Major League Baseball 2K5 REVIEW

Major League Baseball 2K5 Review (Xbox)

"Major League Baseball 2K5" arrives this spring amongst great anticipation. A new developer, Kush Games, is in charge, and the game itself has been dramatically overhauled for 2005. Was it worth it?

For the past few years the 2K series has had the best graphics of every baseball game, and this year is no exception. The stadiums are as accurate as they come and many of the player faces are spot on. The presentation is also top notch, and it looks just like an ESPN broadcast. The replays of strikeouts, diving catches and big plays are near-television quality and greatly add to the overall enjoyment of the game. The only real negatives reside in some of the animations. Some of the fielding animations are a bit choppy and don’t hold up in comparison to the competition. The batting animations sometimes stutter and fail to match up with what’s happening on the field. For example, I’ve hit singles, and after watching a replay, I've seen that the bat failed to make ever contact with the bat.

This year, “Major League Baseball 2k5” adds ESPN's Jon Miller and Joe Morgan for commentary, and its one of the best improvements made to any game this year. I love both Miller and Morgan on "Sunday Night Baseball", and I love them in this game. It also appears to me that the duo spent a little more time in the studio then most real-life commentators do when contributing to a videogame. Not only does Miller call the play-by-play and Morgan adds the color commentary - but they also have many player-specific comments and a "mailbag" segment where Morgan answers questions. This is a huge improvement over last year's game - where Rex Hudler’s atrocious commentary made me immediately mute the announcers.

The crowd sounds and atmosphere are also improved from last year's game. Playing "2k4" was like playing baseball in a church. The crowd didn’t react loudly for anything, and it killed the "immersion factor" for me. This year’s version is totally different. Not only is the crowd active and loud - but it's loud at the right times. Also, little additions like the “Yankee Roll Call” (The crowd at Yankee Stadium chants the name of each Yankee) adds to the game and makes you feel like you are actually in the stadium.

Bugs, bugs, bugs. To be honest with you, I usually prefer sports games from Visual Concepts (VC) over its competitors, but recently this company has had a real problem weeding out game-damaging bugs from its titles. "ESPN NFL 2K5" had several bugs relating to the draft and CPU roster decisions in its franchise mode. "ESPN College Hoops 2k5" had Dynasty freezes and small glitches like the CPU recognizing the wrong conference champions. "ESPN NBA 2k5" had the infamous "timeout bug". Some of the bugs were easy to ignore - and didn’t affect my enjoyment with the game - while others caused me to return or trade in the game because they made it all but unplayable. The most obvious bug in “Major League Baseball 2k5” is the “passed ball” bug.

In real life, passed balls occur rarely and the most you will likely see in a real game is one or two. The MLB record for passed balls in a game is five. However in “Major League Baseball 2k5”, passed balls occur entirely too often. Using the regular difficulty settings, I have had games where the CPU has broken the passed ball record in an inning and has thrown over ten in an entire game. I’ve said this in other reviews and I'll say it again. I have no idea how VC/Kush could have missed this bug. I saw it during the first game I played and so did many people in the Operation Sports forums. That said, I don’t think this bug is a “game killer.” Most gamers throw around the term “game killer” far, far too easily. The game doesn’t force you to advance your runners every time there is a passed ball and since I was aware of it, I simply returned my runners every time a passed ball was thrown. The bug does take away a little from the game but in no way does it make the game unplayable.
With that said, it seems the “passed ball” bug is fixed by setting the CPU errors slider to 50. With this setting, the passed balls disappear and you still will see a realistic number of errors and wild pitches. It's a shame, though - because most consumers don’t visit message boards and they will purchase this game, encounter the “passed ball” bug and quite possibly return the game, never realizing that the bug is easily fixed. Now that Take2 Interactive has taken over the entire 2K Sports series, let's hope they spend some of the millions they have earned from the “Grand Theft Auto” series on better bug testing and quality control.
There's another problem with this game: the fielding cameras - or the lack thereof. I can’t understand why this year’s game only has one fielding camera angle. Baseball games have had multiple fielding camera angles since the first version of the “Triple Play” series and this is the first game in years to limit you to only one camera angle. I think that VC/Kush wanted to make playing the game as close to watching an ESPN broadcast as possible, since it appears that the fielding camera is an exact copy of the camera angle used by ESPN. I don’t mind VC/Kush trying to make the game as close to a real-life broadcast as possible, but forcing users to play with one camera angle is a decision I simply don’t agree with. There are also a few camera angle bugs. When using the behind-the-pitcher view, the camera does not change when a runner is stealing a base, leaving the user unsure whether the runner is attempting to steal a base and forced to rely on the play by play to determine whether the runner was safe. There seems to be only one view for foul balls and for fly balls down the line, and it’s a poor view at that. On a few occasions I’ve realized that my outfielder would have had a chance to catch the foul ball if it wasn’t for the poor camera angle. In my opinion, VC/Kush did a poor job all around with the camera angles.
VC/Kush added new features to every aspect of the on-field part of the game. There are five ways to pitch in this year’s game: "KZone" 1 and 2, a meter which is eerily similar to the one used in the “MVP Baseball” series, an effort meter and the "classic" mode where you simply pick a location and a pitch and the player does the rest. In my opinion, "KZone" is similar to every other meter used in a baseball game for pitching. It all comes down to timing and if you are good enough at it, even the weakest pitcher can look like Roger Clemens. After experimenting with "KZone", I wasn’t too impressed with it, but I must also admit that I prefer the simplicity of picking a pitch and location that can be found with the classic pitching option.
The new base running mode is a notable addition to the series. This is the first base running mode that uses the entire screen to show the base runners. In most baseball games, a window opens in the corner of the screen when a man is on base and you must look at the window to determine what base said runner is on. In “Major League Baseball 2k5”, numbers corresponding with each base are in each corner of the screen and when there is a base runner, a window opens and travels around to each base just as the runner is reaching the same base. It sounds confusing, and initially I thought it would be distracting, but after playing for a while I didn’t find it distracting at all. The "Baseburner" aspect of the running game is a completely new and innovative idea. With a flick of the right stick, the player can control any of the base runners while giving the batter simple instructions at the plate. It's an interesting wrinkle that works well, and VC/Kush should be complimented here for thinking "outside the box".
What’s so frustrating about “Major League Baseball 2k5” is that despite all of the bugs and camera angle issues, it still plays a damn good game of baseball. One of the best things about this game is that it allows you to play whatever style of baseball you like. If you prefer a less realistic, arcade-like experience, there are options to make that happen. If you prefer a more true-to-life baseball game, you can turn off the arcade options. With the exception of the fielding camera, the game is totally customizable. I was a huge fan of the “High Heat” series and with the right customizations; "Major League Baseball 2k5" can come surprisingly close to that series. The CPU AI makes all of the right decisions from pitchouts, intentional walks and sacrifice flies and bunts. This is also the first game that I’ve played where the CPU has attempted a suicide squeeze. The only big negative I have seen is the CPU may tend to pull its starting pitcher a little bit too soon at times. I’ve seen games where the CPU’s starting pitcher only gave away one or two runs and had more than 50% of his energy and was taken out in the 5th inning. Hopefully, some more adjustments to the CPU’s fatigue will result in longer outings for starting pitchers.

There really aren’t many changes to the Franchise mode this year. The only major additions are picking a major league staff and a farm system report that details the development of your team’s minor leaguer. "Major League Baseball 2k5's" Franchise mode isn’t as deep as the competitions, but if you were happy with last year’s franchise - you’ll be happy with it this year, too.

Here's where "Major League Baseball 2k5" really shines. No other developer has even come close to 2K Sports' online leagues, and this title continues that proud tradition. Thankfully - especially since the discovery of some of the game's oddities - "sliders" can be used in online exhibition games and in leagues. Leagues use "living rosters", where trades and injuries occur and persist in this online world. The game itself plays silky smooth online, with no real lag in most cases. VC knows online play, and with this title, they continue to set themselves apart from the crowd.

To be honest, this is a tough game to review. On the field - and with the passed ball fix - this game can be as good as baseball gaming gets. I'm just thankful that we have the Operation Sports forum and other forums like ours, because without them, the passed ball fix may have never been found. That fix has subsequently made the game much more enjoyable. However, the multiple bugs and lack of multiple fielding camera angles hurt this game severely and simply can’t be forgiven. I can only review this game as it comes out of the box - and because of that, I must give it a lower score than I would have had the game shipped glitch-free.

Major League Baseball 2K5 Score
out of 10