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Riding the pine
MLB2K5 is a solid second-stringer

If you're scoring at home, here's the sports-videogame maneuvering that's already happened in '05: first, Electronic Arts bought exclusive licensing rights to the NFL and, as an additional "fuck you" to the rest of the market, the Arena Football League. 2K Games and developer Visual Concepts, not wanting to bet the farm on CFL2K6, responded by buying exclusive rights to Major League Baseball. Electronic Arts then scored another coup by announcing a partnership with ESPN, which had become an integral part of the 2K games. (The NHL license, however, remains up for grabs.)

Even though the absence of competition will inevitably lead to a decline in quality for everyone, EA's purchase of NFL rights at least made some sense; after all, their Madden franchise was the undisputed champion of all video-game sports. But Major League Baseball 2K5 does not represent the class of the video-game market. It may only retail for $19.99 as an aside, let's all hope that this practice continues, even in the face of no more expensive competition but if you want a more complete baseball experience, EA's MVP 2005 is still the way to go.

To start, EA won the cover-art battle handily. EA went with Manny Ramirez, but 2K gives us Derek Jeter. Whose mug would you rather have on your game?

Of course, you can't judge a video game by the pretty boy on its cover, and the truth is that MLB2K5 isn't bad; there are just some little things that could have been improved upon.

First off, the controls are not especially intuitive. Pitching requires three steps: first, select your pitch; second, locate your pitch; and then third, correctly manipulate a sort of bull's-eye system that determines whether or not the pitch goes where you want it to. The better a pitcher's command, the slower this function moves, so it does bring in an added realism Greg Maddux can still pitch a shutout for you, but Chan Ho Park is going to be all over the map. The pitches are tougher to command as the game wears on, too, and the controller vibrates in pressure situations. Once you get the hang of this, though, it's pretty easy to mow down the opposing lineups. Hell, if Matt Clement pitches like he does in this game, the Sox are in great shape.

On offense, the designers claim you can aim the bat wherever you like, but I only saw a cursor appear when the opposing pitcher threw it right in my guy's wheelhouse. Otherwise, I was just up there flailing at everything, because the pitch recognition is not what it is in MVP. At some point, Carl Pavano's line against my Sox was something like 5 IP, 48 pitches, 0 balls, 7 strikeouts, 5 runs (all earned). Mark Bellhorn was up there flailing away at a pitchout. Just like in real life.

The fielding in this one is slick they convert the PS2/Xbox controllers into a diamond (on the PS2, circle is throw to first, X is throw home, etc.). There could be a faster response time on switching fielders, but most gamers want their defense simple, so MLB2K5 gets high marks here. Baserunning, on the other hand, is extremely complicated, as the runners can be controlled independently, leading to three guys getting stuck at third base, guys failing to score from second on doubles, and other such flubs until you get the hang of it.

So yes, there is a learning curve, but the gameplay itself is enjoyable enough. It's in the presentation that 2K5 mostly suffers. The ESPN partnership means your game will be called by Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, two men who, in reality, approach each call with the patience and tone of kindergarten teachers. Your host is the bland Karl Ravech, though I suppose he's more tolerable than Chris Berman or Stuart Scott. But each time somebody on the field does something remotely significant, the instant replay comes on. That's to be expected, except the ESPN graphics come on each time. If the replay transitions were seamless and easier to skip sometimes I got so zealously annoyed trying to skip the replay that my next play was altered then this would be much better.

Additionally, the other game modes are not much, and all are weaker than their EA Sports equivalents. The Season Mode is decent, but the Franchise Mode is just the Season Mode under a different name. The only apparent difference was the ability to scout minor-leaguers and hire a coaching staff. There's also a GM Career Mode, which does not involve playing games, but rather simply scouting players who will help your team accomplish certain goals. I personally quit this mode after my first assignment was to find a way to get Jason Varitek off the payroll. Perhaps that was randomly generated, but where's the research? Nevertheless, in my season I was able to unload Byung-Hyun Kim on the Texas Rangers (despite his amusing protests) for prospect Chris Young, the same Chris Young who beat the Sox at Fenway last year. Someone should e-mail Theo about that one!

The game also has those annoyances inherent to any baseball game. The MLBPA license means Barry Bonds isn't in the game, and neither are any former replacement players like Kevin Millar. These guys can be created in the game, but the player creation is not very extensive, and many of the skill categories are not explained. If I want my created Ryan Stewart to be selective and not strike out a lot, do I increase the strikeout rating or decrease it? Things like this simply are not clear.

The rosters are current as of January, so you have to send Sammy Sosa to the Orioles, Magglio Ordonez to the Tigers, and Doug Mientkiewicz to the Mets. But what's the point of including the farm rosters if each team's best aren't in there? The PawSox roster to start includes David McCarty and Adam Hyzdu, but there's no mention of top prospect Hanley Ramirez. Why not go all the way? Compare this with MVP's rosters, which are fairly accurate all the way down to single-A ball.

My complaints may seem minor, but they truly do detract from the overall experience. The game is still playable and engrossing, but I just can't help but feel like the wrong guys got the license.

Score: 7.0 (out of 10)

Issue Date: March 11 - 17, 2005
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