Review: ESPN Major League Baseball (XB)

ESPN Major League Baseball
Platform: Xbox (also available on PS2)
Rating: E
Developer: Sega
Release Date: April 7, 2004

Graphics

The player models in ESPN MLB are probably the best of any baseball game released thus far. All of the player faces are true to their real life counterparts, as well as their swing and batting stance superior to any game on the market — including EA’s MVP Baseball. While the player models may be incredible — a few other areas turn out to be a bit disappointing.

First, the game provides several different uniform options for each team, including throwbacks that include the 1908 Cubs. The actual jerseys themselves don’t seem to match the detail of the players themselves, although the shine off the batting helmets is visible to add a nice touch of realism. The stadiums are also shown true to life — although it seems as if the fields aren’t very well textured, in other words it just looks like computer made grass or Astroturf, and as is the case in virtually every sports game, the fans in the stands lack any realism.

While the grass may not look the best, the overall feel for each stadium is fantastic, and nothing is cooler than seeing the ball go foul into the stands and having the light reflect off the camera. Little minor details like these help add to the overall presentation, and give it a great TV-like style, which is obviously a necessity if you’re calling your game ESPN Major League Baseball!

Overall the graphics are still incredible, despite the minor nuances, and the final verdict is that ESPN MLB is the best all around looking game hitting the field this season.

8/10

Sound

The announcers suffer from a bit of fall behind when you skip through cut scenes, but other than that, you’ll recognize and know the voices in a pretty big hurry. A fun bonus is the player-specific fan taunts. It completely depends on the game and situation, but one of the better taunts is “Cut your hair, Damon!” referring to Boston Red Sox Outfielder and current mountain-man lookalike Johnny Damon.

The in-game menu audio is the only other real sound you’ll hear or notice outside of the typical stadium organ, PA announcer, and the previously mentioned fan taunts. The menu sounds are — surprise! — the theme from ESPN’s Baseball presentations. If you don’t know what that is — but have watched a game on ESPN — you’ll quickly realize what that means. Overall the sound is solid enough for a baseball title, but nothing too spectacular either.

7/10

Controls

It breaks down like this: batting = simple , pitching= slightly complex, fielding = embarrassingly easy, errors = embarrassingly frustrating, overall=great.

Batting is done simply with “A” being normal swing and “B” being power swing. You delegate this to your choosing, as using a normal swing will typically give you a better shot of making contact, while pressing “B” increases your risk of whiffing — yet if you get that lame duck fastball down the middle, you’ve got a great chance of going yard. Sega also included the option of using the left stick to swing, but personally I’ve had no problems making contact by simply hitting the A or B buttons, using the stick made no difference and actually made things more complicated.

Pitching includes an interesting new effect called “effort”, which is a meter used prior to throwing the pitch. Filling the meter completely to the top will make the pitch location nearly exactly where you want it — but use it too much and your pitcher will quickly fatigue and the next thing you know Roger Clemens will be hitting one out of the park. It adds to the wisdom factor, and helps reward good decision-making.

The only flaw in the control system is the left analog stick used as pitching control. You can barely touch the thing if you want the pitch to stay in the zone. Push it too much and the controller vibrates and you’ll be throwing a ball. But on the other hand not putting enough push into the stick will have you most likely throw one right down the middle. Challenging, yes, but not in a way that’s considered real necessary. It does seem to get harder as the pitcher gets tired, but enough is enough! Still nothing that can be learned upon after several games, but they could loosen the thing up for next year’s edition.

8/10

Replayability

Extremely deep franchise mode — but not quite as deep as the EA counterpart in MVP Baseball. The unique version Sega has is GM mode, which basically gives you goals and pointers to accomplish to make your team all around successful. A common example would be “Moises Alou is unhappy and his contract is too high — trade him”. Which could be met by resistance from Alou “I have family in town and don’t want to move to Tampa Bay” — and other common athlete complaints that a GM might face. Pretty standard mode in baseball these days, and if you’re into the major single player depth to check out MVP Baseball, where you’ll get to manage AA and AAA teams as well.

The thing that should bring back the replay for people with broadband is the Xbox Live compatibility. Playing online with no real lag is fun, and the best online baseball option on the Xbox this season. If you’re offline and get easily bored with a standard Franchise mode, the buzz could wear off after a month or two.

7/10

Originality

Its baseball”¦but the original points will go to their extremely creepy “First Person Baseball” mode, which is a great concept in theory, but also ridiculously hard. Try hitting a 100mph fastball when its coming at you from “your eyes”- its really hard! Original though, and for a baseball game to find something unique, it gets bonus points.

6/10

Appeal

Baseball fans looking for a solid tv-style presentation of action, solid graphics, solid sound, online play, and franchise mode. Only people looking for ridiculous franchise depth should look elsewhere. Non baseball fans probably need not apply.

6/10

Addictiveness

Depends strictly on how you feel about baseball — or online play addiction. Franchise games run 9 innings, so usually most people could get spent after a game or two, although the 9 innings do go fairly quickly most of the time. Depends on your level of baseball fanaticism.

7/10

Miscellaneous

Minor nit-picks: When you hit a home run or a foul ball, it immediately goes to a cut scene roughly 75% of the time, eliminating the fun drama of a long fly ball. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it kind of takes the drama out of the game itself. Ejections happen too frequently. With the previously mentioned sensitve pitching, I accidently beaned my first batter — barely — in an only game with the VERY FIRST PITCh and was thrown out of the game, and had to bring in a cold pitcher and was shelled for 5 runs in the first inning. Leinency — or consistency would be nice!

Minor positives: Strikeout and extremely inside pitches have great player reactions. Looking at strike three with 2 outs could cause your batter to flip his bat in the air and let it hit the ground in frustration — which is what I’d do too in that situation! Nice little touch.

7/10

Final Scores:
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 7/10
Controls: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Originality: 6/10
Appeal: 6/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10