GameSpot Baseball Roundup 2004

Play ball! This feature gives you an at-a-glance comparison of all the major baseball games for the 2004 season, including All-Star Baseball 2005, MLB 2005, MVP Baseball 2004, ESPN MLB, and MLB SlugFest: Loaded.

by

By Frank Provo
Design by Collin Oguro

Jeff, Tim, and Rich provide you with video accompaniment. Spring is here, and it's baseball season once again. That can only mean two things. One, that fans following the other 29 teams in the league are hoping that the Yankees will spontaneously combust, and two, that thousands of people are sitting at their computers trying to figure out which baseball-themed video game to buy this year.

GameSpot can't help you with that first thing, but perhaps we can be of service with, um...the second thing.

The candidates currently on the shelves are All-Star Baseball 2005 from Acclaim, MLB 2005 from Sony/989 Studios, and MVP Baseball 2004 from EA Sports. Soon, Sega Sports will join the fray with ESPN Major League Baseball, which is the follow-up to last year's outstanding World Series Baseball 2K3. By the time the 2004 season is just a few games old, four different games will be vying for your attention.

And that's not the end of it! Some of you love it when a baseball game simulates every little thing that goes on in the field of play, like pitcher's duels, "seeing eye" singles, mound visits, injuries, and minor league call-ups. But there are many baseball fans out there who just want to pitch, swing, and run the bases without the burden of complex control schemes. If you're one of these people, check out MLB SlugFest: Loaded, which is being released in June by Midway. It's the game for all of you who wish baseball was a contact sport. Ever wonder what baseball would be like if base runners could punch the ball out of a fielder's glove or if fielders could beat up on base runners and cause their abilities to slump for the rest of the game? That's the perspective that MLB SlugFest: Loaded provides.

Which of these games is right for you? That's where GameSpot's Baseball Roundup 2004 comes in. On the following pages, we've put together all of the information that you'll need to make an educated choice.

For the games that are already on store shelves, we've included a summary of each game, along with a ratings box that shows how strong each game is in five different categories, including atmosphere, graphics, simulation depth, features and modes, and online options. The number of baseballs displayed next to each category is the rating score. Five is the maximum possible score in each category.

The categories for graphics, features and modes, and online options are pretty self-explanatory. Simulation depth assesses how much control you have on the field, how accurate the plays that you see are, and how rich the franchise and season modes are. Atmosphere is a subjective assessment that takes into account how all aspects of the game come together to duplicate the sights and sounds that you'd see at an actual ballpark. How does the crowd react? Does the stadium PA system sound authentic? Is the crowd moving around out there? Do the controls allow you to orchestrate an exciting game? All of these questions--and more--are factored into the atmosphere rating.

Once you've finished reading the summaries, we roll on with a Coming Soon page that gives you a preview of the games that are coming out later in the season. Following that, you can go to the Head-to-Head Showdown, where we present to you a detailed chart that illustrates how the games stack up against one another in the five categories discussed above. Finally, to close out the whole shebang, we leave you with a few final thoughts.

All-Star Baseball 2005

Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Acclaim Studios Austin
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Players: 1-4
Roster Status: Current as of 03/01/04 (built-in player and roster editor)
Video Options: 480p progressive scan
Online Features: Exhibition games, rankings, multiple leaderboards, and roster downloads.

All-Star Baseball is Acclaim's baseball franchise.

ATMOSPHERE
GRAPHICS
SIMULATION DEPTH
FEATURES AND MODES
ONLINE OPTIONS

If you're looking for a solid, all-around baseball video game, All-Star Baseball 2005 should fill your needs nicely. The list of modes is comprehensive, the franchise mode is rich enough to keep most stat-heads occupied for months, and the general play mechanics strike a good balance between ease-of-play and simulation-style realism.

For roughly 40 bucks, you get all 30 MLB teams, 15 star and heroes teams, more than 100 legendary players, 67 different ballparks, and more than 100 alternate and retro jerseys. The selection of modes includes exhibition, franchise, expansion, pickup games, home run derby, trivia, and the "This Week In Baseball" (TWIB) challenge--a mode that lets you jump into some of last year's highlights in an attempt to change history. The franchise mode contains everything a franchise mode ought to, including player drafts, minor league teams, spring training games, contract arbitration, a disabled list, and staff budgets.

Take a close look at the back of the box, and you'll also see that All-Star Baseball 2005 is the only console baseball game this year to support four-player games. Invite your friends over, and you can join forces to control specific players on a single team, or you can pair up on opposing teams.

The close-up fielding camera puts you into the game.

The main thing Acclaim did to make the 2005 installment better was to expand its online features. Last year, all you could do was download roster updates. This year, you can actually play against other players in exhibition games, and you can keep track of your rank and statistics on a set of constantly updated scoreboards. The only thing missing from the package is the ability to set up custom tournaments.

Another nice aspect of the game is its hitting interface, or rather, the four different hitting interfaces that you have to choose from. Do you prefer timing-based hitting? Are you a fan of zone-aiming? Perhaps you'd prefer a 2D or 3D hitting cursor. All-Star Baseball 2005 offers all of these options.

What else is there to like? The accuracy of the stadium models is frightening. You can see fans sitting on the rooftops of the bars across the street from Wrigley Field. When you launch a home run into the outfield at Yankee Stadium, it has a chance to land inside of Monument Park--where the plaques commemorating famous Yankees players sit. Check out the scoreboards, and you'll see that they all update to show the current line score, scores from around the league, and player photos. The variety of player animation is ample, even if the game doesn't get as lavish with the details as MVP Baseball 2004 does. Alongside the action, Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons call an accurate game. Their conversations sound natural, for the most part, even if they're not as excited as they've been in years past.

What's not to like? Acclaim seriously needs to revamp its instant replay system, and it needs to change the fielding camera back to the way it was in ASB 2004. Sure, actual TV studios do zoom in on an outfielder when he's going for the ball. However, that doesn't mean it's the best way to portray fielding in a video game. Also, the days when spectators only make generic catcalls are long gone. The crowd in All-Star Baseball 2005 has a good variety of one-liners, but they'd come off better if they were directed at specific players. Likewise, the awesome stadium PA music from last year (which featured House of Pain, LL Cool J, and Queen, among others) has been replaced by ill-fitting, unknown music from the likes of the Vengaboys. Blah.

Overall, there's more to like than not to like, especially if franchise and online modes are your main concerns.

Read the Reviews - PlayStation 2, Xbox
See the Game in Action - PlayStation 2, Xbox

MLB 2005

Publisher: Sony/989 Sports
Developer: 989 Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 2, PSOne
Players: 1-2
Roster Status: Current as of 02/25/04 (built-in player and roster editor)
Video Options: 480p progressive scan
Online Features: PS2 version offers exhibition games, tournaments, statistics tracking, rankings, and message boards for broadband and dial-up players. Users can set up custom tournaments. No roster downloads.

MLB 2005 is 989 Sports' entry into the pennant race.

ATMOSPHERE
GRAPHICS
SIMULATION DEPTH
FEATURES AND MODES
ONLINE OPTIONS (PS2)

There are at least a couple of reasons why you might want to pick MLB 2005 over one of its competitors.

First, all of those "other" games employ rather complex control schemes to simulate the processes of pitching, hitting, fielding, and baserunning. Some people just don't want to have to worry about whether their runner slides into the right or left side of the bag or if they released a pitch while the cursor was inside the green area of the pitching meter. MLB 2005 plays exactly like baseball games have played since the 32-bit era began. To pitch, you select a pitch and aim it using the cursor. Where it lands depends on what type of pitch you chose and how good the pitcher is. Visible hot and cold zones tell you where the batter's weak spots are. To hit, you have the option of guessing the pitch type and location before the swing, and you can even aim the bat high or low to induce grounders or pop-ups. However, you can also just swing away and take your chances.

You also won't find a more in-depth franchise mode anywhere else. Besides the basic trade, staff hiring, and player contract options that you'd expect to see in any good baseball sim, MLB 2005 also includes more than a dozen different business and facilities options. You can set ticket and concession prices, buy new equipment for your locker room and medical facilities, and even spend money toward billboard and TV marketing campaigns. When you start out, your team has to charter a bus, and it must take coach flights to travel across the country. Once you rack up a few wins, you can upgrade to first-class seats or buy the team its own plane. If you have a baseball-hungry friend or family member, you'll also be glad to know that two people can compete against each other in the franchise mode. The only thing missing is the ability to manage minor league teams.

989 Studios improved every aspect of MLB 2005. Check out the PIP base runner-cameras.

The online support and EyeToy features found in the PS2 version are extremely engaging. If you have a Network Adaptor attached to your system, you can go online to play against other players in exhibition games, or you can set up your own custom tournaments. Lag is a big problem for dial-up users, but broadband users generally experience silky-smooth games. The absence of downloadable roster updates is a bummer. If you own Sony's EyeToy PS2 camera, you can take a picture of yourself and paste it on to the custom players that you create in the game's player editor. The facial-mapping technology does a nice job of transforming a 2D picture into a three-dimensional head.

What 989 Studios needs to do next year is pump up the atmosphere. MLB 2005 looks dandy. The stadium models and player bodies are modeled accurately, and there isn't another baseball game with graphics this crisp running on the PS2. We especially love how the players' uniforms get dirty after making diving plays and slides. The audio in MLB 2005 is dandy as well. Vin Scully and Dave Campbell never seem to run out of phrases during their commentary, and the crowd has the same sort of subtle balance of chatter and rumble that you'd hear at a live game. Nonetheless, MLB 2005 is missing many of the elegant little details that make other baseball games so likable. You never see players milling about in the dugout, and spectators don't make catcalls toward individual players. Clouds don't move across the sky, and shadows don't creep across the field. Since every baseball game offers the same basic look and feel, it's small details like these that help one game stand out from the rest.

The PSOne version of the game is nothing like its PS2 counterpart. 989 Studios has used the same engine to make the last five MLB games on Sony's original PlayStation console, which means that the overall gameplay and franchise options are identical to what they were in 2000. Feel free to look through GameSpot's archives for complete reviews of older installments in the MLB series on the PSOne.

Read the Review - PlayStation 2
See the Game in Action - PlayStation 2

MVP Baseball 2004

Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC
Players: 1-2
Roster Status: Current as of 01/15/04 (built-in player and roster editor)
Video Options: 480p progressive scan, widescreen (GameCube, PS2). 720p progressive scan (Xbox).
Online Features: The PS2 and PC versions offer exhibition games, rankings, and roster downloads for broadband or dial-up players. The GameCube and Xbox versions do not have any online features.

MVP Baseball 2004 lives up to its name.

ATMOSPHERE
GRAPHICS
SIMULATION DEPTH
FEATURES AND MODES
ONLINE OPTIONS (PS2, PC)

Perhaps "It's in the game." isn't just a slogan. MVP Baseball 2004 has the nuts and bolts of baseball covered, but it also incorporates dozens upon dozens of the sport's tiny little nuances--the kinds of things you'd never, in a million years, expect to see in a video game.

Want to choose whether your runner slides sideways into the bag at second or barrels into the second baseman's legs? You can. Want to make your fielders slide under a liner or climb up the wall after a home run shot? You can. Want to visit the mound to give your pitcher renewed confidence and stamina when there are runners in scoring position? Go up at the right time, and you'll see it happen.

During a game between the Mariners and Angels, we watched Edgar Martinez fail to touch home plate while trying to score on a sacrifice fly. Both he and the catcher sprinted back to touch the plate, but Edgar lost the race and was called out. MVP Baseball 2004 is chock-full of these sorts of nuances.

Whiff at a pitch and the game will show it using the new strike cam.

The folks at EA didn't skimp on overall style, either. Players' uniforms get scuffed up during the course of the game, the giant Jumbotron screens in the outfield display a variety of different stadium views during each at bat, and individual members of the crowd wave and cheer in response to the action on the field. Take a look at the shadows on the field as the innings go by, and you'll notice that they gradually get longer as the sun goes down. Best of all, between the roaring cheers, authentic stadium music, and player-specific catcalls, you actually feel like you're sitting in the stands. The only big nitpick concerning the presentation is the blurring that's used to simulate an autofocus effect during wide shots and camera transitions. It distorts the stadiums and just doesn't work right.

Here's the skinny on what your 50 bucks will get you. All 30 actual MLB teams are present, along with their AAA and AA minor league affiliates. Casual players can pass the time playing in the exhibition, home run showdown, and pitcher showdown modes. Simulation geeks will especially adore the dynasty mode, which allows you to manage a franchise for up to 120 seasons. You can set up trades, renegotiate contracts, and make call-ups from your team's farm system. Variables such as team chemistry, momentum, and individual player moods also have a bearing on how well your team performs. The inability to make staff moves or to schedule days off for individual players are the only major options missing from the dynasty mode. Some people also may not be pleased to learn that the dynasty mode doesn't let you import a new roster unless you start the season over, but the real complaint here lies with the failure on EA's part to include a true season mode among all of the game's other play options.

If you grab the PC or PlayStation 2 versions of the game, you can also go online to download roster updates and to play exhibition games against other players over the Internet. Overall win/loss rankings are recorded. Unfortunately, you can't set up your own tournament brackets, but EA Sports has announced that it will be holding its own tournaments throughout the year.

Read the Reviews - PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC
See the Game in Action - PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC

Coming Soon

ESPN Major League Baseball

Publisher: Sega Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts/Blue Shift
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Release Date: April 8, 2004

ESPN MLB and SlugFest Loaded will arrive later this season. The ESPN-style transitions and logo-branding contributed a great deal to the atmosphere of Sega's previous baseball game, World Series Baseball 2K3. Sega Sports promises to take that integration even further in this year's release, which was renamed ESPN Major League Baseball to play up the branding agreement between Sega and the ESPN television network. There will be a wider variety of TV-style transitions and cutscenes, including on-deck shots, player reactions, and instant replays. Rex Hudler has returned to handle the color commentary, but he's no longer alone in the booth. ESPN Sunday Night Baseball anchor Jon Miller has signed on to contribute the running play-by-play during the game. Karl Ravech, the anchor of ESPN Baseball Tonight, will also provide postgame analysis and commentary.

Among the new play modes is GM career, which is a new twist on the old franchise mode. Your goal is to keep the owner happy by making the trades he wants and helping the ball club to make a profit. Each owner has a different personality and a different focus on team development. These differences will influence the trades you make and the contracts you sign.

ESPN Major League Baseball has a wider pitch selection than World Series Baseball 2K3 did.

We're also looking forward to the new first-person viewpoint and the changes that have been made to the pitching, fielding, and hitting interfaces. The hitting cursor is gone this year--replaced by a new timing-based system--and the pitching interface has been expanded to let you adjust the effectiveness of each pitch.

We'll have to wait a few more days before the final version of the game hits store shelves. When it does hit, we'll update this roundup to see how ESPN MLB stacks up against the other games that are currently on sale.

Read the Preview >>
See the Game in Action >>

MLB SlugFest: Loaded

Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Release Date: June 2004

Midway decided to name this year's SlugFest game "Loaded" in honor of all of the new features that have been added. Don't worry. You'll still be able to attack fielders on the base paths, and you can still bean batters to cripple their stats. This time around, however, you'll have the option of turning off the violence to play Slugfest: Loaded like a traditional baseball sim.

Sliding spikes up? Slugfest doesn't strive for realism. Instead, it carves its own niche with its unique style.

Fans of traditional baseball will appreciate the new franchise mode, which uses the engine from the popular Baseball Mogul management simulator to put you in charge of every aspect of a team for the duration of its existence.

Above all, the SlugFest series has always been about kicking butt and taking names. That dedication continues in Loaded with new attacks, new defensive moves, and new trick pitches that really let you get inside hitters' minds. You'll be able to get feisty online, as well, this year. Loaded will support exhibition games and custom tournaments on both Xbox Live and the PS2 Network Adaptor.

MLB SlugFest: Loaded punches its way into stores this June. Until then, feel free to check out the links below to read and see more about the game.

Read the Preview >>
See the Game in Action >>

Head-To-Head Showdown

All-Star Baseball 2005 MLB 2005 MVP Baseball 2004
Atmosphere Player animation is smooth and lifelike. A few plays, such as infield catches, repeat too often. Stadium scoreboards and video screens are constantly updated. Fans cheer as a group.

The music chosen for player introductions isn't as peppy as it was last year, but the crowd catcalls are hilarious.

Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons call an accurate and energetic game, but they're not as informative as they've been in past years.

Rookie and veteran difficulty settings result in "arcadelike" scores. All-Star and Hall of Fame settings result in realistic games.
Player animation is smooth, but most plays in the field repeat frequently. Players stop moving after a play is made. Outfield scoreboards and video screens are constantly updated. Individual fans stand up and cheer.

There's some organ and PA music here and there, and if you pump your speakers, you can just make out a few generic crowd comments.

The commentary from Vin Scully and Dave Campbell is accurate but dull.

The controls and overall hit variety are fine, but the presentation isn't thrilling enough.
There are so many different play animations, including rare plays that aren't usually found in baseball video games. Some stadium scoreboards update and some don't. Individual fans stand up and cheer.

The PA music and player introductions are loud, and so are the cheers and catcalls that come from the crowd. Fans make player- and team-specific catcalls.

Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow provide an exciting, fun commentary that isn't always accurate.

The ability to control pitch accuracy, throw strength, slides, and individual runners really puts you into the game.

All-Star Baseball 2005 MLB 2005 MVP Baseball 2004
Graphics ASB 2005 represents the middle ground between MLB and MVP. The graphics are sharp, the animation is smooth, and the amount of detail that's visible is good but not extravagant.

Stadium models are precise, right down to active bullpens. The ball can ricochet off of railings and luxury boxes.
MLB has the sharpest, smoothest graphics of any baseball game this season.

Stadium models and crowd graphics are superb, but there isn't much going on outside the stadium. Clouds don't move, shadows don't crawl, and planes don't fly past, among other minor complaints.
MVP's graphics look blurry at times, but they get the job done. Detail is what sets MVP apart. Fielders reach out to tag base runners, and cloud cover even causes the shadows to change on the field.

All-Star Baseball 2005 MLB 2005 MVP Baseball 2004
Simulation Depth Pitching: select pitch type, aim with cursor, control pitch strength.

Fielding: preselect throws, throw to cutoff man.

Batting: four setups (timing, zone, 2D cursor, 3D cursor), guess pitch, contact or power swing, bunt. Contact zones change depending on the batter/pitcher matchup.

Running: queue stolen base attempts, control individual runners.

Franchise mode includes drafts, trades, fake A/AA/AAA farm systems, spring training, staff development, and player upgrades.

Game includes: multiple lineups, bullpen use, injuries, ejections, errors, passed/dropped balls, thrown bats, and typical plays.
Pitching: select pitch type, aim with cursor, control pitch strength.

Fielding: preselect throws, throw to cutoff man.

Batting: aim at nine general areas in strike zone, guess pitch, induce pop-up or grounder, bunt.

Running: queue stolen base attempts, control individual runners.

Franchise mode includes drafts, managerial contract goals, coach hiring, various advertising preferences, player development, transportation, and facilities management options.

Game includes: multiple lineups, bullpen use, injuries, ejections, errors, passed/dropped balls, and typical plays.
Pitching: aim with cursor, select pitch type, control pitch effectiveness and accuracy via onscreen meters.

Fielding: preselect throws, throw to cutoff man, control strength of throws, off-balance throws are less accurate.

Batting: aim at nine general areas in strike zone, bunt.

Running: queue stolen base attempts, control individual runners, select type of slides used.

Dynasty (franchise) mode includes drafts, trades, AA/AAA farm clubs, farm club call-ups, managerial contract goals, team happiness, and player moods.

Game includes: multiple lineups, bullpen use, injuries, ejections, errors, passed/dropped balls, check swing hits, missed tags, missed bases, typical plays, and dozens of rare plays.

All-Star Baseball 2005 MLB 2005 MVP Baseball 2004
Features & Modes Features:
30 MLB Teams
15 Star & Hero Teams
100+ Legend Players
17 Classic Ballparks
60 Retro Jerseys
Player Editor
Spring Jerseys
20 Fantasy Ballparks
4 Players Can Play

Modes:
quick play, franchise, expansion, pickup game, home run contest, "This Week In Baseball" challenge, trivia game
Features:
30 MLB Teams
2 Legends Teams
78 Legend Players
6 Classic Ballparks
60 Retro Jerseys
Player Editor
EyeToy Face Capture
Headset Voice Commands

Modes:
exhibition, season, career, franchise, playoffs, home run contest, text-based manager mode.
Features:
30 MLB Teams
2 Legends Teams
52 Legend Players
8 Classic Ballparks
60 Retro Jerseys
Player Editor
60 AA/AAA Teams
20+ Game-Tuning Options

Modes:
exhibition, dynasty (franchise), home run contest, pitching contest, text-based manager mode, scenario editor.

All-Star Baseball 2005 MLB 2005 MVP Baseball 2004
Online Options Exhibition games
Scoreboards
Roster updates
Exhibition games
Scoreboards
Custom tournaments
Message center
(PS2, PC only)
Exhibition games
Scoreboards
Roster updates
Message center

Conclusion

Our trio of intrepid editors sum it all up. There you have it--GameSpot's 2004 Baseball Roundup. Hopefully, we've given you enough information to decide which of these games you should draft into your starting rotation.

Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa. Have you watched Field of Dreams lately?

Depending on your needs, each game certainly makes a good case for itself. Do you want the sharpest graphics, or will you forgive a loss of clarity for a greater variety of animation and general detail? If you put sharpness at one end of the scale and detail at the other, MLB 2005 would be on the sharp side, MVP Baseball 2004 would be on the details side, and All-Star Baseball 2005 would be somewhere in the middle. Maybe you just want the game that exudes the most atmosphere by presenting loud music, a thunderous crowd, cool plays, TV-style transitions, and all that sort of jazz. That's MVP Baseball 2004, in a nutshell. Do you want the game with the highest number of teams, legends, retro jerseys, fantasy players, and fantasy ballparks? Look to All-Star Baseball 2005 for that. Do you want the best franchise mode? It's a toss-up. MLB 2005 offers great front-office moves; MVP Baseball 2004 has a deep minor league system; and All-Star Baseball 2005 has a little of both. What about online play? It's a big deal this year. All-Star Baseball 2005 and MVP Baseball 2004 both offer downloadable rosters and exhibition games, while MLB 2005 sacrifices roster downloads to offer custom tournaments.

For those of you who only have access to a PC, GameCube, or PSOne, your options are limited. MVP Baseball 2004 is it on the PC and GameCube, while MLB 2005 is the only game in town on the PSOne. It's a good thing that these are all good games.

Finally, we'd like to end by chastising all of these companies for neglecting to produce a baseball game for the Game Boy Advance this year. Boo! Hiss! Go back to the dugout, meat! There is no good excuse for leaving Nintendo's popular handheld out in the cold. If anyone at Acclaim is reading this--All-Star Baseball 2004 for the GBA was just fine, and the main things we'd like to see in a new installment are smarter CPU fielders, updated rosters, and better stadium models. If anyone at Microsoft is reading this--while you're busy fashioning that High Heat MLB franchise you bought from the 3DO bankruptcy sale into a new game, feel free to get hold of the unreleased GBA version of High Heat MLB 2004 and then release it with updated rosters. Someone, anyone, put out a new baseball game on the GBA soon. As Bill O'Reilly would say, "To not do so would be ridiculous."

And that's that. Game over. The Mariners beat the Yankees 4 to 1, and A-Rod went hitless. Shouldn't you be heading off to your local video game store right about now?

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