Electronic Arts is putting the finishing touches on MVP Baseball 2003, which is currently scheduled to ship this March for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. If you're not familiar with the series, that's because MVP Baseball 2003 marks the launch of a brand-new franchise. The game was developed by some of the people responsible for EA's Triple Play series, and as you'd expect, it's a fully licensed MLB product that comes packed with all the real teams, players, and stadiums from the major leagues. The game contains several modes of play, including exhibition, playoffs, home run challenge, and franchise. However, MVP Baseball 2003 is actually quite different from any of the Triple Play games.
The game includes a robust franchise mode in which your decisions actually affect your team's simulated-game winning percentage. One of the unique features in this mode is its momentum meter, which you'll want to keep an eye on, since having momentum gives you a better chance of winning simulated games. You build and maintain momentum by winning, so if you lose too many in a row and your team starts to go into a slump, you'll want to hop in there and take action. Also, the bigger the game is, the more effect the outcome will have on your momentum, so you'll likely want to have a hand in the higher-profile games. MVP Baseball 2003 also comes with an intervention feature that allows you to jump into the middle of a game that's being simulated. For example, if you choose to simulate a game, you'll see the scoreboard update inning by inning. So, if the CPU posts three runs to break a tie in the seventh inning of a playoff game, you can simply push the intervention button, which drops you right into the game.
MVP Baseball 2003 also has a unique two-player split-screen home run derby that awards points based on how far players hit the ball and subtracts points for hitting foul balls. The cool thing is that the CPU pitchers won't just throw meat pitches down the center of the plate. Instead, it will mix up its pitches, which makes it truly competitive. Having it set up to be a two-player simultaneous game rather than a traditional turn-based home run derby also makes it much more competitive.
The interesting thing about MVP Baseball 2003 is that it aims to capture the feel of Major League Baseball with fairly innovative gameplay mechanics that aren't typically associated with simulation-style baseball games. For instance, the pitching mechanism makes it so you have to pick a pitch and then time your release using a meter that directly determines how effective the pitch will be. If you've ever played a golf game that had a golf-swing meter, then you should have a fairly good idea of how MVP Baseball 2003's pitching meter works. Similarly, fielders have throwing meters that are based on a risk vs. reward system that makes you decide whether getting the ball to a base for certain is more important than getting the ball there as fast as possible. This throwing meter ties in with the players' attributes, which are represented by onscreen icons. For instance, someone who is fast will have a shoe icon, while someone who is good at defense will have a little baseball-glove icon. If a player is proficient in many different areas, he'll have multiple icons. Of course, you can still look at all the specific statistical information on the players, but the designers wanted you to be able to quickly see that the next guy up is a big hitter, or that the right fielder has a cannon for an arm that you might not want to test by trying to take that extra base.
Fielding in MVP Baseball 2003 is limited to just positioning your fielder and throwing the ball. If he needs to jump or dive for a ball, he'll automatically do so if you have him in the right position to make a play. While this system works fairly well, it's a bit awkward at first for players who are used to pushing a button to make their fielders jump or dive. Batting is also fairly simple, since its basic mechanic just tests your timing and puts the emphasis on having a good eye. The game does give you the ability to try to aim your shots by pushing in a direction on the left analog stick when you're swinging the bat.You can try to send the ball to the left or right side of the field, or try to hit a grounder or a pop-up. Once you get some runners on base, you'll notice MVP Baseball's unique picture-in-picture-style base runner cameras, which allow you to see exactly where all your base runners are at all times. These base runner cameras move with the players, which gives you a much better feel for whether you should try for that extra base. While this system works well, it sometimes gets in the way when you're fielding a ball, but this rarely happens and may be eliminated in the final build of the game anyway. The responsiveness of the controls is already very solid, whether batting, fielding, or pitching.
All the statistics associated with the players are based on their real-life stats. To ensure they had the most accurate statistical information, Electronic Arts went to Inside Edge, the same company that supplies the MLB with scouting reports. These stats affect everything in the game, from running speed to batting ability. Plus all these values are tied into the game's physics system so that all these elements behave realistically.
Visually, MVP Baseball seems to be shaping up pretty well. The player models are fairly detailed and feature nice, fluid animations. The stadiums are very realistic looking and have been built from the ground up. The game's front end and franchise menus, schedules, and sports ticker are all very slick, making for a very polished presentation. The build we have suffers from clipping and poor animation transitions in places, but Electronic Arts will most likely be able to iron these problems out before the game ships.
So, while we've definitely been impressed with the build of MVP Baseball 2003 that we've been playing, we'll have to reserve judgment until we get our hands on the final version of the game. MVP Baseball 2003 is scheduled to ship this March. We'll have more on the game in the coming weeks, but until then GameSpot Complete Members should be sure to check out our video tour of the game conducted by Brent Nielsen, the producer of MVP Baseball 2003.