear something strange or something erroneous is said. The team at EA did a great job at recreating that experience. The sounds of the game are understated and solid. From the on-field game to the players to the crowd, there is a natural feel and flow of the audio. Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow are the perfect fit behind the mic. They don’t overpower the sounds of the game; they just call a smooth flow of play-by-play while mixing in stats and stories. This may well be one of the best total-package audio experiences in a sports title.

All that being said, it’s not a perfect treat for the eyes and ears. If I have one complaint, albeit a small one, is that the title still lacks that complete TV-style presentation experience that you get in other titles. It’s the best of the series by far, but it never really hits that line where you almost lose the fact that you are watching a video game.

So it looks, feels, smells, and tastes like baseball. You’re lovin’ "MVP", but you’re sick of playing against the AI. You’re ready to take it to Xbox Live. If you’re a veteran of EA Sports' venture into the world of Xbox Live, then there nothing here that will surprise you. You log into the EA servers and are greeted with the standard menu set-up. The one nice addition is for tournaments in the online mode. You and up to 15 of your closest friends - or complete strangers - can compete for ultimate bragging rights. What the online mode still dramatically lacks is a real season or league set-up.

Once you find a game to your liking, I definitely noticed a slight difference in game speed online. Under the circumstances, I understand that it simply can’t be as smooth online as offline, but with a game that is based so much on timing and meters, any sizable lag can kill a match-up quickly. I know this has been the area that has kept a lot of skeptical baseball fans off of the 'net. Keep in mind, however, that this is not an EA issue. I stop just short of excusing it as “the nature of the beast.” But be aware that if you are purchasing this game strictly for online play, make sure you have a solid connection and a friends list full of people with the same.

If the rumors are true and this is the last baseball effort from the team at EA Sports, it is a shame to say the least. Since the "Triple Play" series evolved into "MVP Baseball", the title has made steady and solid improvement each year; sadly something you don’t see from most sports series. “MVP Baseball 2005” is a great game of baseball. Does it accurately simulate every aspect of being a player, coach, and/or owner? No. In fact, a lot of the extras are going to be seen as unnecessary fluff by the baseball purists. But I guess you can call me a fun purist because I just plain had fun with this game. Is it better than the competition? Does it matter? All that matters is, if you put your $29.99 down for this title, will you have fun? Yes. Yes, you will.

MVP Baseball 2005 Score
out of 10