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A grand-slam game

Can someone who doesn’t watch baseball and has no particular fondness for the sport really like a baseball game? Our reviewer learns to play ball.

I don’t know much about baseball, but I know what I like. I think baseball caps are comfortable, the “Major League” films are pretty funny, and Yogi Berra’s outlooks on life are insightful, pithy, and charming. But since I’ve only actually watched one baseball game in my life, it was with some trepidation and ignorance that I first installed EA Sports’ “MVP Baseball 2003.”

As it turns out, I liked it, and any game that can be this enjoyable and accessible to a newcomer is sure to please even seasoned fans of the sport.

When I say haven’t watched more than one actual baseball game, I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve never played a baseball video game before. I’ve played several over the years, and while “MVP” is neither the most engrossing nor deepest in terms of options or longevity, it is probably the most fun and immediately playable.

The batting and pitching interfaces require so much strategy that they keep the gameplay fresh even after countless games. The pitching interface is similar to a golf game in that you choose the angle, speed, and style of your pitch from an onscreen meter that fluctuates as you enter commands at certain times.

For the batting engine, aiming is as important as timing as you start your swing, so the game gives you a pretty accurate way to control where the ball goes and how far. The interface gives a degree of control and accuracy unparalleled in the genre, and while it is easy to become comfortable, it will take time before you’re able to throw strikes or hit home runs.

While the gameplay mechanics are the best I’ve ever seen in a baseball game, the extra features and additional play modes are lackluster when compared to other baseball games on the market. There are the usual gameplay modes such as exhibition, full-season, and franchise mode, but most feel the same and consist just of playing lots of games and not so much of managing or any other aspects of taking a team through a long stretch of games. If you’re interested in a hardcore simulation, you may be unimpressed with “MVP”‘s features, but they will please fans of engrossing arcade action.

Like most games from EA’s sports line, the presentation for “MVP” is first-rate. The graphics are the best of any baseball game I’ve played, with fluid animation, large, detailed character models, and gorgeous textures that perfectly represent the players, environments, and ballparks. The collision detection for outfielders could have used some tweaking, however: Players often pass through one another while running after balls. There are some similar glitches in the animations–especially for catches–but they don’t hamper the actual gameplay in any way.

Any complaints I have about the game are reduced to nothing when compared to where it really shines: in its online play. As enjoyable as the gameplay engine is, the A.I. isn’t as fun to play against as a human opponent. “MVP”‘s online mode is easy to access, quick to connect, and well worth the price of purchase alone.

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