Other positive aspects of the gameplay include hot and cold zones for hitters, the ability to queue up stolen base attempts before the pitcher makes his delivery, and the opportunity to instigate bench-clearing brawls whenever an opposing pitcher beans one of your players. It's also sweet how injuries are more prone to occur when you make inexperienced fielders perform diving catches or you drive out-of-shape players toward collisions at the plate.
As authentic as the visuals are in MVP 2004, the audio is even more impressive.
In addition to including all of the plays and options that are required of a good baseball simulator, MVP Baseball 2004 also does a spectacular job of depicting the atmosphere that you'd find in an actual major league ballpark.
The sound systems at each ballpark blast player introductions and belt out music clips for each member of the home team. In the stands, the spectators respond accurately to what's occurring on the field. They'll cheer loudly when the home team scores a run or when the home team's pitcher notches a strikeout, and they'll boo when a player on the home team makes a bonehead play or if the visiting team scores a run. When an inspirational interlude comes over the PA system--such as the stomp beat from Queen's "We Will Rock You"--the crowd will respond to it like a real crowd would. The team-specific chants and player-specific catcalls are also a charming touch. Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow provide the play-by-play commentary, and they do an excellent job of mixing together their playcalling with historical information and player anecdotes.
As for the graphics, EA Sports has made great strides to iron out the problems that were apparent in last year's game. Even though the bulk of spectators in the stands are still cardboard cutouts, the fans in the lower-level infield seats are actually fully modeled now, which means that they don't look as flat-as-pancakes when the camera shoots them from the side. The number of different animations for infield and outfield plays has been increased significantly, so that now, not only do star players have their own unique plays, but you can actually go a half-dozen games without seeing the same catch twice. The players' bodies are better proportioned, and the majority of faces match their player portraits. Fan favorites, like Hideki Matsui, Bret Boone, and Randy Johnson, look identical to their real-life counterparts. Throughout the game, uniforms accumulate dirt and grass stains based upon the actions that the players in these uniforms make on the field. The miniature baserunning cameras that appear in the base diagram are back this year. EA has added a new a picture-in-picture camera that shows an overhead view close up whenever you swing and miss at the plate.
The PS2 version of the game uniquely features online play, though all three versions are about the same otherwise.
If you're a fan of a particular stadium, you'll be satisfied with the amount of detail that has gone into each ballpark. Some stadiums are missing a walkway or a pillar here and there, but you really need to be a stickler to notice. The JumboTron displays in each stadium do a good job of mingling generic field views and replays in with the standard home plate-view that you see during each at bat. Most stadiums also have outfield scoreboards that update throughout the game, although there are a few ballparks--such as Bank One Ballpark in Arizona--that only have preset static displays.
So what's wrong with MVP Baseball 2004? This is a short list. The absence of traditional season and playoff modes means you're stuck playing seasons and playoff games in the dynasty mode. Anyone that wants to leap right into a playoff atmosphere will have to quick-sim through 162 other games first. If you just want to keep track of a single MLB team without being bothered by extraneous menus and farm club results, you're out of luck. The biggest drawback to the way the dynasty mode is set up is that you can't import a new roster once the season has started. This makes it impossible to update the rosters to reflect the current makeup of your favorite team without starting the season over from scratch. The rest of the game's problems are mainly nitpicks. Statistics-tracking is woefully limited. Basic categories, such as batting average, fielding percentage, and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), are covered, but you won't find night versus day or domed versus outdoor comparisons here. Ball physics are much better this year--to the point that liners and bloopers bounce the way they're supposed to. Unfortunately, EA neglected to increase the speed at which human-controlled outfielders run, which means the CPU still has an unfair propensity toward earning doubles and triples. To be fair, you can adjust the speed of your players manually, along with 19 other variables, in the game's tuning menu.
Baseball fans owe it to themselves to try this game.
Since MVP Baseball 2004 is available for all three major consoles, the big question is, "Which version is the best?" The PlayStation 2 game includes network adaptor support so that you can both play against other players online and download roster updates throughout the season. The Xbox and GameCube versions don't have any online features. This difference alone should be enough to make the choice obvious for many players. Other than this, the three games are generally identical to one another. The textures in the GameCube game are a little blurrier than those in the PS2 and Xbox versions, but you don't really notice unless the camera focuses in on the sky or onto a wall. The graphics in the PS2 game stutter during instant replays but never during actual gameplay. Owners of HDTV-compatible monitors or televisions will be pleased to note that the Xbox version supports 720p scan widescreen displays. All three versions have support for 480p scan displays and Dolby Pro Logic II audio. Also, each version essentially controls equally as well with the respective system's stock gamepad.
Assuming you do decide to take the plunge and pick up a copy of MVP Baseball 2004, you'll likely be satisfied no matter which version you get. The core fundamentals are spot-on, the variety of options and control choices is spectacular, and the presentation totally draws you into the experience of being front and center at an actual ballpark that's filled with screaming fans.