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MVP Baseball 2004
Triple Play Baseball was EA's third nipple. While other sport titles from EA
were making strides towards matching the competition, TPB remained stagnant in
innovation with loyal followers shifting away to other series’ such as World
Series Baseball and All-Star Baseball. Now, all of that is behind EA. They have
built a reputation of great sport titles, and now they move their efforts
towards the leathers mitts and pine bats. MVP Baseball had been under production
years before debuting
last year, and despite some flaws, proved a decent baseball game. One year from
the debut comes their second effort to try and dominate the baseball realm.
MVP Baseball 2004 (MVP) is everything the team imagined their last effort could
be and a whole lot more. First off, all of the technical gaffes from last year
automated jumps, etc.) were first on their list to fix. Next was to give the
player control of a franchise on levels only imagined before. MVP delivers the
most in-depth and challenging franchise ever seen in any sport title.
When starting off the Dynasty mode you aren’t picking just one team but three.
MVP features all AAA and AA teams that correspond with their real life major
league ball club. This makes the level of difficulty much harder because you
aren’t in control of just one ball club, but three separate teams that carry
their own wants and needs. For example, the Texas Rangers may have one of the
best hitting lineups in the league but one of the worst pitching rotations while
the Oklahoma Redhawks (AAA) may want for great fielding and speed. These
conflicting team issues come into play throughout the season and require direct
attention in order to keep the players happy, team chemistry at a high level,
and keep a steady franchise for years to come, all of 120 years.
Not only do the three teams have needs but also individual players. All 75
active and inactive players can display one of five different mood faces ranging
from extremely happy or complete rage. Controlling the happiness of each player
may entail a number of different issues. If a player is performing better than
expected he might opt for a contract extension and ask for more money while the
higher paid stars might ask to be traded during team slumps. To determine how a
player is feeling EA Sports has introduced an e-mail system (similar to the ESPN
sports titles) that lets you know how a player is feeling and what a player
wants. If all of the dynasty quirks seem a bit cumbersome, you can always have
these options turned off before starting a dynasty.
Aside from the dynasty mode MVP also features Exhibition for single games,
Situation mode for those you like to create or relive their favorite situations,
or Pitcher and Homerun Showdown. Homerun Showdown was in the last MVP and is
essentially the same as last year. Players are given points based on the
distance of each ball, just like a home run derby. However, unlike a home run
derby balls that don’t clear the fence are still counted towards the total.
Pitcher Showdown is new to the franchise and similar to the home run showdown,
except only for pitchers. Players compete to strike out as many batters as they
can before the other pitcher reaches the same goal. The twist is that if a
batter hits a home run, you loose a strikeout you may have earned. Both modes
are a great way to lose some of your dynasty woes or have some healthy
competition between friends.
With a strong dynasty mode it would be a shame if the gameplay didn’t keep up.
The gameplay system of MVP remains identical to last year’s with the same
pitching and throwing meter. To fill the meter up you hold down the
corresponding pitch button and release it towards the top of the meter for the
pitch strength you desire. By tapping the same button again in a green zone for
accuracy the pitch is released. As first this may seem like a hassle and a
frustrating task. I had the same impulse going into MVP but soon found it to be
more fun than hitting. Like pitching, the infielders and outfielders have the
same meter, only not as complex. The meter fills up the same way only this time
accuracy is based on the power behind the throw. Each player has a red zone that
determines their strength. The bigger the red zone the higher chances of an
error. Keeping your feet planted and set determines how big the red zone grows
and keeps your throws accurate and concise. Again, like the pitching, this
easily becomes a favorite (though choppy during double-play animations).
Fielding has also been revamped. Last year jumping and sliding was all computer
controlled creating some awkward outcomes that led to losses and frustrating
moments. This year the player has control of every leap, dive, slide, and
bulldoze of the catcher. By using the right-analog stick, the player can choose
how to slide and how to dive. Identical to the “playmaker” controls of Madden,
the “big play control” in MVP can be the fine line between being safe or out.
Timing the dives and slides is not easy to do. Missing a dive in the outfield
can lead to triples or even inside the park homeruns easily.
Another refined aspect of the game, the batting is now more realistic than it
ever was. With nine zones of hitting and multiple ways of making contact with
the ball, you truly get the sense of a fastball whiffing past you. The game
works off of a “hit it where it’s pitched” theory where following the path and
location of the ball determines how well you make contact. The “pure swing
system”, as EA Sports calls it, follows a set of rules to make great contact. If
a ball is coming low and away, you swing with the left-analog low and away. The
same goes for anywhere else within the nine zones, and making the wrong decision
can easily give you an out, so make sure you judge the location of the ball
One area of the game that isn’t groundbreaking is in the graphics department.
The jersey textures aren’t as clean as other titles and the crowds are simply
abysmal. The entire bottom bowl of a stadium features 3D and animated crowds,
which is a nice touch, but elsewhere the crowds are 2D pin-ups that take away
from the overall value. On the other hand the stadiums look amazing and detailed
as ever. Some quirks that should have been in the game, such as workable
scoreboards in every ballpark and home run celebrations weren’t realized to
their full potential and may dishearten some die-hard baseball fans.
From the audio commentary to the crack of the bat, this is the most authentic
sounding baseball game to date. The commentary is fresh and filled with great
facts and timely conversations during the game. The crowd itself features all
the real chants from each stadium and a few extra fan favorites such as “Beat
LA” heard at the Dodgers rival games. For Xbox owners MVP features Dolby Digital
sound and HDTV 720p support to bring out the most realistic sound and visuals in
any baseball game.
MVP Baseball isn't perfect though; there are technical gaffes. Turning
double-plays are delayed because of the power meter and might affect the
outcomes of the play. Other problems include players not stepping on the bags,
foul balls counted as home runs, and some framerate issues. Putting aside these
minor setbacks, MVP is still one hell of a game.
A major letdown to Xbox gamers might be the fact that there is no Xbox live
compatibility but MVP offers too much to be overlooked for lack of online
support. (The rosters must be updated manually.) MVP Baseball 2004 has the most
accurate and authentic gameplay experience and the most in-depth franchise mode
setting the bar higher for other developers.