Playing it safe.
In a world dominated by mediocrity, a proud star shines on those who beat back the odds, who spit in the multitudinous faces of adversity and who triumph over the competition: The Best. As Ben Johnson said of Shakespeare, these things are "not of an age, but for all time." Or as dictated by the Highlander movies, "there can be only one."
Unfortunately, MLB 2005 is neither the best nor the only one "but that doesn't make it the worst. In fact, it would be the best baseball game out there right now if it were 2002. But a revolution in play mechanics instigated by those ingenious tinkerers at EA Sports has supplanted what was once considered strong gameplay here, and as a result, MLB 2005 feels a little old.
So, MLB is a bit behind the curve, but it's still a good baseball game with the usual Exhibition Mode, Home Run Derby, and Full Season/Playoffs as well as an interesting Career Mode. Here you create a custom player, and then guide him through Spring Training and hopefully onto a Major League team. Every time your player reaches a goal you are awarded attribute points which can be spent to enhance your player's game. It's much like what 989's own NBA Shootout series offers and works well.
MLB also boasts one of the most involved Franchise Modes yet seen in a baseball game. The degree of influence over the minutest aspects of a player's club is staggering, from drafting a team and hiring staff to managing marketing expenses and buying new gym equipment. It's about as comprehensive as you can get and trumps MVP Baseball 2004's Franchise in terms of depth.
Still, there are no minor leagues to send players to or pull players from, though only the hardest of the hardcore will really be bummed out by that. It's also a little hard leaving behind MVP Baseball's innovative Player Happiness Meters. You kind of wish 989 had taken more chances here.
The same goes for the gameplay in general; MLB 2005 is very similar in terms of play mechanics to past MLB games. Pitching is still done by selecting a pitch with one of several buttons and then throwing with the X button. The longer you hold X while winding up, the faster the pitch will be thrown at the cost of greater stamina. The system works fine but simply isn't as interesting as the one found in MVP Baseball.
Batting is slightly more complicated than usual this year. The left analog stick controls swing location, while the right analog stick controls ball trajectory. If you hold up on the right analog stick you'll hit a fly, while holding down will hit a grounder. It's better than using "power' and "regular' swings, but this batting style is hampered by the fact that you're expected to control two analog sticks and press the X button at the right time, which is a bit awkward.
The fielding mechanics in MLB 2005 are utterly static and unimpressive. If you've played a baseball game in the last five years, you should know exactly what to expect. Move the guy, grab the ball, throw it to a base. No innovation here.
But MLB 2005 does boast a few features that will pique interests. The most accessible feature is a solid online play mode complete with message boards, easily available and useful information about prospective opponents, and chat rooms. 989 understands how to build a useful, functional online service and the one in MLB 2005 is as good as the other games in the company's sports lineup. Unfortunately, someone forgot to include the ability to download updated rotsers, a pretty big omission.
MLB 2005 also features SOCOM headset support and comes with a huge list of voice commands the game can recognize. You can use it to chat with online opponents or to actually control your players; again, just like what NBA Shootout 2004 offered. A nice thought, but not entirely necessary.
Of even less practical value is the ability to use the EyeToy to map your face onto the head of your custom player in Career mode. It works well enough and is a cool idea, but simply isn't going to benefit many players.
MLB 2005 does mark a graphical improvement over its predecessor. The animations are crisp if not particularly numerous, the camera angles are smart and the textures are adequate. It won't win any awards, but at least it looks like a next-generation game, unlike the awful MLB 2004.
The sound is also done well, from the ambient sounds of the ballpark to the crack of the bat. Crowds chant, people yell - MLB 2005 sounds like a real baseball game The announcers tended to drone and are worth turning off, but that's par for the course in sports games these days.
There is no doubt that MLB 2005 is a decent baseball game and is genuinely better than the last offering, but you get the sense that the developers are more spending too much time with cute bonus features like the EyeToy support and headset commands rather than focusing on ways to improve the gameplay. If you want to be the best, you have to take some risks; MLB 2005 is more concerned with getting on base safely than hitting a home run, leading to a solid if unspectacular performance. Who knew 2005 could be so last year?