STAFF REVIEW of Major League Baseball 2K5 (Xbox)

Monday, March 7, 2005.
by Yellowlab

Major League Baseball 2K5 Box art Sega?s ESPN Major League Baseball series is back. Well, kind of... Apparently a lot has changed in the off-season. Sega is out of the picture as they sold their stake in the series to last season?s co-publisher, Take-Two Interactive. This is also the last year the series can use the ESPN brand name as it was snagged up by Take-Two?s nemesis, Electronic Arts. The ESPN name has been removed from the title, and is clearly being phased out. The series even has a new creator, as the game has been ripped from last year?s developer, Blue Shift, and handed to Kush Studios, which develop the NHL 2k games.

If trying to keep track of those changes isn?t enough to make your head spin, Kush Studios took it a step further and redesigned the entire game from the ground up. As the instruction manual touts, ?Not enhanced, not adjusted, not tweaked, and not updated. MLB 2K5 is ALL NEW??. Despite the changes, Take-Two still managed to deliver a high quality, very competitive sports title at a bargain price of under $20.

The most apparent changes to the gameplay is the new pitching and hitting interface. Luckily both work very well, as a baseball game can sink or swim here. Batting is a simple 2 button scheme, in which you can choose a low risk/low power contact swing, or you can try to reach the seats with a riskier power swing. The left analog stick is used to aim toward the ball as it comes over the plate which increases your chance of contact. The system is very simplistic, but it works very well. Every so often you will be served up a ?fat pitch? over the plate causing the game to go into a slow motion mode called the ?slam zone?. A power meter appears and you have to rapidly tap the ?A? button to increase the meter, and then swing the bat to slam the ball out of the park. While this can be fun, it seemed out of place in this otherwise realistic baseball sim, and it was more like something you would see in the gimmicky baseball titles, such as MLB Slugfest. After several games I turned this feature off as it became more of a distraction.

The batting interface is good, but they really hit a grand slam with the pitching system. You pick your pitch and the desired location over the plate, which sets a target at that location. You then have to line up a series of two moving crosshairs into that target. It?s a good feeling to nail the pitch, but miss it and you may serve up an easy pitch down the middle for your opponent (or give him a ?slam zone? opportunity). Pressure is also a factor. The controller will rumble like a heartbeat in high pressure situations (or if you bring in a relief pitcher without adequately warming him up) making it slightly harder to get everything to line up. Quite simply, the pitching system just feels right. The only downside is that after you get the hang of it, it becomes very easy to strikeout the computer controlled players, and it?s not unusual for the weakest pitchers to strike out 10+ batters a game.

A completely new and unique baserunning system is introduced, which also works very well. You can control individual baserunner by pressing the button assigned to them. Using the shoulder buttons you can tell the runner (or runners) to advance or retreat to a base. You can even play as the baserunner, from their perspective. You can switch between all of the baserunners and the batter with ease using the right analog stick. The baserunning is almost a game in itself, and it is very fun to play from this perspective. If there is one knock on this system it is that it can get confusing trying to control several baserunners when you need them to do different things, and you?ll likely make a lot of mistakes in the beginning.

All the game modes you expect to find in a sports game are here, including franchise, a GM mode, Xbox Live play, and even a home run derby. Each mode is deep and should satisfy baseball enthusiasts. There is also 3 Skyboxes (similar to ?the Crib? in the NFL 2k series) where you can spend tokens you earn during gameplay to unlock mini-games, old teams, new stadiums, and cheats.

The overall visual presentation is fantastic. It looks just like you are watching a game on ESPN. There are also a lot of nice little touches that add realism ? shots of the fans filing into the stadium, a slick strikeout replay that edits all three strikes together in one short clip, unique camera angles, and realistic stat and graphic overlays. The stadiums are all recreated to near perfection, and you can practically smell the grass, or the lack of, when playing in a dome on Astroturf.

The player models are the only thing that is a slight disappointment. While they aren?t horrible, they won?t leave you in awe. Some players just don?t look quite like themselves.

ESPN commentators Joe Morgan and Jon Miller deliver the play by play, which adds to the authenticity of the presentation. They have very soothing, laid back voices that suit baseball very well. The commentary is deeper than your average sports game, but as with the rest of them it can become repetitive after some time. There are a few phrases that are repeated more than others, and I noted a couple of bugs that did get slightly annoying. For example, I created a rookie player, and nearly every time he came to bat throughout his rookie season, Jon Miller would note that he had ?no home runs last year?.

As with the 2K football series, the custom soundtrack feature is put to good use. You can assign music to a particular batter, pitcher, or specific events that occur during gameplay (such as a solo home run). It?s a fun feature that adds to the presentation, and it?s easy to get stuck for a few hours editing and assigning music to players and events.

Considering how many changes were made since last year?s version, it?s amazing the game is this solid. As with anything that undergoes a major renovation, there are a few bugs, but luckily none that will have any major effect to the enjoyment of this game. My hat is off to Kush Games which has hit a home run in their first trip to the plate.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.4 / 10
Visuals: 9.6 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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