There comes a time when you’ve just got to cut a guy some slack. Since I started reviewing games a few years back, I’ve been the “go-to-guy” when it comes to games branded with the 989 Sports moniker. I’d like to think that my co-workers respect me for my dearth knowledge of sports games but something about the looks on their faces and the snickers they give me as I pass by them tell me otherwise.
MLB 2004 marks the ninth 989 Sports I’ve had to review through in my illustrious career. Throughout the years I've seen the company falter and stumble into relative obscurity. But wait, games like World Tour Soccer have been changing the way we think about 989 and MLB was one of the franchises that I’ve actually found myself enjoying over the years. Suddenly there was a chance that I find myself enjoying my next foray into the land of 989. After all, it has Dodger’s slugger Shawn Green on the box and play-by-play from the commentator God himself, Vin Scully. What could possibly go wrong?
Surprisingly, not much.
While the game does indeed lack polish and refinement it's only a few steps behind the competition. While sometimes the game does feel like a thinly disguised PSOne title, it is that simplicity which leads to a fairly decent pick-up-and-play experience.
Good news first, this game has the potential to keep you hooked for a long time. I say potential because it’s a sheer matter of preference. If you don’t mind playing through some major gameplay hiccups then you just might feel at home with MLB 2004. At times, it’s almost worth trudging through this the games because the off-field elements are actually addicting and intuitive.
This game has a pretty good amount of depth to it. Forget those Franchise modes that are all the rage nowadays, it’s all about Spring Training. Basketball fans will be able to relate this to NBA Shootout 2003’s career mode. You create a player, let him cut his teeth in spring training and hope that he’s good enough to make it to the big leagues. If he’s good enough he’ll be called up to the Majors where he’ll be able to strut his stuff in front of the fans. You’ll actually keep tabs on his baseball career as well as his life off of the field. This is the stuff that baseball lovers’ dreams are made of.
While the good doesn't end there, the rest of the game is significantly less impactful and entertaining.Again, the good. The pitcher/batter interface is relatively easy to get a grasp of. While it does indeed have some cool facets to it such as a slump/streak system, where the cursor grows and shrinks depending on the batter’s performance, it is offset by its relative ease and simplicity. Then again that’s not really a bad thing, newcomers won’t have a difficult time picking up and game and playing it. That’s more than I can say for more other games such as ASB2004 which features an impossible interface for newbies to dive in to.
The collision detection between the ball and an object is simply horrible. It’s almost as if the fielder’s gloves have magnets inside of them to which the ball is mysteriously drawn to. Balls will travel in a straight path and just magically warp into a fielder’s glove in mid-flight. The end result looks silly and teeters along the brink of amateurish and just plain laughable.
If you thought that the umpires in World Series Baseball were blind you’ll really have a field day with the men in blue here. They seem to blow calls left and right, especially in tight calls at first base. Sometimes a runner who appears to be safe by a mile will be called out while tight plays will more often than not, go to the defense. In a puzzling call, a ball that was clearly foul (we’re talking 5-10 feet here) was actually called fair by the game.
We haven’t even gotten to the ineptness of the fielding AI yet. It’s almost as if the designers chose to model the fielding habits of every player after that perennial gold glover, Jose Canseco. If there’s a way for your fielder to botch the play, he’ll find a way to do so. He’ll stand there and admire balls hit near the foul line while other alternatives, such as picking it up and throwing the damn runner out, are much more realistic. Outfielders will look on in awe as a ball is hit towards them, like a five-year-old in his first Tee Ball game. Instead of using that glove in the right or left hand he’ll just watch it go over his head. Any chances at having a great time in this game are ruined by the brain dead AI which will force you to repeatedly pound your head on the nearest object.
Let’s get to perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the game, not because it makes the game fun to watch but because it’s laugh out loud funny. After your fielder picks up the ball (and you’ll be thanking Jesus every time this actually does happen) he has this tendency to pull off a complete 360 and then throw it to the selected base. Wow I didn’t know that all baseball players train as ballerinas in the off-season because that’s the impression that I’m getting here. How realistic is it to see a shortstop field a routine grounder on his glove side only to pull a complete 360 just to throw it to first?
The graphics are probably one of the game’s best assets, but not by much considering it looks like a beefed-up PSOne game. To be fair the player models look pretty good, until you see them move. The variety of the animations isn’t the problem; it’s the quality of the animations. Little-to-few transitions exist to link the animations together, giving the game very little fluidness or flow.
The stadiums suffer from the same problems that I have been mentioning in my reviews of the other 989 Sports games. Although they are fundamentally correct, they’re barren, dull, plain an uninspired. For some strange reason they lack personality and just seem to be listless and boring. There’s a large sense of emptiness that makes them very vanilla and on the whole, quite lackluster.
Contrast this to all of the ambient stadium sounds that really put you into the game. All of the on-field sounds have been recreated quite nicely. Out of all of the baseball games this season I must admit that I haven’t found myself enjoying the sounds of the game more than when I was playing MLB 2004. The crack of the bat, the sounds of the cleats hitting the dirt and the loud yells of the umpires have been recreated quite nicely. All of these sounds do an admirable job of complementing the game’s commentary, provided by famed Dodger announcer, Vin Scully and ESPN’s Dave Campell.
The announcing isn't the best that we've seen in a baseball game but it does keep the game flowing. There's an awful lot of dead-air and at times, it feels like the the crew is broadcasting for a video game and not a telecast. There's not enough detail in the announcer's descriptions and for that, it's relatively weak.
While 989 Sports’ MLB 2004 may not be the best baseball game to come down the pike this year it’s still a pretty decent baseball game. Don’t get me wrong, MLB 2004 isn’t actually too bad of a game. In fact, it’s only a few good tweaks away from catching up to the competition. If you need a quick pick-up-and-play type baseball game that’s low on the frills and easy on the controls, then you’ll probably want to check out MLB 2004.
While it can be seen as a step forward for 989â€™s franchise, it still lags a few paces behind the competition. Its relative simplicity makes it a great candidate for pick-up-and-play but those looking for a deep or realistic experience should look elsewhere.
Rating: 6.2 Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile