MLB 2004 Review


MLB 2004 straddles the line between arcade and sim action without really fitting into either camp.  The game's dichotomy of styles is best illustrated by the centerpiece of all baseball games, the pitcher/batter duel.  Pitchers always have four pitches from which to choose, and once a selection is made you are given a very brief time during the windup to spot the pitch exactly where you want it thrown.  There's no way to finesse the ball any further during a pitch, just point it where you want it to go and that's where it goes.  You do have the ability to give the pitch an extra boost of speed at the cost of a little additional stamina, but it's not much of a penalty as even tired pitchers can still place their pitches exactly where they want. 

Screenshots
The pitch selection interface.

Batters prepare for a pitch by moving a bat cursor around the strike zone.  This involves moving the cursor to the area where the ball is coming, which is easy since you can see where the pitcher will throw the ball.  The cursor is surrounded by a "paddle", a circle around the cursor that determines how close you need to be to the ball to make contact.  Hit for power and you get a small cursor, hit for contact and you get a larger one.  You can also increase the paddle size by guessing the location of the pitch.

Since the batter can see where the pitch is going and aim his bat in that direction, the game tries to prevent things from degenerating into arcade slugfests by making the pitches incredibly fast.  Even change-ups will come in so quickly that you will need to press the swing button as the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.  The challenge in the game is not in adjusting the swing to the pitch's location, but in timing the swing quickly enough to make contact with the ball.  Those who have slower reaction times might find this to be a pretty frustrating affair.

Fielding is pretty easy in the game as you just need to get players close enough to the ball to make the play.  Throwing to a base is a simple matter of pressing the corresponding button, Circle for first, Triangle for second, etc., which is easy since the PS2 buttons are laid out similar to the bases on a diamond.  Everything else is handled pretty much automatically by the players so you'll just need to move into position and then press the desired base button.  You can make players jump and dive, but the times when you'll actually need to use those moves to make a play are rare.