Pros: The gameplay and look of the game.
Cons: The dynasty mode gets old after just one season.
An Opening Rant About Epinions' Poor Video Game Coverage
I have this Xbox version of this game, which should not hurt the review at all, other then there is no online game feature. Despite numerous inquiries, Epinions still has not resolved the problem that prevents category leads from adding new games to the Xbox category I guess, so I will now post this review under the place for MVP Baseball 2004 for Playstation 2. Again, the review I'm sure is applicable for the game on all systems.
MVP Baseball 2004
This is one of the most if not the most engrossing baseball video games I have ever played. I was a huge High Heat Baseball series fan before 3D0 went out of business and sold the rights to Microsoft, but EA Sports' MVP Baseball 2004 is even better. From what I heard their MVP Baseball 2003 was a solid game, but still lagged behind the World Series Baseball (now known as ESPN Baseball) series on home console systems. This year the tide has turned, I haven't played ESPN Baseball much, as it just came out (a month after MVP Baseball!), but from what I have played, MVP Baseball 2004 seems far superior.
The most improved part of the game that I feel makes it the best is the pitching system. Using both the analog sticks and the buttons, the system works to simulate actual pitching the best I have ever seen in a game. It is no longer just hit a button once and the pitch goes, it is now a fairy intricate system of combos that can make the pitch good or bad. Better still, fatigue plays a factor on your pitcher's pitches, so as the game goes on, it gets harder and harder for you to throw pitches where you want them to go. This new system makes striking out a batter so much more enjoyable. In previous games I would try to just get the hitter to hit the ball to get out as opposed to trying to strike them out, but with this game, I go for the strikeout everytime. MVP Baseball 2004 has made pitching fun.
Batting as expected is just as fun. It too now is more then just pushing a button, as you can use the analog stick to determine where you swing. You can swing high, low, inside, or outside, and anywhere in between. It certainly makes it more difficult to get solid hits even on the easiest mode. But when you read the pitch perfectly, and connect on a 450 foot homerun, it is much more rewarding, as you actually did more then just hit a single button at the right time.
Fielding to me works great. I have heard some complaints about it, it does take a little getting used to, but now that I'm comfortable with it, I really like it.
Dynasty mode in MVP Baseball 2004 is fantastic. You basically take over the role of owner, general manager, coach, and player during the course of a season, and many more if you choose to keep going. You have to make choices about payroll, and also team chemistry, which is really neat. You have a meter that shows how much your team is gelling, if that gets too low, you might be fired. If players are unhappy with their contracts or their playing time, they might come to you and ask to be traded or given what they want. This game is so deep in fact that you even have to monitor actual AA and AAA teams for your selected Major League ballclub! Best of all, they are the actual teams! The Durham Bulls are there, the Columbus Clippers, all 60 AA and AAA teams! Better still, you can play any of their games! You can actually play AA and AAA games, during your season. Based on their performances, you can send guys down from the majors to AAA or vice versa. The depth of the dynasty mode is unbelievable.
Of course it is not perfect, but close to it. I really wish EA had included year to year stats for each of your players in the game. Instead they have your overall career stats, that do get updated based on what you do, but I would like to see if I'm improving say in hitting doubles one year over the next. Statistical freaks may want to try a different game as this is the only category that this game is in some way lacking in. I also wish they would have kept track of the previous big records, such as Hank Aaron's 755 career homeruns, so if you happen to break that, they tell you. Speaking of record homeruns, in a strange thing that is in no way EA's fault, Barry Bonds is not in the game! That's right, Mr. Selfish, decided to to renew his contract with the rest of the players association, and so is not allowed to be in any video game this year! There is a strange white outfielder who has all his game attributes on the Giants, but he is not there! Not to worry though, the great player editor makes it possible to change his name to Barry Bonds, and make him look about the same, just with no actual picture of him.
It is easy to play an exhibition game, you can start one up within a minute. Other modes such as homerun and pitching showdown are included, and I must say I don't like either of them at all. I would much prefer a traditional homerun derby, as opposed to a showdown where the screen is split in half and you battle for overall distance. I find it stupid, and incredibly hard to beat the computer at, it's pretty ridiculous really. Same is true of the pitching showdown...you have to strike out three batters before the computer, and I have never come anywhere near beating the computer. I dislike both of these modes very much and hope they change them for next year. But hey, if you don't like them like me, then just don't play them. Stick to the regular game and dynasty mode. (see bottom for updated comments on dynasty mode)
The graphics in the game are awesome. From sliding into a base, to diving to catch a ball, everything looks fluid. The replays of big plays are very cinematic, and look professional. The players themselves look very much like their real life counterparts, and all the stadiums look real and wonderful.
Seeing as the game was the first baseball game to ship this year (on March 9th, almost a month before the nearest rival), the rosters are a bit out of date. The only major change needed is to trade Arod to the Yankees for Soriano, which can be done easily enough in the Trading option.
There is also no Xbox Live play which is bad if you are into that, which I am not yet, so it didn't matter to me.
The soundtrack included in the game is very good, but as with all EA Sports games gets repetitive, so I just turn all the songs off now. I did like one of the songs so much that I went out and bought the band's CD (Snow Patrol - Final Straw).
You can earn points for doing things such as pitching shut outs or no-hitters, and these can be used to unlock bonus items like old-school jerseys and even old-school players like Babe Ruth. I haven't gotten this far in the game yet, but I can't wait til I do. I have unlocked a few throwback jerseys and they are cool to wear during the season for a nice change of pace.
All in all this is the best baseball video game I have ever played. Oh I haven't mentioned yet one of my favorite parts, the ability to stop any game at any point and go back to the SIM screen, and simulate the rest of it. So if you are killing a team by 10 and you feel confident your team can hold the lead, you can leave innings early and sim the rest. It also works the other way, if you start simming the game, and see that you are losing, you can interrupt it and take over for the computer and start to play the game. This seems like not that big of a deal, but it can really change the games sometimes and I love this feature. This just adds to why I feel it is the best game out there. I would definitely recommend getting this game if you are choosing between the baseball titles this year. No other game has the controls and the options of MVP Baseball 2004. It is outstanding.
Since I first published this review, I have finished one full 162-game season. While it was great fun, I found the off-season options less then thrilling. For some reason the recruiting process in NCAA Football 2004 just seemed so much more in depth then the draft option in MVP Baseball 2004. I simply wasn't impressed at all, and found myself not caring whatsoever whom I drafted in the 10 rounds. I also have a beef with the way players skills are changed season to season. If you create an awesome player and he has an awesome year, after that one year, the game will degrade him considerably in every field. For example, I had created a young hitter who had a 93 (out of 100) rating for hitting, after the off season, he was down to a 62! That's a 31 point drop! Unless he had arm reconstructive surgery, I don't think any professional ball player would degrade that much in one year, especially not if they were 21 years old! The game downgraded all the players I had created drastically like that, I couldn't believe it. That, along with the fact that way too many good or decent players retire at the end of the season (from things like lack of skill or interest, along with age) turned me off from playing a second season.
I still think the game is excellent, I just think the deeper aspects of the dynasty mode need to be worked out. Same is true of the pitching and homerun challenge mode, which are way too hard.