MVP Baseball 2004 Review
The core fundamentals are spot-on, the variety of options and control choices is spectacular, and the presentation totally draws you into the experience.
Last year's MVP Baseball 2003 was praised for its complex simulation-style controls, but it was also criticized for failing to include many of the simple things that most video baseball fans take for granted. Pitcher warm-ups and intentional walks were absent, and the franchise mode didn't allow you to draft teams or trade players. At the same time, the limited variety of player animations displayed on the field didn't jive with the massive amount of noise and activity going on in the stands. MVP Baseball 2004 fixes these problems and expands upon every other aspect that made the previous installment such a joy to play.
There are a slew of new features this year. AAA and AA farm teams and rosters have been included for all 30 official MLB teams, and legendary players and retro jerseys can be unlocked by earning points during games. If you have an EA Sports Bio file from another EA Sports game on your system, some of these goodies will unlock the first time you load the disc. The dynasty mode is a full-fledged franchise mode that lets you draft teams from scratch and lets you make trades during the season. You can even send players down or call players up from a team's farm club. While the franchise mode in MVP 2003 kept track of team chemistry and rivalries, the dynasty mode in MVP 2004 also tracks the moods of individual players. If you don't give a player enough playing time or if his contract doesn't reflect his performance on the field, his mood will sour, which will have a negative effect on all aspects of his play. The batting, fielding, and baserunning interfaces have all been expanded this year to give you more control over aiming your swing, making diving catches, and performing around-the-bag slides.
Every baseball game includes the same basic assortment of exhibition, franchise, home run derby, and pitchers' duel modes. MVP Baseball 2004 is no different in this regard, but it does have a couple of unique modes of its own. Fans of text-based baseball management simulations, which are popular on the PC platform, will appreciate the manager mode, where each at bat is simulated based upon the choices you make before the opening pitch. You don't actually see the players swing or make plays. Instead, the outcome of each play is printed onscreen in a running box score, of sorts. The list of managerial decisions is pretty large. On defense, you can choose to pitch to the batter, pitch around him, throw an intentional walk, call for a bean ball, realign your fielders, and make substitutions. On offense, you can tell your batter to swing away, try for a bunt, put on the hit-and-run, call for a steal, or sub in pinch hitters and pinch runners. The other interesting play mode is called the scenario editor. Here, you can adjust 20 different variables and set up every possible baseball scenario that has ever occurred in the history of the sport. The game lets you set the inning, the number of outs, the score, the count, who's at bat, who's on base, and even the fatigue level of the pitchers. This is a much better alternative to the canned scenarios typically included in other baseball games.
Where MVP Baseball 2004 distinguishes itself from other baseball games is in the amount of control it gives you over every aspect of each play. You can control how accurate your pitches are, how hard your fielders throw, where your hitters aim the bat, and even what kind of slide your base runners use when sliding into a bag. The controls make use of every single button and stick on the controller, but the steep learning curve pays off by making you feel like you're a part of the game.
Intentional walks, bean balls, pitcher warm-ups, and mound visits weren't included in MVP 2003, but they're here this year. One particularly cool feature is that mound visits actually have an effect on a pitcher's stamina. If you send the manager to the mound in late innings or right after the pitcher surrenders a towering home run, the visit may increase the pitcher's stamina by five or 10 percentage points. However, if you go up too early in the game or for no apparent reason, you run the risk of angering the pitcher and having his stamina drop by five or 10 points.