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Justin, Guy, Dan, and Randolph close Wednesday at the E3 2012 Bonus Stage
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GameSpot Versus Beat the Pros Edition is a way for GameSpot members to test their skills against super star pro gamers. From FPS to...
OK, so I haven't actually been plucked from my San Francisco desk by Sir Alex Ferguson and asked to return to the UK, but I have spent the past few days playing with the Red Devils courtesy of Codemasters' Manchester United Soccer 2005. If I were still in Europe I could have chosen one of 20 or so teams to play for in a Club Football game, but Manchester United's game is the only one getting a release in North America this season. Although I'm a Bolton Wanderers fan, I'd have to concede that it was pretty cool seeing myself (or at least my polygonal doppelganger) playing alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, and Wayne Rooney. That was about as good as things got, though...
One of the more interesting features of Manchester United Soccer 2005 is that it gives you the option to play just as one player on the field, rather than controlling every single player on the team whenever they're the closest to the ball. I persevered with this feature for some time in the belief that it would be very realistic, but at the end of the day it just wasn't a lot of fun to watch my artificially unintelligent teammates handing goals to the opposition, failing to string together more than a couple of passes without losing possession, and having them ignore my dazzling (ahem) off-the-ball runs and repeated calls for the ball. In one of the few games that I won playing in this way (2-0 against Liverpool) the end-of-game stats revealed that ingame Calvert had been in possession of the ball for just 6 of the 90-plus minutes, had completed 3 of 3 pass attempts, and had one shot on target. The rest of the time I spent making off-the-ball runs with only an oversized dot on the radar to keep me appraised of my location, and chasing back to help my abysmal back four (Calvert is a mediocre right-winger).
You can find out what I thought of the rest of Manchester United Soccer 2005 in my recent review, which I'd strongly advise you to read before buying this game for yourself or for the Manchester United fan in your life.
If you've read our updated impressions of Ridge Racer DS, you know the game's steering mechanic utilizes the stylus included with the Nintendo DS. By using the stylus on the touchscreen, you can turn the steering wheel and thus control the direction of the car on the upper screen. While I haven't had hands-on time with the newest Ridge Racer game, it seems like this might be an extremely awkward way to drive, especially after years of using either the d-pad or analog controls to steer videogame racers. Thankfully, you will have the option to use a more traditional steering input if you so choose.
So what do you think of Ridge Racer DS and it's new steering feature? Could this be the start of something innovative for handheld racing games, or is it merely a gimmick designed to show off Nintendo's newest baby?
If you're currently holding off on starting a season with your favorite NHL franchise in ESPN NHL 2K5, NHL 2005, or NHL Eastside Hockey Manager, in the hopes that the real NHL might get their act together and salvage the season, just go ahead and change those plans. Yesterday the league cancelled the 2005 NHL All-Star Game, despite not having cancelled any games on the January 2005 calendar yet. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was recently quoted as saying, "The season is likely to slip away."
We're 50 days into the NHL lockout and not an iota of progress has been made towards a new labor agreement between the owners and the players, despite a minority group of players saying they would accept a salary cap.
The larger issue--and the one with long-term consequences for the NHL--is the apparent indifference from all but the most hardcore fans. If ever there was doubt that hockey is a fringe sport in the United States, the near uniform apathy from all but the most vocal of fans, is living proof. Fifty days into the lockout, and the sports world isn't even shrugging their shoulders anymore. How long until everyone simply forgets the story altogether?
November means two things for gamers: the holidays are almost here, and a ton of games are making their way to store shelves. Sports gamers have a lot to look forward to this month, as big name titles in several genres including racing, wrestling and basketball, will all make their way to consoles. We've complied all of November's sports releases in one handy spot for your browsing enjoyment in our Month in Sports Gaming - November 2004 feature.
As you'll see, there's a lot of sports titles to choose from. The question is, which titles are worth your hard-earned money? Let us know what you think!
Even though there are only two big NFL console games around these days--Madden NFL 2005 and ESPN NFL 2K5--there's still plenty to do in both titles. Both are packed with a plethora of game modes and features which appeal to everyone from the the casual pick-up-and-play fan to the hardcore, stat-loving GM in the making.
So I'm curious: How do you go about playing your pigskin game of choice? Are you in it only for the online play? Do you have weekly get-togethers with your buddies all huddled around the living room TV, controllers in hand? Are you loyal to a particular team in your favorite NFL game, or do you choose from several depending on your mood? Are online cheaters an overhyped annoyance or a serious epidemic?
In short, there's a lot of choices on the NFL videogames menu these days. How do you like your football?
It's been a long off-season for hoops fans, but opening night of the 2004-2005 NBA season is just a few hours away! With the early releases of both NBA Live 2005 and ESPN NBA 2K5, rabid hoops fans have already been simulating out the upcoming season over and over again.
But how will the real NBA season turn out? I've been following the Association since I was a wee lad, cheering on Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers. I've got some educated guesses on how things will shake out.
Remember, with the addition of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, the league has been restructured into six divisions, three each in the Eastern and Western Conferences. The New Orleans Hornets have been moved to the West, Shaq has moved East, and a whole bunch of other star players have moved around, including Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, Jason Terry, and Kenyon Martin.
Atlantic Division - Predicted playoff teams: Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston
This is the toughest division to figure, because the teams are so even in terms of relative strength. Philadelphia will make the playoffs on the will of Allen Iverson, and the young stars they have in center Samuel Dalembert and Andre Iguodala. Jersey will struggle early in the year without Jason Kidd, but once he returns, it's hard to see a Kidd-led team not making the playoffs even with the absence of K-Mart. Boston and Paul Pierce should see a lift from the arrival of an angry and motivated Gary Payton, as well as the return of Raef LaFrentz from injury. Sorry Knicks and Raps fans. There just isn't much defense in a Starbury/Jamal Crawford backcourt, while everyone in Toronto cringes anytime Vince Carter jumps.
Central Division - Predicted playoff teams: Indiana, Detroit, Cleveland
Despite Shaq's arrival in Miami, Indiana and Detroit are the still the cream of the East. Wallace and Wallace form the league's best defensive tandem at the 4 and 5 positions. But I still believe that Indiana is the better team, and will prove it by winning their division and coming out of the East to challenge for the NBA title. Jermaine O'Neal puts up numbers as well as the other O'Neal, and the arrival of Stephen Jackson gives the Pacers much needed firepower out of the backcourt. Early season injuries may doom the Pacers to a second place finish in their division, but they'll overcome the Pistons in the playoffs this time. Meanwhile, LeBron will finally get his Cavs into the playoffs, but they will really miss Carlos Boozer. Bucks and Bulls fans...there's always next year.
Southeast Division - Predicted playoff teams: Miami, Orlando
Easily the weakest division in the NBA. Miami will dominate here, thanks to the arrival of the Diesel. But the trade to the Lakers really gutted that team's depth. They really don't have much surrounding Shaq aside from Eddie Jones and Dwyane Wade. I don't see them getting past Detroit or Indiana in the playoffs. Orlando's heart was ripped out when Tracy McGrady left, but they got back a lot in Stevie Franchise, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. And hey, if Grant Hill can stay healthy and chip in 20 minutes a game, all the better. OK forget that. Hill's inevitable season-ending injury notwithstanding, Orlando has enough to sneak into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed. So what about the Hawks, Wiz, and Bobcats? Yeah. What about them.
Northwest Division - Predicted playoff teams: Minnesota, Utah, Denver
This is the T-Wolves' year. Despite stiff competition in their division from the Nuggets and Jazz who have both bulked up in the offseason with new players, this will be the year KG breaks through and wins the title he's worked so hard for. There's just too much talent on that roster for it to not happen. The only thing that screws this up is if Spree's and Cassell's selfish contract demands wreck the chemistry on that team. Utah will finish ahead of Denver. Jerry Sloan's coaching job was incredible last year, and they've added some nice players in Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur to complement AK47. Oh and Matt Harpring, perhaps the league's most underrated player, is returning from injury. The key here will be Carlos Arroyo at point--if he has the breakout year I think he's going to have, then the Jazz may finish as high as fourth in the West. Denver's not going benefit as much as they think they will from K-Mart's arrival. Andre Miller's a fine point guard in his own right, but Martin is going to really miss playing with Jason Kidd and in that open court style. Portland and Seattle don't have a prayer in this division.
Pacific Division - Predicted playoff team: Sacramento
The window of opportunity has shut on the Kings as far as their chances for a championship. But they should win this division easily because of weak competition. The Lakers will finish second, and as much as it hurts me to say it, they will just miss the playoffs because they have no frontcourt. You can't win with small ball in this conference. Lamar Odom can't masquerade as a 4 in the West, and Kobe will learn the painful lesson that he can't do this by himself. The Lake Show will toil in mediocrity for at least two years until they maybe get a chance to sign Yao Ming as a free agent. The Suns, Warriors, and Clippers hardly bear mentioning. Nash is a nice addition to the Suns, but even with the duo of Marion and Stoudemire helping, they can't crack the playoffs in a stacked West. Mike Montgomery will flop as an NBA coach like Pitino and Calipari before him. And the Clippers? They're the Clippers.
Southwest Division - Predicted playoff teams: San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Memphis
This is easily the toughest division in the league, but the Spurs are the 800 lb gorilla here. The addition of combo guard Brent Barry means that there's a real backup PG for Tony Parker, and more importantly, a legitimate three point threat that Duncan sorely needs. Dallas appears to be going with a youth movement by starting Devin Harris and Josh Howard in the backcourt instead of Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse. It's a bold move and I like it--Terry and Stack put up numbers but aren't proven winners. Unfortunately they still don't have enough to get by the Spurs. The Rockets are trying their own version of Shaq and Kobe with Yao and T-Mac. They have nice complementary guys in Jim Jackson and Juwan Howard too. It'll take a while for this team to gel though, so I'd give it a year before they're a real championship contender. Memphis will be this year's biggest disappointment. Their run to the #4 seed last year was memorable, but I doubt they can pull the feat off again. They sneak into the playoffs as a low seed. Hornets? Welcome to the Western Conference. Here's your complementary draft lottery ticket.
NBA Finals prediction: Wolves vs. Pacers. Wolves in 6
NBA MVP: Kevin Garnett
Rookie of the Year: Andre Iguodala
Scoring Champion: Kobe Bryant
If anything, referring to the $20 price point of Sega's crop of ESPN 2K5 sports games as a "brilliant maneuver", as industry analyst PJ McNealy did yesterday, is an understatement. The move, initially dismissed by EA as being indicative of inferior quality products by Sega, quickly caused some substantial strategic retaliations from the publishing giant once the actual ESPN games hit the street. These retaliations included lowering the price of its latest NBA title, NBA Live 2005, and pushing up the release of the game by one week (which set off a counterstrike by ESPN, who similarly accelerated their hoops game's release date). EA's announcement of a buy 2, get 1 free deal further fanned the flames of the pricing war.
The real winners here are sports gamers. Far from being second-rate games, ESPN's 2K5 line of sports titles have been of extremely high quality so far, in some cases even surpassing the efforts of the competition. As an added bonus, because of the titles' lowered price, fans could more readily afford both games in a particular sports genre; a best of both world scenario that many gamers have embraced wholeheartedly.
The best news of all in McNealy's report is his prediction that the $20 price will continue for next year's line of 2K6 games, based on his contention that the games can remain profitable for the company even at the lowered price. Furthermore, there likely won't be a big enough graphical or features upgrade in next year's versions of the games to warrant a price reversal. If this prediction holds true, we may not see a price increase for ESPN sports games until the next generation of consoles hit stores. This could result in some substantial shifts in market share between the two publishers.
For EA, questions remain: How long before they retaliate in a substantial way? Could the publisher decide to even the current playing field, lower the price of their crop of 2006 sports titles, and throw the majority of their considerable development power into the next generation of console sports games, in the hopes of acquiring a head start on the competition? What would that mean for the quality of the remaining entries in this console generation's sports franchises? Do they even need to do so? Despite the in-roads made by its competition, EA's dominant market share is not the result of accident; but rather a combination of quality sports titles and extremely adept marketing.
Certainly EA has more than a few tricks up their sleeves to ensure they maintain their lead in the sports gaming world. The recent moves by ESPN, and the resultant shockwaves that continue to ripple throughout the sports gaming industry, however, are certainly accelerating those plans.
One of the stranger correlations of sports and the real world has been between the Washington Redskins and the U.S. presidential election. If you haven't heard of this yet, it goes something like this: Since 1933, the outcome of the Washington Redskins game immediately preceding a presidential election has accurately predicted the winner. If the Redskins win, so this remarkable trend goes, the incumbent party wins. If the Skins lose, as was the case this past weekend against the Green Bay Packers, the current White House resident is booted out the door.
Madden: Green Bay 10, Washington 3
ESPN: Green Bay 21, Washington 10
Based on this obviously unscientific result, it appears we may have a new resident moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Today, my/our review of WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw went up. While I enjoyed the game overall, it's hard for me not to be disappointed with some of the highly-touted new features in this year's game. The new online mode is just downright pathetic as far as features go (No voice chat? Only two match types and two arenas? No win/loss tracking? What?!?), and the use of the WWE's voice talent is all over the map in terms of quality. Ultimately, this has proved to be a transition year for the SmackDown! franchise, which is doubly disappointing since it came on the heels of last year's stellar Here Comes the Pain, THQ's latest, and much-improved GameCube grappler WWE Day of Reckoning, and EA's steller hip-hop grappler sequel, Def Jam: Fight for NY. With all that competition and such an esteemed predecessor, it's hard not to be a little disheartened by what SD vs. Raw ends up offering.
But, then, every sports franchise has their transitional periods, and it's actually all too often that they come on the heels of the figurative peaking of the franchise. Whether it be Madden, ESPN or any other sports series, usually after a phenomenal high point comes at least something of a low point. It isn't necessarily a given, but it does tend to be the way of things.
So, what do you think? Is this just an off year for Yuke's? Have they lost their touch? Will there even be another Yuke's/THQ produced WWE game thanks to this upcoming lawsuit by the WWE against Jakks and THQ? Feel free to discuss.
I finally got some time with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas this weekend. The build-up to Halloween and a busier-than-usual week outside of work meant that I had enough time to buy GTA:SA but not much time to actually sit down and play the darn thing. I had a good chunk of Sunday to myself, however, which meant that in between flipping between the NFL games, I had ample opportunity to try out several missions in GTA:SA's Los Santos.
Simply put, this game is jam-packed with content. Some of it is obvious, such as the huge variety of missions. Other touches are more subtle, like the suprisingly large number of clothing options available to you (my CJ will now permanently roll in his Los Santos Slappers hockey jersey). There's so much to see and do and shoot and punch and rob and... ahem, well you get the idea.
In an effort to keep this post sports gaming related, here is my list of five sports mini-games found in GTA:SA. Some you have to look for a little harder than others:
- Lowrider street racing -- Need for Speed, eat your heart out.
- Inner city biathlon -- High-powered assault weapon? Check. Stationary targets? Check. Snow and cross-country skis? Don't need 'em.
- Fencing -- No not the kind with foils and mesh masks, mind you.
- Various summer Olympic events -- The 1000 meter arrest-evading sprint; Greco-Roman back alley beatdown; powerlifting for nihilists.
- Synchronized swearing
Note: This is the first in a regular series of GameSpot Sports journal entries dedicated to real-life sporting events and outcomes, as seen through the lens of sports videogames.
So who saw last night's riveting ESPN NFL game between Chicago and San Francisco? Being a Bears fan, I felt obligated to sit through the first half, as I don't get many opportunities to see Chicago play. It didn't bode well for the game when the best thing you could say was that it was a rematch of the 2002 NCAA National Championship game for former Ohio State QB Craig Krenzel (starting his first game for Chicago) and former Miami Hurricane Ken Dorsey (the 49er's on-again, off-again starter). Watching Krenzel struggle his way to a mediocre win reminded me of my own travails with my Madden Bears franchise.
Like the real-life Monsters of the Midway, my cyber-Bears have seen Rex Grossman go down to injury (though lucky for me, not for the entire season) and I've subsequently been backed into the same corner Bears' head coach Lovie Smith finds himself in these days: choosing between Krenzel and journeyman QB Jonathan Quinn. The rap on Krenzel is that what he lacks in arm strength and mobility, he more than makes up for in smarts. While leading his Buckeyes team to a National Championship, for example, Krenzel wracked up academic honors... as a molecular genetics major, of all things. In stark contrast, I had to look up both words in the dictionary just to make sure I had them spelled correctly.
While this is all well and good for the real world, IQ is an attribute that doesn't really translate that well to sports gaming, especially at the quarterback position. After all, no matter how intelligent the virtual Krenzel is, it's still me running the game, calling my favorite half-dozen plays, and throwing the ball, hoping to thread a miracle or two through double- and triple-coverage. In cases like this player ratings are superseded, for better or worse, by the decisions we as sports gamers make on the virtual field of play.
Then again, my sub-par offensive performance mirrors very closely the actual on-the-field results of my Bears. And people say sports simulations aren't very accurate...
Until this week, the thought of taking a weed whacker and running it up and down the chest of a foe never occurred to me. That's precisely one of the weapon-based attacks found in Eidos' Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood, however. While playing the game for our features preview, I ran into several things I've never seen before including, among other things, an absolutely gut-wrenching intro movie. The film, which features a string of high risk moves and gory barbed wire bumps, is highlighted by a short clip featuring Vic Grimes taking a fall of at least four stories into a wrestling ring full of stacked tables, and nearly bouncing out of the ring entirely in the process. It's horrific, hilarious, terrifying, and completely awesome all at the same time. If anyone ever doubted that this game is not for kids, this clip alone would set them straight.
The recently announced exclusion of online play for BYW2 is surely disappointing to fans of the series who were hoping to get their hands bloody with friends over the Internet. Now, however, it's up to BYW2's single player mode to take up the slack.
ATV Offroad Fury 3, the latest installment in the popular quad-bike racing game has a new developer this time around--Climax--a company that has created titles in many different genres as well as one of my all-time favorite Xbox racing games, MotoGP2. The online demo of Climax's first MotoGP game was a revelation for racing fans, providing the first real hint at the capabilities of Xbox Live. MotoGP 2 only improved on that formula and still provides some of the console's best online racing.
The online component found in ATV Offroad Fury 3 (check out our review of the game), builds off the previous installment in the series, ATV Offroad Fury 2, which was the first to include networked racing. There's nothing earth-shattering here, just some solid, fun modes of play that are a bit off the beaten online path, and the ability for up to six players to race together (up from four in the previous version). Climax may be saving their next big batch of tricks for MotoGP 3, due sometime in late 2005. In the meantime it's nice to see that, with ATV 3, they aren't letting their online racing chops get rusty.
When it comes to the upcoming handheld war, the first salvos between Sony and Nintendo have already been fired, and Sony is using Gran Turismo 4 as one the primary weapons in its PSP arsenal. Responding to comments from Nintendo PR chief Yasuhiro Minagawa that Sony's upcoming handheld system is "not a game machine", Sony's Ken Kutaragi replied with a barb of his own:
"People who want to play with Pikachu will need Nintendo's new-style DS machine," he said, "but those who want to play our racing game Gran Turismo 4 will need a PSP, right?"
Certainly no one can argue with Kutaragi's logic but, with the latest spate of bad news surrounding the newest PS2 Gran Turismo iteration (delays in Europe and the removal of online play), one can't help but wonder if we'll see the popular racer on the PSP any time soon. After all, the game was a no-show at this year's Tokyo Game Show and, beyond a few rolling demos, there's next to no concrete information about the handheld version of the game to be found.
At the very least, handheld racing fans will have to wait until the system launches in the U.S. before we get our mobile GT4 fix. Given the series' track record of delays, however, it may take much longer than first expected for Mr. Kutaragi's comment to prove true.
Just reading our preview of the import version of Mario Power Tennis had me smiling. I mean, tush-chomping alligators? Dizzying ghosts intent on distracting you from your volley? How can you beat that?
It's precisely these kind of wacky gameplay wrinkles, at once imaginative, humorous, and charming, that make Nintendo's relatively rare forays into sports gaming so welcome. Sure, no one will ever mistake Mario Power Tennis for a simulation (or even Virtua Tennis, for that matter) but, with its variety of difficulty levels and its creative courts and control features, it sure looks to be an ace in the making.
GameSpot's associate producer Ryan Davis and I recently had a discussion regarding Outlaw Golf 2's interesting take on the putting game. As Ryan points out in his review, Outlaw Golf 2's putting mechanic strives to recreate the fascinating mixture of guesswork and skill found in real putting and combines that with just the right amount of challenge. A beginner can pick up the game and find success with OG2's reticle-based putting system almost right away; complete mastery of the system, however, seems to be always just out of your grasp.
The thing that stood out to me during my limited time with a preview copy of the game? The insanely fun taunt feature found in the game's multiplayer mode. There's nothing like hitting a button and sending a perfectly-timed bon mot just as your opponent is lining up for a par-saving putt.
It looks like ESPN Major League Baseball, in predicting that the Boston Red Sox would win the 2004 World Series for our feature story, was correct in the result, if not the manner, of the win. While ESPN picked the Sox in seven games (and EA's MVP Baseball 2004 had the Cardinals taking the championship in seven), the real-life Red Sox dominated the red birds from St. Louis in four straight games to take their first World Series championship in 86 years.
Frankly I was expecting more of a fight from St. Louis, a team who's bats had proved so formidable throughout the regular season. But when your team's star player, Albert Pujols, doesn't drive in a single run in four games, and the combined bats of Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen end up 1-for-30 in the series, you are going to lose. Plain and simple.
Looking ahead to next year's crop of baseball titles, I'm already prepared for substantial player rating increases for the likes of Keith Foulke, Johnny Damon, and David Ortiz. The question is, will Edmonds, Rolen, and Pujols see similar decreases?
Wow, spring training can't get here soon enough...
When I first fired up OutRun2 on the Xbox for my review, I wasn't super enthused about it. My initial impression was that it was a by-the-numbers arcade racer, with some quirky mission modes thrown together to give it some flavor. Oh and it had a dozen licensed Ferrari models to attract the exotic car enthusiasts. Big whoop. But as I played through the game, drifting around corners with reckless abandon, and repeating tracks to shave fractions of a second off my best times I started to realize that the game was growing on me.
I briefly touched on OutRun2's old-school design sensibilities in the review. In this day and age of 20 buttons to a controller and five analog sticks plus three digital pads, it's refreshing to pick up a game that is utterly and completely simple. Accelerator. Brake. Let's go. Want to powerslide? Tap the brake and steer into the corner. That's about all you need to know to play OutRun2. But like any game with addictive potential, OutRun2 has a simple-to-learn, hard-to-master quality about it. There are more than 15 unique tracks in the game, with both forward and reversed versions. The fact that these can be raced in a number of different permutations adds a surprising amount of variety to the game, and even if you memorize ideal lines to race each track, the transitions from one stage to the next should keep you on your toes.
And I normally can't stand games that unlock all the good stuff at the start and force you to play through a mission mode to get at it. I complained mightily about this sort of thing in last year's NBA Ballers review. But with OutRun2 I didn't mind so much. The unusual tasks you face in the mission mode are challenging and fun, and add some spice to each level. It's just so Japanese to think of placing giant hearts in each bend that you need to photograph as you drift around each corner. Or how about a math mode where you need to keep a running tally of positive and negative numbers that whizz by as you race down a track. See kids? Tell your parents that OutRun2 is educational and keeps you up on your arithmetic.
Hopefully this game will get as much love at the checkstands as it should. It's nice that in a world full of flash and sizzle (Burnout 3), simpler games like OutRun2 can still make an impression on editors like me. If you're a fan of arcade racing, you should definitely check out the game and let it grow on you too.
Some may think it's unrealistic, but I've always been a fan of the "radar" feature in soccer games like Winning Eleven Six and FIFA Soccer. It seems that no matter which camera view you use in footy games, you're always at a disadvantage because of the limited amount of pitch you can actually see. The radar view gives you a general picture of where you are in relation to the others on your team and can greatly improve your passing game.
Now that FIFA Soccer 2005 has been released for mobile phones, it's disappointing to note that there is no such radar option to be found. My guess is this feature had to be scrapped because of the relatively limited amount of screen real estate on mobile phones. While certainly a disadvantage, it is by no means a game-killer, as FIFA Soccer 2005 plays a pretty great game of mobile soccer. Check out our review of the mobile version of FIFA Soccer 2005 to find out more.
I played a ton of baseball over the weekend, grabbing footage and reporting on all 14 playoff games for our feature story, 2004 Simulated World Series. Actually, that isn't entirely correct. More accurately, I watched a ton of baseball games being played this weekend, while I dutifully took notes and recorded periodic footage. By 2 a.m. Saturday morning, bleary-eyed and groggy, I was so inundated with baseball facts and figures that I was dreaming of Jon Miller's voice when I finally hit the sack. You should see the "reporter's notebook" I used to keep track of the games; what started as a fairly organized score sheet, detailing an out-by-out report of each game (using a modified scoring system I created on the fly), ended up as a series of hastily scrawled notes more akin to archaic symbols used in ancient Celtic ritual sacrifices.
Simply watching a sports game for a prolonged period of time, without having any sort of interactivity with it beyond reporting on the happenings, you become aware of obvious flaws that often turn out to have huge consequences in game outcomes, as well as niggling details that may not have been apparent to you when actually playing the game.
Case in point: MVP Baseball 2004's triple bug. I saw several potential singles or doubles turn into stand-up triples because of the outfielder's inability to navigate near the centerfield wall in Fenway Park when a ball was hit in their direction. I watched in horror as tiny little Jim Edmonds or Johnny Damon would simply be standing there, pumping their legs furiously without moving an inch closer to the ball, sitting there at the warning track. Because of this bug, it was up to the left fielder to come in and pick up the assist, turning a close double into an easy triple, and often extra RBIs for the batter. During the MVP series, I saw this happen at least twice. Had this problem been eliminated, the Sox very well could have taken both simulated World Series.
From a graphical standpoint, the differences in player models between EA's game and Sega's ESPN Major League Baseball, is astonishing. The players in MVP are instantly recognizable; the contours of their faces are convincingly rendered, while ESPN's player models seem stiff in comparison, and the less said about their seemingly pasted-on faces the better.
One more bite-sized player model morsel for thought: Are baseball developers going to have to bring in hair modeling experts this year in order to accurately model Johnny Damon's ill-advised Captain Caveman look?
If ESPN Major League Baseball doesn't look as good as EA's game, the same can't be said for its sound. The commentary in Sega's title is outstanding, utilizing the considerable talents of ESPN play-by-play man Jon Miller to full effect. The quality of the calls are excellent both in their execution and in their flow; you'll hear Miller talk about back-to-back strike pitches in context of one another, not simply as a series of individual comments streamed one after the other. It's a small but very effective difference that adds to the "ESPN broadcast" illusion the game's developers are striving for.
Finally, I'll leave you with one purely selfish plea for next year's baseball titles. While I appreciate the attention to detail found in both games' pitching animations, is there any way to speed up the wait time between pitches? Even a simple "hurry up" button would be greatly appreciated. My God, I felt my already thin grasp on sanity cracking at the seams while waiting between pitches during some of the simulated games. Sure, five to eight seconds may not seem like a lot to you. But fourteen simulated games later--several of which went into extra innings--and these wait times began to feel like tightly compacted eternities to me.