Baseball purists may cringe every time they hear the "ping" of an aluminum bat, but for people who don't mind using words like "liquidmetal," "plasma," and "carbon fiber" when talking about their favorite player's bat, college baseball is every bit as exciting as professional baseball. EA hoped to reach these fans when it decided to release MVP 06 as a college baseball game after losing the MLB license. MVP 06 found an audience, and now the series is back for another go around with MVP 07 NCAA Baseball. Besides the outstanding new "rock and fire" analog pitching system, not a lot has changed since last year, which means MVP 07 is a very good game that succeeds in spite of its low-profile license.
MVP 07 features a standard number of gameplay modes: exhibition, dynasty mode, minigames, tournament, online play, coach mode, and a scenario editor. Like every other college sports game, MVP 07 puts you in the driver's seat of the school of your choice, and it's your job to play the games, manage your roster, and recruit new players. The recruiting system is bland, but it is interesting that you'll occasionally compete with professional teams for the attention of blue-chip players. The scenario editor lets you set up different game situations so that you can practice certain strategies or, if you're really hardcore, relive great college baseball games of yore. It's a chore getting online with any EA PlayStation 2 game, but once you're online and adjust to the slight bit of lag, the game plays well. The minigames aren't anything revolutionary, but they are entertaining; particularly the hitting game.
The minigames are fun, and like the game's in-depth training videos, they're a great tool for getting to know MVP's unique controls. You can use more traditional timing- and button-based controls if you so desire, but MVP's default controls make heavy use of the analog sticks. As the pitcher gets ready to deliver the ball, you pull down on the right analog to "load" your swing. As the pitch nears the plate, you push up to swing. Depending on your timing and at what angle you move the analog stick upward, you can pull the ball, hit it up the middle, or go the opposite way. If you don't push up on the stick, you're able to take the pitch. And if you're able to stop short of pushing the right analog stick all the way up, you can check your swing. This method of hitting is an accurate way of replicating the timing required to hit a baseball. There's a small learning curve, so it might be a little while before you're spraying the ball all over the field with power, but you'll be making contact in no time. When the pitcher releases the ball, it flashes a color that corresponds with a pitch type. This is supposed to replicate a hitter's ability to tell what kind of pitch is coming by the pitcher's release point and the spin on the ball. You've got enough to worry about when it comes to hitting the ball, but some people may find this tool handy. Base running isn't as intuitive as the rest of the game's controls, and the paltry manual does little to explain things. But you can have the CPU run the bases for you.
Hitting with the right analog stick worked so well last year that EA added a similar control scheme for pitching this year called "rock and fire." After you select a pitch type, you pick a location with the left analog stick and begin your delivery by pulling down on the right stick. This causes the pitching meter to fill, and when it's in the green area, you push the analog stick forward, moving the stick slightly to the left or right based on the pitch location. The rock-and-fire pitching mechanic is sublime. It's easy to learn, it feels great, and it's so intuitive that it's mind-boggling it hasn't been in baseball games for years.
Fielding is also performed almost exclusively with the analog sticks. You move your player with the left analog stick and throw the ball by moving the right stick in the direction of the base you want to throw to. This works reasonably well, though players will sometimes throw to the wrong base, which is a killer in close games. Because college players' skills aren't as refined as big leaguers' skills, you'll sometimes see them struggle to scoop up routine grounders and make basic throws. Errant throws to first base are particularly common in MVP 07. You'll generally still throw the runner out, but it's frustrating to watch your first baseman lunge toward right field every time he has to catch a throw. It's relatively easy to move your infielders around to scoop up grounders and catch pop-ups, but it's a whole other story in the outfield. Routine fly balls that are hit in the immediate vicinity of an outfielder aren't much of a problem, but anything that is hit in the gaps is trouble because it's hard to switch from one player to the other.
Although MVP plays well, it comes off as rather dull. While subdued crowds that seem to be nursing hangovers and are more concerned with getting a tan than keeping score may be realistic, it doesn't make for a very exciting game; neither does the game's slow pace. You can choose to skip the catcher throwing the ball back to the pitcher, but this doesn't save any time because there doesn't seem to be any option to turn off or skip the incessant fiddling of batters between every pitch. The NCAA baseball license won't appeal to everyone, but even people who are excited by college baseball don't have as much to look forward to as they should. For starters, the list of teams that aren't included is lengthy, and it's tough to figure out why. Like in all college games, the players don't have their real names, and though there are more real stadiums this year, there still aren't that many, and most teams play in generic stadiums. How long could it possibly take to add a team when you don't have to worry about having the real players, mascots, and stadiums? There's a team and stadium editor with a fair number of options, but it would have been nice for there to have been more teams and stadiums from the outset.
There isn't a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 version of the game to make the PS2 version look dated, but MVP's visuals still look old on their own. The player models aren't bad, but there's very little difference from one player to the next. You'll see some nice animations, particularly on running catches or hard-to-reach balls, but as soon as you notice something good, something always reminds you of how poorly the MVP engine is aging. Just when you're admiring how a batter lunged for a pitch, you'll notice that you can see the third baseman's shadow right through the hitter's chest. The grass in the outfield looks nice, but most of the stadiums look terrible, with crowds and surroundings reminiscent of a first-generation PS2 sports game.
Audio that seems better suited for a golf game doesn't do much to add any excitement to MVP 07. The crowds sound as if they're politely applauding a par putt by a no-name golfer--not cheering on their school against a hated rival. But the subdued atmosphere does allow you to hear player chatter during the game. Players will encourage one another and even give tips based on the situation. Mike Patrick does the bare minimum when it comes to calling the action. He does a nice job of getting excited when there's a big play, but he doesn't muster up much energy for the rest of his play-by-play. Kyle Peterson allegedly joins Patrick in the booth, but outside of his "Ask Kyle" advice, which is just as likely to yield a long ball than it is a strikeout, he's MIA.
There's a lot to like with MVP 07. The gameplay is great, and the analog hitting feels natural and is complemented nicely and perhaps even eclipsed by the new pitching control. Once you've used the right analog stick to throw nine innings, you'll be hard pressed to ever go back to the old method of pitching. However, there are a number of problems and omissions that do not make MVP 07 for everyone. EA needs to add more stadiums, include all of the Division 1 baseball teams, enhance the dynasty mode, and inject some sort of excitement into the game. If EA doesn't, it might as well drop the NCAA license and go with a fictional league because it is not taking advantage of the license. However, if the only thing you care about is a baseball game that plays really well, MVP 07 fits the bill.