In our previous hands-on look at Major League Baseball 2K5, we focused on how the game plays on the field. New game mechanics such as maximum fielding, the dramatically different pitching interface, and the base-burner mode, which essentially allows you to play offense from the point of view of the base runner, set this title apart from last year's game. In this preview, we wanted to take a look at some of the other game modes found in the title to give you a feel for the different ways you'll be playing MLB 2K5 once it reaches store shelves in early March.
The game's career mode, dubbed GM Career, lets you play a virtual game of "moneyball" as you take the reigns of the day-to-day operations of your favorite major league team or up to four teams total. You'll begin by creating a virtual general manager, choosing a name and likeness for yourself, and then heading off to hire your managerial staff. Each position you can pick--manager, pitching coach, batting coach, and head scout--contain at least two core attributes: a letter grade that denotes the batting or pitching skill, and salary. A mere $500,000 for a pitching coach might not sound like a lot of money, especially when you're dealing with a budget of around $50 million but, remember, this is the same salary pool from which you'll be dipping to pay your overpaid, underperforming veterans as well. Spend too heavily in the beginning of the season and your payroll, and team, will likely suffer the consequences by the trade deadline.
Once you've shored up your staff, including your minor league managers, you'll be presented with a list of team goals you'll be expected to accomplish over the life of your employment contract with the team. Goals are dependent on the quality of the team you're taking over as well as the fans' expectations. In our GM career, we took control of the Chicago Cubs--a team that has met with some middling success over the past two or three years, despite their lovable loser reputation--therefore, our goals were ambitious from the get-go. These goals included making a profit, meeting a spending limit of just over $65 million for the season, acquiring a player, and getting rid of second baseman Todd Walker. Oh, and also winning the World Series. Nothing like aiming high!
Each goal has an expected due date, as well as a status notification indicating that goal's current condition. Goals tied to specific player acquisitions are based around statistics from the previous season as well as overall attribute ratings. For instance, one of our charges was to acquire a speedy base runner, specifically a player who stole more than 30 bags last year or with a speed rating of at least B, and one with an overall rating of 75 or more. To make sifting through loads of player data looking for just the right fit for your team, you can view player cards for any player in the game to pinpoint certain characteristics.
Of course, the minor leagues are another obvious source for roster talent, and MLB 2K5 does its best to give you as much information on your double-A and triple-A teams as possible. Most effective are the hot prospects feature, which gives you a quick glance of some of the star players currently tearing up the minors, and the farm report, which summarizes your entire farm system over 48 criteria, including generalities like number of total players, player types (including power hitter, gap hitter, right- and left-handed pitchers, bunting specialists, etc.), RBI, and home run leaders. Find a particularly bright spot in your farm report and you'll be able to easily call your player to the major leagues to test his skills against the best in the business.
The Path to Greatness
As your general management career continues, you'll have plenty of methods to gauge your success as a dynasty builder. A GM summary screen gives you a current summary of your goals, number of years with the team, reputation, contract length, and overall record, as well as a career summary that will track all the teams you've worked with during your virtual vocation. For more diamond-minded information, check out the career profile page, which will present team data, such as team batting average, team ERA, as well as any profit or loss you are currently running. A budget breakdown feature provides you a detailed look at your team ledgers, including budget, payroll, and specific contracts for players, as well as the percentage of payroll each position on your team occupies. Finally, an owner information screen will give you a quick glance at your team owner's priorities and his current state of mind through a handy mood gauge. Lose too many games in a row and it's probably best just to stay out of your owner's way.
Of course, one of the best aspects of heading up a premier sports organization such as an MLB team are the perks. In MLB 2K5, this is best exemplified through the skybox, a baseball equivalent to the cribs found in ESPN NFL 2K5. Instead of having just one skybox to choose from, you'll have three--each one being more pimped out than the one before it. You'll need to unlock the second and third skybox by completing some of the many gameplay challenges. In addition to the requisite minigames, video collections, unlockables galore, and trophy cases, a picture feature will allow you to hang wall photos of screen captures throughout your skybox.
While MLB 2K5 does not contain a coach mode proper, the gamecast feature allows you to simulate games one at bat at a time, even letting you make defensive and offensive substitutions. If you don't like how things are going in the game, you can jump into the game to right the ship and, once things are back on track, jump out of the game and back into the gamecast simulation.
If your brain hurts from negotiating contracts and dealing with profit margins, the home run derby--a fan favorite during the MLB All-Star Game--is a nice diversion. You'll be able to choose from different flavors of derby, from a standard one-on-one matchup to see who can ding the most long balls, to a score mode where points are awarded for most home runs, for calling shots before you go yard, or for nailing the longest homer. One of the coolest derby types is the tag team mode, which pits two two-man teams against one another, with each player having a life gauge. By hitting home runs, you do damage to your opponent, who can either keep slamming balls or "tag" in a fresh player from his roster. The life gauge is replenished by riding the pine, but, once the gauge gets to zero, that player is eliminated. The first duo eliminated is the loser.
Because Take Two now owns third-party MLB rights, and EA owns the ESPN license, MLB 2K5's ESPN presentation style has been toned down a bit since our last look at the game. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan's commentary, as well as that familiar ESPN music and graphics style, are still present and accounted for. Sports gamers should enjoy it while it lasts, however, as next year's MLB game will likely look substantially different from this one. For now, our sights are set on spring training and this year's game. We'll have a full review of MLB 2K5 when it's released in March.