MLB 2004 Review (PS2)

Close, but not quite. 989 actually put together a pretty strong effort with MLB 2004. The high points are the overall presentation, excellent player models and some pretty good animations. The bad, includes poor CPU base running and a hitting interface that allows a lot of contact but not many hits.

MLB feels a lot like baseball at first, however after awhile some of the games problems begin to show up. My main problem is that I just couldn’t drive the ball with any consistency. (Yah I know I might suck). I think what made this even more frustrating is that you make a lot of contact but unless you have the cursor lined up right and the timing down you will not get any hits. The odd thing is that I never seemed to get better, at first I chalked up my inability to hit, to a learning curve, but even with the hitting based just on timing, I was unable to get much of an offense going.

While hitting, the baseball cursor will appear, this will give you a general idea of where the ball should be, but depending on the pitcher and the pitch type the ball may miss that cursor by quite a bit. This seems like a pretty good idea since you don’t have to move the cursor as much as you would if you had no idea where the ball is going. The pitches come in pretty fast but it is possible to pick them up, especially breaking pitches. On fastballs you have to guess or you will probably not catch up with it. They also have a couple very playable camera angles. It is possible to draw walks, but the style of the game encourages you to swing at just about anything in the strike zone.

MLB offers total control hitting which allows you the opportunity to guess the pitch location and the pitch type. I like the fact that you can choose to guess just the location and not both. Guessing right increases your chance of hitting the ball with authority, unfortunately guessing right is not easy, and if you guess wrong you have really reduced your chances of hitting. I am guessing the secret to hitting well in MLB is to master the total control-hitting feature.

Pitching is actually quite fun, you select your pitch type and once you do that your pitcher starts his motion and in the time before he releases the ball you have to pick your location. It’s not hard, but you will make enough mistakes that will get hit hard. The pitches are a little too accurate and you will rarely walk someone, unless you are real stubborn about trying to hit the corners. On the Veteran level if you work the corners and mix up your pitches you won’t get hit too hard. All-Star seemed to be the right amount of challenge, but since I couldn’t hit I just stayed on Veteran. One drawback is that each pitcher only has 4 pitches, granted most pitchers would be lucky to have 4 serviceable pitches, but I don’t like the idea of being limited when there are pitchers who have more pitches.

Fielding is also pretty good, except for the seeming lack of errors. It is pretty standard stuff but the control and responsiveness are good, and you are able to get to balls that you should. You will see plenty of high throws, actually too many, they seem to really like the animation that makes the first baseman stretch. Some plays around first base are awkward, mostly because it isn’t clear on who is going to field the ball.

The strategy aspect of the game seems decent, but there are some holes. The CPU trying to steal third on me when it had no business doing so. Pitching change in the middle of an at-bat, which is odd, but does happen. So many of my games were low scoring that I really didn’t see the CPU make a lot of lineup changes, generally the ones that it did made sense. Base running is where I saw the biggest gaps. One scenario had runners on 1st and third, one out and on a line single to left, that was clearly a single, the runner on third did not score. The CPU will get doubles and triples on balls hit to the gap or down the line, but on deep fly balls that look playable, too many times the CPU settled for a single.

I think the overall presentation of MLB is better than any of the other baseball game this year. I like the menus, I like the way they present the pitchers at the beginning of the game and then the lineups, makes me feel like I am watching a real game. I personally think the game looks pretty good, but if you don’t like “Jaggies” then you probably won’t like the graphics.

One strong point of this game is the player models, they are scaled very realistically and their faces are pretty much dead on. They also capture some idiosyncrasies of various players. David Eckstein is small and his strike zone is small, Troy Glaus is big, I was surprised at how much this added to the game. Hopefully other games will follow suit next year.

The animations are also pretty good. I haven’t seen much that I didn’t like, except for some balls that the outfielders play on the run that look pretty strange, they sort of leap forward at the ball. Some real nice animations on infielders coming in on balls, and hitter’s swings look very nice as well.

Vin Scully is the play-by-play guy and Dave Campbell is the analyst. In real life I don’t like Campbell much and I have heard too much of Scully over the years. In MLB however I like them a lot. I am impressed with the amount of sound bytes that they got from Scully, he really sounds like he is doing a game. Campbell has a lot of analysis, stuff that you would hear in a real game that is relevant to what is going on. The crowd noise is blended in well and helps MLB to sound like a real game.

They have a pretty cool idea called Spring training where you can create a player and then start off in spring training and try to do well enough to make the team. It’s a nice idea and it is kind of fun to start playing in some of the spring training parks. Unfortunately, in the regular season mode or franchise mode there is no way to create a player, which is bad when you want to add players like Damian Miller of the Cubs.

MLB’s career mode covers 10 years, but lacks depth. You just decide whether or not to re-sign free agents, no negotiating. Once this is done the free agent pool is very limited and your minor leagues are very limited as well.

Another issue is that when you set up your lineups the pitching staff only has 10 spots and if you carry more than 10 pitchers the extra pitchers will be considered bench players. Also you can’t set your lineups up for left and right-handed pitchers.

Simming a full season will bring you some odd things as well. In one year in the AL there were 20 pitchers with more than 20 wins. Also in the NL, the pitchers on the Cubs all hit around .250 with a couple of home runs and over 30 rbi’s.

In short I wouldn’t by this game for the franchise mode.

I actually enjoyed the time I spent playing MLB, but the problems I encountered with hitting and at times the poor CPU base running AI began to take some of the fun out of it. This is a well-presented game and the attention to detail in the player models will win some people over but it needs some refinement in a few key areas.

MLB 2004 Score
out of 10