"After drawing the publicís ire for (allegedly) pushing employees to the grindstone and (definitely) monopolizing the NFL license, EA received a bit of comeuppance when Take-Two Interactive snagged the mostly exclusive rights to produce Major League Baseball video games. But rather than allowing their superb MVP engine to lay dormant, those fine Electronic Artists turned around and produced a novelty Ė the first ever college baseball game. "
After drawing the publicís ire for (allegedly) pushing employees to the grindstone and (definitely) monopolizing the NFL license, EA received a bit of comeuppance when Take-Two Interactive snagged the mostly exclusive rights to produce Major League Baseball video games. But rather than allowing their superb MVP engine to lay dormant, those fine Electronic Artists turned around and produced a novelty Ė the first ever college baseball game.
But itís not just the same fundamentally accurate package with new uniforms. Not quite. The innovation in MVP 06 NCAA Baseball is an improved control system that utilizes an analog stick. For batting, itís called the Load and Fire system. Pulling the stick back transfers your playerís weight to his back foot, and subsequently flicking it toward the location of the pitch will trigger a swing. The direction of the swing is most important; trying to pull an outside pitch will result in off-balance hacks and weak ground balls. Evenness of timing is required as well. Shifting back too early will prevent a smooth transition forward and sap power from the swing. The entire system is much more of an extended and involved process than a mere button push, and it introduces an impressive amount of intuitive feel to the game.
Fielding has been similarly retooled. Here, pushing the analog stick in the cardinal direction of the base beings to fill a meter. Let go early and the ball sails high; late and the throw will bounce in the dirt. Initially, this is much more frustrating than batting since the meter fills at a varied rate depending on how the fielder is moving, and itís also easier to initially slide the stick in the wrong direction. Ultimately, though, both rewardingly heighten your overall sense of control. But if either sound too complex, donít worry, the old schemes are still in place, just like the unchanged golf-swing type press-hold-release-tap that makes up the pitching controls.
Of course, online and offline single games and tournaments are available, but the main draw beyond the diamond is the dynasty mode. The goal here is to choose a team and build up its prestige, a quality quantified in the game itself. Youíll probably be able to find a school that you like. MVP 06 includes all the major conferences, plus all the conferences major to college baseball. So in addition to the SEC, ACC, and Big 10, thereís also the Big West with powerhouse Cal State Fullerton and the MVC with Wichita State. With only 128 teams total, though, many have-not colleges were left out. And while you can create you own new university, complete with a mascot, it has to slide into an existing conference and replace another team. Either way, itís somewhat disappointing.
Once you take the reins of a squad, itís about more than winning and losing games. Players have to be continuously recruited to maintain a competitive level; the more prestigious your school, the more points you possess to spend on visiting prospects. You have to set their scholarships. You have to promise them playing time. Entice them enough and theyíll commit to your program. Then they play and win awards. They sustain injuries; you redshirt them. They get suspended. They complain about PT. Then itís the off-season. They transfer. They get drafted. They drop out and off the face of the earth. (Including your two time Most Outstanding Player, everything award winner heading into a banner junior year.) Their skills improve. Their skills decline. However, you canít really control how a player will progress throughout his career (short of abusing the Edit feature to beef up his stats). When other games allow you to set training regimens or attach other intangible leadership qualities to certain players, the process in NCAA Baseball feels incomplete and generic.
Itís a feeling that encroaches upon other aspects of the game as well. The College World Series is an electric event, or at least thatís the way it seems on TV. For a couple of weeks each summer, the spectacle overruns the worldwide leader in sports. The euphoric tune Back Home in Omaha plays and makes the competition feel like a culmination of every athleteís pure dream, as if any guy can rise and make a defining memory in his life. In MVP 06, thereís no joy, no buildup, and only fleeting dogpiles in the way of celebration. Seeding for the postseason is announced through a sterile textbox, and not even the imaginary Athletic Director proffers stock words of encouragement during the tourney. Winning the championship should elicit more than a reminder that pressing ĎStartí will begin the off-season. The CWS needs to be more than just another game, it needs some of that ESPN presentation trumpeted on the front of the box.
In fact, the only vestige of ESPN involvement is the announcers, Mike Patrick and Kyle Peterson. Their dialogue can be really descriptive, even insightful, or predictably erroneous, but they werenít asked to record enough content to cover a three game set, much less a full 60-70 game schedule. As for music, no rousing compositions by Todd Thibaud, just a typical collection of young rock/pop bands teetering on the edge of the known, groups like Hawthorne Heights and The Black Maria, singing with energy but without the spirit needed to grab your dreams.
The same status quo was applied to the graphics. Animations are impressive, especially when a guy dives or stumbles when stretching for a tough play, and the uniforms all seem to be basically accurate. But itís a little disconcerting when a fielder tags a runner out by leaping through his torso. The players all look similar as well, like the entire team just graduated from a military academy. Hair is cropped close to the head, and maybe thereís a little patch of facial growth. While the player editor allows you to specify a pitcher has a screwball with 1-7 action and a 73 movement rating and then make sure heís wearing knee-high socks, itís impossible to make him look like an Idiotic Caveman. Thereís an inordinate number of white guys, too; Jesus Molina can look like Ollie Elmerís twin brother (random weird name generation is in full effect here).
When it seems there are more varied batting stances than player appearances, the game wears thin quicker. Likewise with the limited announcing, listless soundtrack, and sterile presentation. On the field the game is intelligent and error free, but upgrades to any of these areas wouldíve greatly increased its life span. As it is, MVP 06 NCAA Baseball is a success simply because it exists; itís a unique title that targets what is perceived as a niche market. Itíll be interesting if sales warrant future improvements Ė and a bump to full price. Hereís hoping EA swings for the fences.
Community review by woodhouse (April 04, 2006)
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