Everyone dogs on 989 Sports. The industry knows that 989 has been lagging behind Sega and EA, and Sony hasn't denied it. Instead of pretending that it's not there, 989 has re-doubled its efforts to catch up, and recently, the winds have been changing at the Sony owned Sports Brand. In fact, they're regaining some swagger from the PlayStation One era.
With WORLD TOUR SOCCER actually being a fairly competent soccer game, and the MLB game last year turning some heads, you could sense the company was about to turn the corner. This past season the football series was much better, and now we've gotten the latest baseball game, MLB 2005 and it's actually a serious competitor to MVP BASEBALL and ESPN BASEBALL.
The biggest and most important adjustment to the game is on the home run hitting. They are much fewer than in last year's version and that is a huge plus. The game doesn't offer the same "Big Play" control that MVP does, but it doesn't seem to matter too much as the game usually makes the choices you would have.
Otherwise this game is similar to other baseball games in regards to the modes that it offers. The Career mode is something all of the 989 games are implementing and allows you to take a player and build him up through the minors in hope of making the team. You can even use the Eyetoy to map your face to the player you create which is pretty cool.
While the career mode is nice, the franchise mode is what sets the game apart. Allowing you to manage everything from how the team travels, to the price of concessions, to the facilities, the game is a micromanager's dream. MLB 2005 even lets you market the games on radio and TV, or set up promotions. I spent more time playing in this mode than I did actually playing the game.
The online play allows gamers to get online and do some gameplay along with the USB headset. You can talk to your opponent or even use it to issue voice commands to your defense. It's an excellent addition for users who have broadband. While the game does support dial-up play, it's not even worth gamers' time.
The player models are top-notch and all of the parks have the nifty little features that'd you expect from them. The picture-in-picture base running from MVP has been not so obviously borrowed. The game looks very good. Meanwhile on the sound side of things, the commentary isn't quite as good as MVP's this year. It just isn't as exciting and it seems like it was phoned in. The crowd isn't quite as good as EA's game, but it's still better than the typical baseball games we've come to see in the past few years.
989 has taken a franchise that went from bad, to mediocre, to good, but unpolished. Another year and the MLB franchise could very well be the best baseball game on the market. With better detail to the graphics, sound, and some additions to the gameplay, MLB may be a force to contend with next year.
In the mean time, MLB 2005's career mode and franchise mode will undoubtedly appeal to some baseball fans more than the modes offered in MVP and ESPN and gamers interested in those modes would do well to check this game out.