ESPN Major League Baseball
ESPN Major League Baseball is a solid sport's title that makes for a great time, but does little to stand out from the pack or its predecessor. ESPN Major League Baseball is a supped up version of last year's World Series Baseball 2K3 with a handful of improvements in gameplay, sound and graphics and a whole lot of ESPN branding.
At its heart is a game engine that does a thorough job of capturing the basics of baseball gameplay. Although 2K3 had already done an admirable job of that, ESPN Major League Baseball adds a few new twists to make the gameplay that much better. The biggest tweak is to the pitching system which includes a bevy of new pitches, better control over pitch speeds and a system that tracks pitcher confidence. The interface is still pretty simple, you pick a pitch type, select a direction for the pitch using the thumbstick and then press and hold the A button to control the amount of effort you put into a throw. Mastering the direction control for a pitch is a little tricky as there is no crosshair to show you what your thumbstick movements are doing, but the rumble feature gives you a sense of where the strike zone is.
The rest of your defense is pretty easy to master. You just have to place your fielders in the general area of a hit and they will catch them. An added turbo boost allows you to scramble to get under a ball, but the extra effort costs stamina which can lead to injuries and exhaustion.
Both effort and confidence effect hitting as well. If you swing too hard, too often you'll burn out and if you strike out too often, your play ability will drop. One of the other major changes to ESPN Major League Baseball's hitting system is a transition from the cursor-based system that was unique to Word Series Baseball to the sort of timing based system you see in most baseball games today.
Base running is pretty simple, actually a little too simple, bunching the controls in a few buttons and making it tricky to advance single players rather than all of the people on base.
While ESPN Major League Baseball has done a lot to try and improve on their graphics most of the changes are either not that noticeable or poorly carried out. The game relies more heavily on player scaling, meaning tall players are tall and short ones are short, and the stadiums are excellent reproductions. Unfortunately, there are still players who just don't look right. It's almost as if Sega didn't bother trying to reproduce all of the leagues looks, instead they choose one out of every three. The audio is much improved with the addition of ESPN voice talent Karl Ravech and Jon Miller. The play-by-play is much more realistic as is the fan reaction to play.
One of the worst things that ESPN Major League Baseball did was try to go beyond the norm and create several additional modes of play. The worst of this odd assortment of modes is the first-person mode. It would be kind to describe the first-person as gimmicky, game play is near impossible and, unlike the football version of this mode, it's not even fun to watch. In addition, the situation mode is just plain buggy, GameCast is a poor attempt at recreating a better game's manager mode and GM Career mode is basically GameCast with a need to please the owner of the team. The online mode is also pretty unsatisfying with a surprisingly heavy dose of lag and game play issues. The only mode really worth playing is the duel mode which lets you pick a pitcher and hitter team and see who can score the most.
Although fraught with minor issues, as a whole ESPN Major League Baseball is still a better game than its predecessor and worth the money. It doesn't do much right in the way of modes, but what it does do correctly it has nearly perfected. If you are looking for a game to play alone or with some friends at your house, this is the baseballer for you.