PL Video Game Tournament Round 1: All-Star Baseball vs. MLB 2K
As a 25-year-old, certain things I used to remember like calculus and molecular structure are forcibly pushed out of my mind in favor of things like Vine videos and Simpsons quotes. Trips to the amusement park have been lost to time, but embarrassing high school moments can appear with vivid detail for simply no reason at all. It’s in this vein that I remember MLB 2K5, “the other baseball game” which has been lost to time. See, back then, we had choice. If you wanted to play a baseball video game, your choice of console did not matter. MVP Baseball was good! MLB 2K5 was good! You bought the game and you didn’t have to download or pay for anything else before you could start playing. Exclusivity deals were being drafted, but pen hadn’t been put to paper. It was a simpler time.
Now a rapidly aging adult, I look back at those games with rose-colored glasses. Much like NFL 2K5, the games represented a cheap alternative (I think it was $20 off the shelf) with slick presentation powered by ESPN that just “felt” cool as a kid. It would have been great to see how the game and competition with MVP Baseball could have advanced had exclusive contracts not constrained the sports video game market just a few years later.
MLB 2K5 (2005)
Gameplay: MLB 2K5 was the “first” edition of the series, powered by ESPN and published by 2K Sports after the series’ run with SEGA came to an end a year prior, and I’ll be blunt: The gameplay is inferior to MVP Baseball. Seriously, just ignore the animations. Every fielder runs like an anime character, and every throw looks like Philip Rivers shot-putting the football.
*Stephen A. Smith voice*
It’s 2005, and animations had yet to take off since developers were working with consoles that came out around late 2000. Simply put, 2K5 is a more fun game to play.
It doesn’t look as pretty from an animations standpoint, but the graphics overall are comparable and the attention to detail is phenomenal. Stadiums look spectacular, and the ESPN graphics made each game feel bigger than it was. This transferred off the screen when playing against friends and having each big moment and Web Gem replayed for the entire basement to see.
The game covered almost every inch of the screen with info before the ball was in play, and unlike earlier MLB games, baserunners were always visible within a moving picture-in-picture screen. It also featured five different pitching meters, allowing everyone to dial in their favorite preference and becoming as dominant on the mound as possible. This also prevented the screen-looking issues that took a degree of realism away from similar games of the era.
Where 2K5 set itself apart is the features, whether it is the arcade style of play that had no reason being as much fun as it was or the ability to play from the runner’s POV in certain modes. The game also featured both confidence meters and hot and cold zones, which were fairly balanced and not overpowering.
In addition to exhibition games, 2K5 also featured the traditional Franchise Mode, Home Run Derby, GM Career Mode, and online play.
Replayability: There are a few things that make 2K5 incredibly replayable, but the No. 1 thing that set it apart (especially as a kid) was the abundance of cheat codes. It really took the fun and replayability from Backyard Baseball and slapped a fantastic visual product with an MLB license on top of it.
Everything, from the gameplay (playing in a hurricane), to the scoring (strikeouts at two strikes), to the graphics (playing as bobbleheads) was customizable.
Additionally, In Your Face mode took card game elements and applied them to baseball, which created a strategy-based style of play that we hadn’t seen before. For example, if you hit a home run or met another similar objective, you could lock your opponent’s ability to use a specific skill such as power swing.
Last of all, the game’s SkyBox (where cheat codes are entered) is also where you can unlock old stadiums, uniforms, and teams (albeit with generic rosters) as well as play mini-games. The mini-games had no reason to be as fun and time-wasting as they were.
Graphics: This part of the review is two-fold. As mentioned, the fielding animations are robotic, and each player has the same movements despite an improvement in facial details and overall appearance. The stadiums look great, and the shadows were ahead of their time. The crowds are not as dull as they were in previous 2K games, but we can’t expect those details to have been done as well in 2005 compared to what we have today.
What the game lacks in “on-field” graphics and animations it more than makes up for in presentation and style. By borrowing so much from ESPN and specifically Baseball Tonight, the game is a perfect nostalgia trip and honestly may have set the standard for sports video games.
Sound: Much like the presentation as a whole, 2K5’s commentary team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan set the standard for sports video games. Coupled with an active crowd and plenty of heckling, the audio presentation reaches the same super-high bar set by the game’s video layout.
Even in the pause menus, Miller and Morgan continue their conversation like other broadcasters who need to fill time during a baseball broadcast. Karl Ravech also appears to read off important stats and info, perfectly complementing the presentation and helping foster a unique baseball experience.
- Shoutout to Kofie Yeboah for making the video that inspired me to nominate 2K5 for this video game tournament. It really doesn’t get enough respect, and the 2K games of that era were all outstanding.
- The K-Zone is great, but its counterpart being named the Slam Zone was an interesting choice. It was a fine feature with a laughable name. The game had an arcade and a traditional mode to make everybody happy, so I don’t get the frustration that gameplay was too outlandish. It was different and a direct competitor to a more traditional sports game. I have no problem with the game’s arcade modes at all.
- I really do think this game represents the end of an era for a number of reasons. After the next-gen consoles came out, games got more expensive (both with a $60 standard price point and the introduction of DLC everywhere) and licensing agreements became more valuable. As such, this is pretty much the last baseball game with MLB Players to feature ridiculous cheat codes and gameplay quirks.
All-Star Baseball 2005
Gameplay: There is a lot that All-Star Baseball gets right with its gameplay. First off, there are a lot of options for how you want to play the game. If you like to keep things simple, you can set it up so all you have to do is time your swing properly; no more mechanics required. If you want to get complex, you can have multiple ways to adjust your bat, between changing where you want to aim your swing as well as changing your launch angle and whether you are trying to pull the pitch or not. On top of that, the game makes it very clear the advantage or disadvantage you get from your player’s ratings, as the “contact zone” where a batter can make good contact with the pitch differs wildly from batter to batter, and even changes based on the handedness of the pitcher. Derek Jeter had a huge contact zone against left-handed pitchers for example, whereas getting a hit with the pitcher was always nearly impossible. Pitching was pretty standard for the time, with a variety of pitches to choose from and then being able to select where you want the pitch to go. It didn’t really push the envelope here the way other games of this time did, but it got the job done. Fielding was kind of weird, as this edition of the game gave you a broadcast view when fielding, which always made finding the ball take a second longer than it should, but you could change this feature back to the normal view if you like (which I did after my first game played). Hitting is clearly where this game made its mark, but the rest of the gameplay was adequate at worst.
Replayability: This game absolutely shines here, and that’s because it is one of the only games that has had a full-fledged expansion mode. You picked your city, your team name, your stadium, and hand-picked your team via expansion draft. And these are tough. With my first pick, I had narrowed down the available pool of players to two standouts: 31-year-old outfielder Hideki Matsui or 27-year-old starting pitcher Javier Vazquez. Matsui was the better player, but Vazquez wasn’t far behind, and he was four years younger. I decided to anchor my rotation with Vazquez, but since they were both on the Yankees, I couldn’t also pick Matsui and had to settle for a worse offense because of it. My expansion team went 67-95 in our first season, but it was so much fun to try to build a team from the bottom up. While most games had at least some sort of fantasy draft in their franchise modes, no game had an expansion mode, and that makes All-Star Baseball a true standout here.
But that’s not the only really cool feature that this game had. There was also a mode called This Week in Baseball, which might be the second-coolest feature of all the games in this quarter of the bracket, behind the aforementioned expansion mode. This Week in Baseball put you in the shoes of real life scenarios from that season, and it was up to you to either recreate an amazing feat, or change the course of history. In one iteration of the franchise, you had the opportunity to reverse what happened in that fateful Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, the infamous Steve Bartman game. In another scenario, you entered the shoes of Derek Lowe during his no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and had to finish out his no-hitter while he was clearly fatigued. It was such a cool opportunity to be a part of big MLB moments, and since a lot of these scenarios were pretty difficult, it wasn’t something you could just breeze through in an afternoon.
Graphics: You know, graphics at this time were still pretty choppy, but the animations in this game actually looked fairly smooth and the player models were above average for the time. They all look terrible now, but given what I’ve seen from other franchises, this was one of the better looking games as far as the players go. All-Star Baseball also tried to make the game feel more like a real broadcast, and while it succeeded in some areas, it was clear that it didn’t truly succeed here. You’d see the exact same replay angle more than a dozen times in a single game, making it old and repetitive fast. The menus also were dull and lifeless, making it kind of a drag to move through, which I especially felt during my expansion-mode run. As excited as I was to put together this team of misfits, the menus did their best to curb my enthusiasm.
Sound: I honestly don’t have too much to say here. The commentary is informative but unenthusiastic and forgettable. The music is pleasant but lacks recognizable songs and doesn’t have any real power behind it. The sounds are just kind of there.
Miscellaneous: I was seriously impressed by how much bonus content there was in this game. There’s like 100+ legend players to unlock, a bunch of bonus teams, and an additional 44 stadiums as well, ranging from classic stadiums to spring training stadiums to just unreal stadiums. Kydd Memorial Park had some impressive archways out in left field and some ridiculous-looking and brightly colored apparatus out behind center field. Little touches like that really went a long way to make this game feel really fleshed out and fun.
There’s a trivia mode! Some of the questions were pretty easy and others were actually really difficult, so it was a fun way to pass the time. Definitely a cool bonus feature to fire up every once in a while.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)