989 Sports has not had the best of luck since the release of the Playstation 2. During the original Playstation’s time they stood toe-to-toe with EA, especially in the football department. Their biggest boost was the year that EA took a year off with Madden, but when the Playstation 2 rolled around, EA left 989 Sports in its dust. It’s been playing catch-up ever since.
This is my first experience with the MLB franchise on any system and I have heard rumblings that last year’s iteration was exceedingly horrendous. If MLB 2005 is any indication of where 989 Sports is going with its titles this year, it may be the year they turn the corner and start to put up more of a fight against its entrenched competition.
This year 989 Sports has implemented use of the Eyetoy (I do not have one) to take a picture of yourself and put it on your own created player. They also allow the use of the USB headset (don’t own this either) to bark commands instead of doing them with your controller. There is a franchise mode that has some of the Owner-type things you saw in EA’s Madden game this year. They also have Simulation Mode which shows you the game pitch by pitch and you can decide when to jump in. Basically it’s a closer look than MVP Baseball‘s simulation ability where you can jump in at any half inning.
Let’s see how well MLB 2005 stacks up.
The graphics aren’t spectacular, but they certainly look better than anything I’ve seen 989 Sports put forth on the Playstation 2. Animations are pretty good, although not as smooth or in-depth as the Xbox version of MVP Baseball 2004 this year. Where it does supercede MVP is that jaggies are largely not present in this game. I don’t see jaggies on the mound or anywhere dirt touches grass. During replays the outlines of the players don’t look jagged either, so that’s a good thing. The game also runs at 60fps in offline games.
The only fielding graphical glitch I saw was when a player slides into second base and stands up they will merge with the player on second base and create a two-headed monster with the same body or something akin to that. This happens very rarely, but it is right in front of you so you can’t help but notice.
Ball physics are well done in this game as well. You hit a home run and the ball may bounce off the seats and back onto the field. In MVP Baseball 2004 and WSB2k3 if the ball ever went yard you would not see it hit anything once beyond the fence. The outfield seems a bit smaller in this game than MVP and fielding is much easier and has some nice animations of the players getting the ball and throwing it to the bases.
Uniforms get dirty unlike the World Series Baseball games up to this point (haven’t seen ESPN Major League Baseball yet). Balls hit off the bat seem to react correctly as well, so all around this is a pretty good graphical presentation.
I’m not very fond of the sound in this game. Announcers Vin Scully and Dave Campbell do a good job, but sometimes they get the calls totally wrong. I personally have a bone to pick with Scully over his pronouncing of Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. He calls him “Mein-ko-witz” when it is pronounced “Min-kay-vich”. Yes, it’s a hard name to say, but the PA announcer certainly doesn’t have a problem with his last name. Heck, the announcers in MVP Baseball 2004 even have a little side comment about Doug’s name, but I digress.
The rest of the sound is okay at best. The crowd can get loud, but for the most part they are subdued. It’s quite sad because it looks like almost every game, no matter what team is at home, is sold out. You’d figure that amount of crowd would get overly excited with their home team about to score a run, right? The batting and pitching sounds are good, but I dislike when they do the instant replay of a pitch with the sound of the ball as it moves through the air.
Music on the other hand is pretty good for what you hear of it. Alien Ant Farm, Jet and others are represented here. I will say that MLB 2005 has more well known bands than MVP 2004 had. Overall the sound section is okay at best.
Control is not as tight as what was found on MVP Baseball 2004, but it does a good job in all but one area: base running. It seems the base running in this game is stuck in MVP Baseball 2003 land where it was difficult to control the runners. The key problem with this game is that as the lead runner reaches a new base, the button controlling the player changes. Since the field is so “small” it’s difficult to pull off a double with a shot that would easily do it in the real game. Oftentimes I found myself trapped between bases, so I just gave up on the whole base running aspect unless I was on second and needed to stretch for home.
Batting is pretty easy. You basically just hit the X button to hit. I have found that moving the left analog stick in different directions would help your trajectory, so it shares that in common with MVP Baseball 2004. The pitching interface is also pretty good and has some things that outdo MVP. You choose your pitch via the 4 face buttons and use X to deliver it. The cool thing about the pitches is that your aim for fastballs is right on, but the aim on the other pitches takes a bit of strategy. Just because you point the pitch for a sinker somewhere doesn’t mean it’s not going to drop on you, so you have to move your aim up a bit.
Overall the control is good, but not as good as MVP 2004 other than the more realistic pitcher aiming.
First off MLB 2005 does have a working franchise mode that gives accurate player progression points. It also has a pretty good franchise mode that adds some of the Owner mode options from Madden 2004. You can build new food places, re-do the grass in the stadium, do upgrades to the stadium, etc. You also have loan options so that you can pay for this stuff and hope that it generates enough revenue for your team to be above zero at the end of the year so you can do some signing and trading.
As in most franchise modes you have control over pretty much anything in the game. You have your general manager duties if you want, you can simulate a number of games and play others, etc. The menus are not as well laid out as MVP Baseball 2004 and that takes a lot off of this score. I had fun playing both this game and MVP, but for playing a straight game of baseball I would probably choose MVP over this game. The franchise mode will keep you interested though.
The other big thing this year is the online play. Big word of warning here though, you’ll want to have broadband and the other person will want to have broadband to have a lag free game. If either party has 56k connection get ready for some lag and phantom balls going past your batter. The online play is fun though because Sony has the same type of front end they had on their football games late last year that shows you current scores of games in the real world and allows you to talk to people and set up games and tournaments.
As with most sports games, your reliance on franchise modes will mean the difference between a high value score and a low one. This game sits in the middle with its franchise mode. MLB 2005 is fun to play and it certainly has a working franchise mode (unlike MVP Baseball 2004), but I just wasn’t as excited about the franchise mode in this game. Too much reliance on stadium and owner-type details for my liking (and I liked the Owner mode in Madden 2004) and you can pull yourself into a lot of debt when you keep on hitting the bank for loans…even with the New York Yankees, a team that never seems to be below zero in the profit department.
Online play is cool, but only as long as both parties have broadband connection. If one party doesn’t you should be prepared for a lagfest. If I could test out the Headset and Eyetoy connection, I’m sure that would also make this game pretty cool as well and help the immersion factor. In order to have those options though you have to part with another $80 if you already don’t own them and that makes this game a heavy investment for that. I would guess other 989 Sports games this year will use both options though.