989 Sports will always have a nice place in my heart, as their original GameDay football games were the best thing going on the original PS1 ages ago. Since then the company has been acquired by Sony and acts as the primary first-party sports game developer for the PlayStation2 (and legacy devices – the PS1). There were some down years for 989, with their titles getting pushed aside by the higher funded titles from the regular competition. But Sony has responded by assisting 989 Sports in recent years, and the market has seen nice strides in their line of sports titles.
Now we see the release of what is universally thought of as 989 Sports’ flagship title – MLB 2005. The baseball games (MLB 200X) that 989 produces are typically a step above the other titles in terms of features, graphics, and animation. This 2005 edition is no different, with some fantastic graphics and all the baseball features any baseball fantastic could possible crave.
Features / Originality:
I read on the box that this game can satisfy any “baseball mogul” – and they were right. I couldn’t believe the number of features that this game offers. It seems that 989 Sports has targeted both the baseball arcade lover as well as the most die hard fantasy sports fan with this game. Here are most of the new features in the game, and yes, some had to be omitted for the pure sake of sanity (there are a ton). Note these come straight from 989 Sports:
All-New Pitcher / Batter Interface
New Interface Cameras – Five camera options for the pitching / batting interface offer something for everyone. Choose from two pitcher cams, two umpire cams or the offset cam.
New Interactive Hot / Cold Zones – Take hot and cold zones one step further with the ability to alter them. Turn cold zones hot and vice versa with your performance at the plate or from the bump.
Double Switches – Effectively manage your lineup and put your weakest stick in the nine-slot when you take advantage of double switch opportunities.
Player Scaled Strike Zones – MLB is the only game with scaled strike zones and proportionate to individual hitters.
Redesigned Pitching Controls
New Pressure Sensitive Pitching – Rear back and throw from your heels when you jam on the “X”. Sometimes you’ll need a little something extra. But remember that too much velocity could have an impact on accuracy. Getting in a groove and hitting your spots is the key to being a successful pitcher.
New Mound Visits – When pitchers start to get tired or begin thinking too much, it often helps to have someone settle them down. If your pitcher falls out of his groove, expect a trip from the infield, coach or manager.
Total Control Pitching – An MLB 2005 exclusive that puts you on the pitcher’s mound as you try to work the corners controlling pitch type, location and velocity. With Total Control Pitching you can force hitters to chase your pitch.
Bullpens – Proper bullpen management can determine the fate of a team. With MLB 2005 you need to know when you should get pitchers up to make relief appearances effective.
In Game Scouting Reports – Everybody knows everything about everybody in the Bigs. With MLB 2005 and in-game scouting reports, so do you. Get tips on pitches and locations that have been successful in the past. Learn hitter’s tendencies and go after them aggressively.
Redesigned Batting Controls
New Zone Control Batting – Total Control was designed for hard-core baseball fans and may be a bit difficult for some novice gamers. However, Zone Control should be right down Broadway. With Zone Control, you need only recognize one of four “zones” within the strike zone. The rest of the challenge is just timing. Look for a pitch in your zone and start hacking. And for beginners, MLB also has a batting option that is dedicated to timing alone.
Total Control Batting – The only batting interface built to maximize risks and rewards associated with “guess” hitting . Guess pitch type and location; get locked on to a pitch and go yard. Guess wrong and it’s a long walk back to the bench.
Hot & Cold Streaks – Link together three or more hits in a game and you’ll be in the zone with increases in batting attributes for contact and power. Conversely, if you’re struggling, attributes are decreased and you’ll be praying for a flare to get you back on track.
Mound Charging – Not condoned by the teams, umpires nor the league, but it is part of the game. Batters beware; there are consequences for your actions. With this option exercised, you should expect an early trip to the showers and a possible suspension.
New Pressure Sensitive Throwing – Get the most out of your arm slinging the ball around the diamond. But reach too deep and runners will advance from wild throws into the stands resulting in costly errors.
New Cut Offs, Relays & Run Downs – Reduce your ERA. Hit your relay men and hold runners from extra bases. Know when to make a cut and learn how to effectively execute a run down. All three are critical components of eliminating scoring threats.
Total Control Fielding – More realistic than ever before. Your momentum, arm strength and accuracy all play a part in your ability to dazzle from the field. Dive for balls in the hole and flip to second or make a backhanded stab and gun the runner at first with a jump throw.
Individual Player Positioning – Position players exactly where you want without affecting the entire defense. Bring one outfield in to alleviate the threat of a slap hitter or move first and third to hug the lines.
Catcher Back Picks – Gun down runners with strong-armed catchers when a leads get a little long or back runners fall asleep.
12 Extensive GamePlay Options
New All-Time Greats – Play as or against the biggest stars ever to step over a foul line. See if you’ve got what it takes to mow down the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Reggie Jackson, or Stan Musial. If hitting is your thing, look down the barrel of guys like Cy Young, Satchel Paige, Mordecai “three finger” Brown, Dizzy Dean, Don Drysdale or Catfish Hunter. Baseball is timeless – now so is your roster.
New MLB Online – Get your staff tough as nails and take them online to see what kind of damage you can do. Along with head-to-head gameplay and 32-team tournaments you’ll be treated to a host of new opportunities designed to keep you entertained for hours. From the moment you log on to 989SportsOnline you’ll see what it’s the leading sports game community. Complete with live sports tickers, message boards, chat, headset functionality and more. To top it off – it’s PC compatible so you’re always able to keep with the Jones’.
New Franchise Mode – Redesigned from the ground up, Franchise Mode is all about becoming the next baseball mogul. Steinbrenner’s got nothing on you. You control the whole show. From player deals, television contracts and vendor negotiations to parking, tickets and concessions. Control promo-nights, player scouting and more. Your success or failure is all about the decisions you make.
New Eye Toy Functionality – Now when you put yourself in the game, you’re really putting yourself in the game. Use the functionality of Eye Toy to take a snapshot of yourself and put your mug on an MLB player – viola, you’re an MLB rookie.
New Career Mode – Through the incorporation of the popular Spring Training Mode™, the all-new Career Mode is incredibly deep. Start your career in Create Player, get yourself signed and start your career in Spring Training. Prove yourself worthy and negotiate your contract to the bigs. Cooperstown is within reach
New Simulation Mode – Track games on a pitch-by-pitch basis as you watch the game unfold in front of your eyes. If the outcome is looking uncertain, jump into the game and take control of your team and their destiny. The first simulator of its kind in a video game. For the first time ever on in a baseball video game can you go head-to-head with a friend and go for the ultimate managerial duel. Get a buddy and go for the Little / Torre match up and see if you can avoid making crucial managerial blunders while taking your team to the Fall Classic.
New Create A Player – Redesigned for increased depth, you now are able to customize virtually all aspects of a created player. From the height, weight and look right down to the player’s bio and profile.
Exhibition Mode – Choose any match-up you like. You have 33 teams to choose from. Go traditional with rivalries like the Yankees – Bo Sox. Or go for the improbable with the battle of Curse-town Rivals: Cubbies – Bo Sox. You create the match-up to see if you have a degree in the science of baseball.
Season Mode – Challenge yourself to 162 games and see if you can win a World Series title the hard way. Deal with day-to-day match-ups, refine your lineup and play for the championship just like the pros. Grind out one season or carry it over from year to year and see how you fare with unlimited back to back seasons.
Home Run Derby – You pick the lineup, you set the rules and you determine the modern day Sultan of Swat with the traditional homerun contest of Major League All-Stars. Complete with its own animation database for the most realistic aspects of the event.
All-Star Game – Take your trip to Houston early and see who prevails for home field advantage in the 2004 Fall Classic.
Playoffs Mode – If you don’t have the patience for a full season, don’t have the time for 162 games or just flat out don’t like to play unless a title is on the line, this is for you. Bypass the full season and nominate yourself as Mr. October. Play or sim the Divisional Series and the Championship Series and see if you can get a shot at a World Series ring.
Presentation / Graphics / Animation / Sound
New Three-Man Booth – Hundreds of play-by-play hours from Hall of Famer Vin Scully, are supported with color commentary from ESPN’s Dave Campbell and San Diego Padres’ Matt Vasgersian. The new booth is designed around progressive audio for the most realistic conversational interaction.
New Unbelievable Ballparks – Scaled to replicate each modern-day ballpark to exact detail. All stadiums have been designed with city specific details including: haze, water effects, fireworks and animated objects throughout.
New Player Models – Redesigned from the ground up to enhance the nearly picture perfect head scan technology applied to each Major League player. Complete with skin tones, facial hair, individual body styles, uniform wrinkles, creases and logos.
Real Time Scoreboards – Tally balls, strikes, hits, runs, innings and score in every stadium.
Authentic JumboTrons – Capturing all the action and close plays in real time.
New 60fps Baseball Engine – Smooth, fast and fluid. MLB 2005 makes the leap from 30fps to 60fps for the first time in franchise history. The result: seamless animations with unbelievable clarity and realism.
Professional MLB Motion Captured Athletes – More than 24 professional athletes including Roger Clemens, Shawn Green, Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Tim Hudson, Darryl Hamilton, Darryl Kile, Troy Percival, Brett Tomko, Mo Vaughn and more.
3,500+ Personalized Animations – MLB 2005 boasts more than twice the animations from the previous year and the most personalized batting stances, pitching motions, catching and throwing animations of any 2003 baseball video game.
Motion Blending – Ensuring seamless integration of multiple animation sequences into fluid animated transitions from running to fielding to throwing. Because the new throwing system depends on a fielder’s speed, angle and momentum, the throwing animations will rarely be the same. Defensive animations have tripled with the new motion blending architecture.
I played a few exhibition games, and then got into the “Season Mode” with my hometown San Diego Padres. Needless to say, I was immediately impressed with how much fun this title plays. I was a huge fan of the old “Hardball!” titles (makes me sound old), because the gameplay and pitching controls were second to none. MLB 2005 has brought back the nostalgia of some of the great baseball titles of the past and combined it with some of the great computer technology of the present.
The pitching in MLB 2005 is absolutely awesome. You have your pitcher and his list of pitches, and you can place exactly where in the strike zone (or outside of it) where you want the pitch to go. If your pitcher is fatigued, it becomes harder and harder to locate because your controller starts vibrating! What an awesome concept.
Hitting is much less complicated in the Rookie and Veteran modes. You can try to hit ground balls or fly balls through use of the right analog stick, but your hitting performance is simply determined by timing. Baserunning and fielding are fairly easy – and in the Rookie mode, anyone can really get up and running and play a fun/competitive game of baseball. Fielding is not a complicated excercise, as you simply have to get to know the controls and you’ll be fielding grounders and pop flies without hassle.
Inside the game, the managerial and scouting features are very extensive. When pitching you get to see the hitters’ hot and cold zones – so don’t pitch where it’s red or you’ll most likely get burned. You have full bullpen features, double switches, and everything else that makes baseball fun.
The gameplay of MLB 2005 is very impressive and offers gamers some of the best baseball excitement we’ve ever seen. The game is flat out fun to play – something that a lot of developers have lost sight of in recent years. Kudos to 989 Sports!
I’m going to get on my soap box just for a second. If you’re not gaming with at least an S-Video cable for ALL of your consoles (PS2 especially) then you are seriously making a blunder in life. The S-Video adds so much life and color to the graphics and gets rid of some of those nasty scan-lines on your television set. I picked up my PS2 S-Video cable for a grand total of $6 on eBay.
That being said, using the S-Video cable on the PS2 the graphics of MLB 2005 are very impressive. I love the fielding animations the most – especially out of the short stop and second baseman. They turn double plays and make amazing grabs with a fluid animation that will impress most gamers. The ballparks are rendered with perfection, and I was very impressed with the level of detail that PetCo Park in particular was given. The ambiance of the game is there, from Camden to Coors. The pitching and hitting animations are very accurate, as I was surprised how well they were able to capture the exact throwing and hitting motions of players in real life.
The graphics of MLB 2005 receive very high marks, and the new 60 FPS animations definitely give the game the boost it needed to be considered a “top flight” PS2 title.
How 989 Sports got Vin Scully and Dave Campbell to do the play-by-play for this game, I will never know. Nor, for that matter, do I really care … all I know is whenever I hear Vin Scully’s play-by-play I get shivers down my spine … the guy is a hall of famer and arguably the best baseball announcer of all time. The sound effects are good, but the only bad thing is that the crowd noise gets VERY annoying when pitching (so I turned it down in the game settings).
I’ve been saying for almost 2 years now that 989 Sports boasts some of the best on-line sports gaming for any title on any platform. It’s good to see that the other reviewers in the industry are starting to take notice … MLB 2005 offers some fantastic features for on-line play, as well as on-line updates for rosters. Via the On-Line website at www.989SportsOnline.com you can log in and check out all the statistics and goings-on with MLB 2005 (and other titles for that matter).
Typically there are people in “lounge” area to challenge for a baseball game. Lacking is a “quick play” button to simply get thrown into a game against a suitable opponent. What is there are 32-team tournaments and games to play in. What is also great is that the sports tickers that you see when playing on-line are from REAL LIFE games from around sports (NHL, MLB, etc)! What a great feature to incorporate to the on-line gaming experience.
Sports games typically last 1 year – that’s the bold truth about the industry. So think about longevity in terms of “how much will I be playing this game for the next year”? The answer, fortunately, is probably a ton because of all the features. I typically have little time to play games since my week is full doing a handful of reviews for Gaming Illustrated and NextGen Electronics, so I have to pick the games and my times carefully when it’s just for recreation. I’m definitely going to continuing playing my Season Mode (San Diego Padres) as well as my OTHER Season Mode where I’ve done a fantasy draft and just sim through the games – in a “GM Mode” perspective. You can play the game on-line (more longevity added) and the game is pretty fun to play with a friend. Overall, 989 Sports has done a nice job making sure people get a ton of features and things to do for their gaming dollar.
Although baseball games aren’t really original, there are some good features about this title that you can’t really get anywhere else – mainly from the robust on-line features. The level of detail into the management of a franchise is simply amazing … you can even set the number of “Bobble-Head” giveaways you have during the season! The level of detail is that miniscule … offering some originality into the game.
The only thing I was disappointed about with MLB 2005 was the complete lack of integration with the PS2 Hard Drive which was recently released. You MUST save the game data (which is near 2 MB) onto your ROM cartridges. Outside of that, the game was a big hit with our staff and with me in particular.
The game physics, engine, animation, and graphics are very impressive. I know there might be some hesitation with this title, so perhaps you’ll want to give it a rent before you decide to buy – but I highly recommend if you’re looking for a baseball title to give this game a try.
Overall, the presentation and gameplay of MLB 2005 combine to form one of the best baseball titles we’ve seen in years. This is a huge success story for 989 Sports, and we’re hoping to see much the same improvement in this title for their other sports games. Congrats to Sony and 989 Sports – they’ve hit a home run with MLB 2005.
OVERALL SCORE: 90%