It's no secret that I was eagerly anticipating ESPN Major League Baseball 2K5 and was ready to claim it the best baseball sim available. Unfortunately, MLB 2K5 features far too many arcade elements for me to enjoy myself while playing, despite the option to turn a good portion of them off.
Visual Concepts' last ESPN titled project continues its streak of impressive presentations. Perhaps the greatest of the 2K5 lineup presentation wise, MLB 2K5 actually feels as though you're watching a Sunday Night Baseball broadcast with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan who provide distinctive commentary, though it still feels forced at certain times. Much like the rest of the 2K5 games, the commentary is sometimes a play behind and it's not unique to hear phrases used repeatedly. The actual ESPN virtual broadcast of the game, however, is superb. The K-Zone is a wonderful addition and, with the near perfect attention to details in stadium and player builds, one can get lost in the game and think they're actually watching ESPN.
If only the gameplay was as impressive as the presentation, MLB 2K5 would perhaps be the best sports game of '05. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As mentioned earlier, the arcade elements are hard to shy away from even when most of them are turned off. The addition of the Slam Zone is unique though after only a few attempts, it becomes a needless addition to a game that is supposed to be a baseball SIM. As the pitcher winds up before each pitch, the batter takes a guess at where the ball will be thrown and if the batter guesses correctly or the pitch is hung, Slam Zone will activate. Basically the pitch enters slow-motion and the pitcher and batter commence button mashing maximus. The more the batter fills the bar, the further the ball will be hit. About 90% of the time, the Slam Zone results in an easy home run. This feature CAN, however, be turned off. When the ball is in play, however, and not over the fence, it's nearly impossible to have a something that doesn't result in either a home run, a web gem, or an easy out. When playing on the upper difficulties, I still manage one or two web gems an inning in which my outfielders make nearly impossible dives or scale the wall to rob batters from home runs. In one game, I managed four robbed homeruns in which I scaled the wall. It doesn't get much better when you're the one bating, as the AI does the same thing against you. This, however, is something that can't be turned off. Half of my hits and 90% of my runs are usually home runs as doubles and singles are hard to come by. Personally, this isn't something I want when playing a baseball sim.
It's hard to not notice some of the horrible and choppy animations littered throughout the game. Infielders have trouble planting their foot and stopping while outfielders seem to be making an easy toss that looks like it'll barely reach the cutoff man from their motion, but it's actually a gun to home plate. Throwing people out on the base paths isn't much more difficult than making insane grabs in the outfield. As a baseman catches the ball, no matter how high or low, it is almost instantly placed in front of the base just in time to tag out the runner in what is seemingly an impossible play.