MVP Baseball 2003 Review (Xbox)
When MVP Baseball 2003 was announced, it was very low on the baseball radar of games that would turn out to be any good. After a series of fantastically horrendous Triple Play titles, EA Sports took their baseball franchise in a different direction. That direction is headed on the right road to successs, but this year’s game isn’t there just yet.
EA Sports has always been renowned for having the most innovative features. When it came to EA Sports’ games, you could count on having the whole kitchen sink and more. But somewhere in the past few years EA Sports hasn’t been delivering on this promise. It seems that all of their titles have the basic and a few new features to wow the game but on the whole, “If it’s in another game, EA Sports will put it in next year.”
MVP Baseball 2003 is pretty shallow when it comes to features. You get the standard exhibition, season and franchise mode. MVP has a rather fun homerun derby mode. But other than that, this game is just slightly less than what we’ve seen from games two years ago.
The franchise mode includes some neat features that no other game on the market has so far, the “Jump-In” feature and team momentum. The “Jump-In” feature allows you to play out the rest of a simmed game. So, say the Red Sox are a run down in the 7th against the Yankees, you have the ability to try and hold the lead. Team momentum is a nice addition. Very simply the better you do the more momentum you have and that usually translates to winning more often. Each game you play is ranked on a scale of importance. Play a rival, late in the season for the last playoff spot and a win means a jump in the team’s momentum going into the playoffs. Vice versa a loss could slow your season down to a screeching halt.
MVP also includes a set of tasks or franchise goals for you to accomplish so your team doesn’t fire you. In ten years you must accomplish these goals or face the wrath of front office management. For instance you might have to win a World Series, or have the team batting average above .270. Or you might have to set player records like hitting the most homeruns in a season or picking up the most saves.
The Home Run Challenge is a little different from your run-of-the-mill HR derbys, in that instead of hitting homeruns the goal is to cover the most distance. So when Sosa and Bonds tee it up in this game, it’s about seeing who can hit the ball a mile, literally. Each shot is measured for distance where homeruns get a bonus and foul balls and misses result in a deduction. Overall it’s a nice diversion but once you get the timing down, the single play aspect of it gets boring quickly.
I’m going to talk briefly about the customization aspect of the game, that’s player editing, player creation and sliders. MVP bucks the trend and is missing two out of the three. There are no sliders, and no player editor. I suppose that’s great if you have the correct opening day rosters and had perfect gameplay but when a game doesn’t have those two things, you need to include these options. And the player creation option is okay, it could be more robust but the thing that kills it is the inability to put long names. So if you want to put yourself in there but have a name like Bartholomew or Washington you aren’t going to fit it in.
In the first few days that I played the game, I thought this was a very solid title. The more I play it, MVP turns out to have one too many first year glitches and it really needed another month or so to be ready.
I want to briefly talk about the new pitching/batting aspect. MVP is one of the first game developers to have a meter system for pitching. It really does give the user a sense of pitching and gives another way to pull the gamer closer to the action. However like so many first year titles it suffers from being too new. The meter system like every other meter system in every football, golf or basketball game before it, suffers from the problem that once you get the speed down it’s too easy to hit your mark. That and the game still uses the cursor system for pitching. This just turns pitching into an exact science where you rarely have to fight with a player who isn’t that good or is having a bad day.
Batting is rather simplistic and needs one adjustment to becoming almost perfect. MVP batting system is based entirely on timing. On paper that doesn’t sound too deep but because MVP offers the most realistic looking pitches and can really throw you for a loop. When the CPU changes speeds you’ll find yourself hacking it up because you don’t know what’s coming next. The other way the MVP’s batting system is better than other baseball games is that it is the first game where you actually can try to drive a ball or just plain hit the ball where you need.
But for next year, they need to add a few more wrinkles. It’s too easy to make contact with the ball in this game. They need to introduce another factor so if you swing low and away and the ball is up and in, you need to be perfect just to catch a piece of it. What you have this year is that if you try to pull a ball and it’s outside you’ll hit a weak dribbler. The penalty for not executing should be more severe.
Overall the game is a good first effort. But like all first-timers it usually is rare that it’s a great title. The CPU doesn’t make any glaring errors. Most of the problems with the CPU suffers from what seems to come from the design decision of the developers. And it makes you wonder if they understand the game as well as they should.
The first problem and it’s really the bane of MVP, is the CPU not swinging at balls outside the zone, with any regularity. Most Major Leaguers have a decent eye and if you throw one in the dirt 99% of the time it’s not going to be chased. In MVP even if the ball is inches off the zone they aren’t going to swing. You can strike batters, but it deters from the eternal struggle of the batter and pitcher.
The other niggling area is a lack of offense for the CPU. Well it’s a lack of offense for both teams. It would be uncommon for you not to see a homerun all that often. Maybe EA Sports got tired of us moaning about all the homeruns in Triple Play so they decided to give us the other end of the spectrum. On the whole, the CPU will nickel and dime it’s way to a win and even big sluggers have an issue of hitting it deep.
One of my main issues with the game is the CPU decision to pull pitchers early. This is one that puzzles me. In this game that’s geared toward the batting and pitching interface, EA Sports allows the CPU to pull pitchers that are doing well, if not great. More than likely pitchers get yanked in a situation that doesn’t call for it. It’s so bad that good pitchers could have 2 runs on 4 hits and then the CPU pulls them in the 4th. This is a problem that could have been fixed by knowledgeable baseball folks. Or even by people that said, if this is a game about Randy Johnson versus Barry Bonds then we should allow Randy Johnson to be downright vicious for the entire 9 innings and Barry Bonds to do the same for every at bat. The strengths of the players aren’t modeled well when it comes to the batting and pitching.
Fielding also offers the meter system and here’s where the meter system shows off it’s potential. It’s just plain fun to try and gun a ball towards home for a play. The risk/reward of the meter system offers another dimension to fielding. It’s not perfect because in areas, it could be better tuned. In most cases. if you push the meter, to the red, you will either make an error or pull players off bases resulting in a busted play. I would have liked to see more risk if you juiced it up to the red. The other area that could have been better tuned is base running to first. Every other area of base running the CPU does pretty well but it just seems too slow to get to first, allowing for what should be close calls to first--easy outs.
AUDIO AND GRAPHICS
EA Sports is always good at making games look great. MVP follows the tradition of just making their games look good. Whether it’s the rich colors or the professional looking menus, EA Sports has always made “presentable” looking games.
The first thing you’ll notice when you watch the game is not only players have their own specific stances or movements when batting and pitching but the sense of control you have over them. MVP has blended the line of a great looking game that coincides with the action .Let me give you an example. In “other” baseball games the animation of batting isn’t done correctly. When the graphical player makes contact with the ball, the ball might not be close to bat, or there will be some lag to it. MVP is light-years ahead of trying to balance out the graphics to match the gameplay. This is the only game that you get sense that the player has put the bat on the ball. It’s just an awesome site.
The players and animations I feel are some of the best around. Like any first year title, there could be more and knowing EA Sports there will be next year. There needs to be more fielding, diving, sliding animations but on the whole it’s quite good.
The stadiums are typical EA Sports with one surprising shortcoming. All the stadiums are faithfully recreated and look create albeit a little dark. But the shortcoming is that the crowds are fixed 2D figures. So if you get the correct angle you’ll see these cardboard cutouts.
Regarding sounds, MVP does the best job of any sports game made to date of recreating the sounds of the ballpark. You’ll hear player and team specific chants. The crowd will get loud at the appropriate times and so forth. As for the announcing, it’s nothing spectacular. It gives you the standard jabbering at the correct times, but they also say, “It’s a can of corn” one too many times.
MVP is a good first effort. Is it good enough to warrant a purchase? Well if you are looking for a baseball game and don’t mind any of my complaints then you’ll enjoy it. Baseball fans that aren’t weekend warriors probably won’t. What puzzles me and makes me even more frustrated with MVP is that in an interview they said they’ve been working on this game for more than a year. I know that isn’t that much of a time to make a game but MVP contains some problems that no baseball game should have, not even if it’s geared toward casual gamers. However I will say that MVP contains a fun factor that most games don’t have. And if you have a buddy in the hot seat, it’s the best multiplayer game around.