reviews\ Mar 23, 2004 at 7:00 pm

MVP Baseball 2004 - PC - Review

Every young boy seems to have that dream at some point in their life, 2 outs, bottom of the ninth, down by three runs, 7th game of the World Series, the hated Yankees have Mariano Rivera on the mound ready to close the door, and you step up to the plate with the bases loaded. Step aside Babe Ruth, I'm calling my own shot and I say EA has a legit hit on its hands with MVP Baseball 2004.

MVP 2004 combines the approachability of an arcade baseball game with the statistical depth of a text baseball management simulator to provide something for nearly everyone.  The first thing you notice about the game is the gloss and flash on everything. Menus look fantastic, there is a jumping soundtrack playing in the background which even keeps you posted on the track and artist currently playing. Ballparks include all of the unique features, like the locomotive at Minutemaid Park and the retired numbers in the upper deck of Busch Stadium still beckon the monster home run hitter.

Gameplay in a baseball game is usually 70% pitcher vs batter, 10% fielding, 10% baserunning, and 10% everything else, Therefore, the pitching and batting mechanisms make or break the game. Fortunately for EA and gamers everywhere, they have reworked both approaches and have created a much more natural way for players to get into the game.

Pitching used to be a simple process of choosing your spot in the strike zone (or out, if you want to be crafty), pick your pitch and let it fly. It was really difficult to make much of a mistake and really gave the pitcher an unfair advantage. MVP 2004 has taken a page out of the golf game genre and developed a pitch meter that is similar to the golf swing meter we are all familiar with. As you choose your pitch and location, you hold the pitch button down for a period to fill up the pitch meter. The more power you put on the pitch, the harder it is to deliver it where you want, because when you release the button, you must then push the button again when the line is in the green area. Mistakes here deliver a hanging curve ball or misplaced fastball that major league hitters will probably pound for extra-base hits. In a two player game, your mistakes will also tip off the opponent as to the location of the pitch,

Improvements in the batting interface are significant as well, so much so that EA created the term "Pure Swing System" to describe it. Rather than resorting to an artificial targeting and tilting interface to guess where the pitch is going and to try to hit it a particular direction, EA went old school and put the onus of the hitting interface on getting the right timing down. Swing too early or late and you will be swatting air. The fun comes from using the left analog stick (on the recommended Logitech Dual Action gamepad) to direct your swing to the left or right side of the field. You also can control to a degree whether you hit the ball in the air or on the ground. Since the game combines your timing, your directional guidance, and the propensity of the current batter to hit pitches thrown in that area to decide whether you actually hit the ball and how it acts, the overall feel is much more natural than the usual targeting interface which basically boiled down to moving the bullseye to where the pitch was crossing the plate and swinging away.

The other big innovation in the gameplay is the use of the right analog stick to conduct "Big Plays". Now you can control just how your player slides into a base, scales a wall to rob the opponent of that big home run, or dive to snag a dropping line drive. The game is full of chances to use your major league abilities and you will walk away still thinking about how cool it was to snatch that ball right out of Steve Bartman's hands.

EA has built in many interesting gameplay modes into 2004, including Quick Play, Dynasty, Homerun Derby, and Pitcher Showdown. The Dynasty mode alone is worth the price of admission for many hardcore baseball junkies. Not only do you get to manage the major league club of your choice through 120 years of baseball history, but you get full control over their AAA and AA teams as well. This is unprecedented, as far as I know, and really adds to the depth of your game experience. Now, not only can you demote and promote players at will, but you can go down to the minors and play those teams, manage the farm club or trade AA catchers if you want.  The Dynasty mode is rich and inviting for baseball lovers of all ages. Be sure you check it out.

There is more in this baseball game than any reviewer has time to tell you about in the space allotted. Do yourself a favor and buy this one for your favorite gaming platform. You will enjoy this as much or more than the real thing.

Gameplay: 8.9
All new pitching and hitting interface make the game approachable for beginners but with nice subtleties to keep even great players still working to fine tune their game. Big Play control means that you get to decide how you want to play the game.

Graphics: 9.1
Shows signs of the High Heat roots, player models and animations are outstanding. Player faces could be a touch more realistic, but overall the graphics are top notch.

Sound: 9.2
The sounds of the game are all there, from the roar of the crowd to the crack of the bat. Menus and off-season work are accompanied by a solid soundtrack.

Difficulty: Easy
Very easy to get started playing, plenty of depth to keep you occupied for a very long time.

Concept: 9.0
The additions to the hitter/pitcher battle, the deep Dynasty mode, controlling all three levels of clubs in a professional organization, all combine for a great baseball experience.

Multiplayer: 8.9
EA has launched their EA Sports Nation in order to bring together gamers across the globe. Multiplayer is only available for the PC and the PS2 versions of the game.

Overall: 9.0
EA is first out of the gate this year with an excellent, deep baseball game that appeals on many different levels. There is no need to wait on the rest of the games to come out later this year, MVP Baseball 2004 is a great way to play baseball and to manage the team of your dreams.


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