I’ve always looked at 989 Sports as the Detroit of professional sports. They had their glory years in the past but the shape that they’ve taken in the present is that of a pathetic cellar dweller. But what’s this? The Tigers are actually good this year? The Pistons are second place in the East? MLB 2005 is a good game? What’s going on here?
The boys in San Diego were committed to reinventing themselves after the weak showing on the PS2 and it began with last year’s titles. We saw flashes of brilliance in the 2004 lineup of titles but it’s obvious that the games lacked the necessary shine and polish required for them to compete with the big boys. Sure, MLB 2005 is still rough around the edges in a number of aspects but it’s probably the most polished 989 title that we’ve seen on the PlayStation 2.
Nearly every single aspect of the game has been retooled and it pays off in spades. From the start you’ll notice the huge graphical facelift that the game has received, but as you press on you’ll notice a boatload of improvements. It doesn’t take three hours for the computer to deliver a pitch anymore and perfect games don’t come quite as easily as they used to. MLB 2005’s flavor of baseball is decidedly more accurate and realistic than 2004’s and in the end you get a more enjoyable experience. Ball physics are also much better now as pitches feel much more realistic than before. Online play is definitely a major selling point here as it allows you to setup leagues, giving you a real reason to be competitive in the competitions. There’s also a new Franchise mode that takes a page out of Electronic Arts’ book of sports simulation. For all of you ESPN Virtual GM freaks you’ll be happy to know that there’s a Manager option, complete with ESPN GameCast style presentation.
Speaking of presentation, most of the overlays have been reworked to give the game a more television style look. It’s not gorgeous but it definitely gets the job done. I’m an especially huge fan of the replays and post game highlights that follow the completion of each game. You can even check out the play of the game, the play which the computer deemed as the play that had the most significant impact on the outcome of the game. Some of the replay angles could use variety but they’re a nice addition.
For the most part the rosters are about as accurate as they can get before opening day. There are a few oddities here and there such as Jeremy Giambi starting at first for the Dodgers but the rosters are pretty good for the most part. In case you’re wondering, that bastard Barry Bonds isn’t a part of the game because he didn’t agree to the new collective bargaining agreement. That means that the Giants now have the devastating Jeffrey Hammonds batting clean-up instead of Bonds. Most of the likenesses are correct as all of the players faces are easy to recognize.
My favorite innovation in the 989 Sports games is the career mode that was introduced last year. It allowed you to create a virtual representation of yourself as you brought him up the ranks and into the big time. It’s one of the most unique aspects of sports gaming and it just got better thanks to the introduction of the Eye Toy. Yes, Sony is finally starting to unlock the potential of the camera and it begins with MLB 2005. Not only do you create your own virtual persona but you can also add a digital version of your face onto the character, truly bringing yourself into the game. There are a few oddities with it but it works remarkably well for the most part.
One of the major areas of improvement resides in the visuals department. While the game is still behind the heavy hitters in terms of graphics, the improvements here are staggering. All of the players are beefier than ever before, the textures are much cleaner than before and the animations are more fluid than ever. That annoying curving ball (where the ball magically changes its path and ends up the fielder’s glove) trick is still here but the overall look of the game is finally up to the next generation. I like the little nuances too such as how uniforms get dirty and stay dirty whenever a player slides or takes a dive in the outfield. Now the next step is to improve the graphics on the stadiums, especially the atrocious flag waving animations.
Vin Scully (the voice of the Dodgers) once again lends his voice to the MLB franchise. If you live in Los Angeles you’ll know that Scully is full of anecdotes and stories that he likes to tell when the action on the field gets a little slow. Sadly the guys at 989 Sports failed to realize all of the potential that they had here. Scully likes to broadcast in a one-man booth but Sony saddled him up with ESPN’s Dave Campbell in a two-man setup. So this means that Scully is relegated to a garden-variety play-by-play man while Campbell handles the other stuff. It’s a shame because Vin generally has something interesting to say no matter the situation. Instead you have him doing the generic calls. The two men never play off of each other either. Every so often you’ll hear Campbell say something like “that’s right Vin…” but it never does feel like the two are actually in the booth together. It’s a decent setup but it’s still ages behind what the All-Star Baseball and ESPN guys are putting out.
Kudos to the 989 boys for finally get their franchises back on track. If MLB 2005 is any indication of what we can expect from these guys in the future then I’ll make sure to jump on the train when it arrives at the station. I still can’t wholeheartedly recommend this title over the rest of the competition, but it’s a great testament to what these developers are capable of. I’ll be anxiously waiting for my copy of MLB 2006 to arrive at my door but in the meantime, it’s time to fire up another game of MVP Baseball.
By far, the most improved game this year. It's not the best game, but it's made some leaps and bounds. Mark my words, this will be the series to watch in the years to come.
Rating: 7.6 Above Average
* 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