JONATHAN BOCKMAN, ADAM SHEPPARD and SCOTT STEINLE
A look at some new games
System: PlayStation 2
Company: 989 Sports
At first glance, MLB 2005 looks like an ordinary baseball game, but when you go deeper, you will find it is one of the best baseball games available.
MLB 2005 features the same modes as many other games, including Exhibition, Franchise, Career, Season, Playoffs and Home Run Derby. Under Career Mode is the unique Eye Toy feature. If you own an Eye Toy, you can take a picture of yourself and put your face on a player you create.
Franchise Mode sets this game apart. You are in complete control of everything. You can add vendors to sell more concessions, you can add spas and batting cages to please the fans.
You control how much you spend to advertise your team and decide on promotion nights to boost attendance. Fans will pour in on Bobblehead night or Bat night. A pool, an aerobics room or a well-kept weight room will add to your players' strength, stamina and happiness. Adding an MRI room, a trainer's room or a massage room will help them recover from injury.
Franchise Mode gives you the feel for the hard work the owner and general manager do.
The graphics are good. The grass and clay look almost real, and player motions and shapes are great. Changes in camera angles during plays make the game look and feel more realistic.
This is a challenging but extremely fun and realistic game that can be enjoyed by baseball and nonbaseball fans alike.
System: PlayStation 2
Grade: A for younger players
"Now up to bat, Reese Worthington, showing sheer determination stepping up to the plate." These are the words of Abner Dubbleplay, co-announcer with Sunny Day. You find a lot of fun characters like Reese in this year's version of Backyard Baseball.
My favorite part is seeing the perspective the game's creators have of pro players when they were kids. Along with the original Backyard kids are Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Delgado, Dontrelle Willis, Eric Gagne, Ichiro Suzuki, Jim Thome, Nomar Garciaparra and Sammy Sosa.
There are six more you can unlock by completing various tasks. Parks, including Gator Flats, Desert Buttes, the Boardwalk, Aquadome, Quantam Field, the Junkyard and Humongous Memorial Stadium, are fun to play in.
My favorite field is Wheeler Acres, which resembles the setting from the movie Signs.
You can participate in a home run derby, fielder's challenge to rack up points, season mode and Clanky's Coaching Box.
In Clanky's Coaching Box, you are taught the basics of how to turn a double play and what to do with the ball in various situations. For younger players, this is great because it will help them with the game.
In season mode, you name your coach, choose your team's home stadium and whether to play an 18- or 32-game season. You play for what every kid in the BBL (Backyard Baseball League) dreams of, a chance to be a BBL Champion.
Overall, this is an A game for young players, but older players might find it boring and relatively easy after the first few tries. But no matter how old you are, it's still fun to pick your team of pro players as kids and other backyard players and put them on the field.
- JONATHAN BOCKMAN, Times correspondent
MVP Baseball 2004
System: PlayStation 2
Company: EA Sports
This is a great game for baseball fans. And even if you're not a big baseball fan, it's worth checking out. In addition to all the Major League Baseball teams, you also can choose to play with double-A and triple-A minor league franchises. It even includes baseball legends and famous old stadiums.
The game features up-to-date rosters and excellent player detail. You can play the game online, or with two players on a single console.
It offers the "pure swing system," a unique way of hitting that requires the hitter to choose his bat angle based on the pitch (resulting in either a big hit, a strike or weak hit). It also offers "big play control," a variety of options relating to sliding, diving, tagging or base running.
There is a "dynasty" mode that lets you own a team and make transactions.
Every pitcher has a variety of pitches, and players have different levels of hitting ability. The graphics are outstanding, especially players' faces, body movements and uniforms. There are several modes, including quick play, exhibition, and home run derby.
Even if you don't like baseball, you should give this one a try.
- ADAM SHEPPARD, Times correspondent
Final Fantasy XI
System: PlayStation 2
Company: Square Enix
Price: $49.99 for FFXI alone; $99 for PS2 console hard disc drive loaded with FFXI. Additional monthly fee required for online play.
U.S. gamers waited a long time for the latest installment of the much-loved Final Fantasy video game series.
But Final Fantasy XI is not your daddy's Final Fantasy. It is an MMORPG, or a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, in which players from around the world join together online to play the game.
Create a character, customize it and set off on tasks, missions and conquests in the fantasy world of Vana'diel with hundreds of other players manipulating their characters at the same time. While you type in commands to your character, you also can type a running conversation with other players. The game's translator provides a method to converse even with players who don't speak English.
Final Fantasy XI can be played on your home computer or you can use Sony's new internal hard disc drive (HDD) for the PlayStation2 game console. The 40-gigabyte HDD comes loaded with FFXI, the card game Tetra Master and the software necessary to install PlayOnline, the system that operates FFXI. The HDD mounts in an expansion bay on the back of the PlayStation2 console. You also will need a PlayStation2 network adapter and an ethernet cable.
I found the digital keyboard that comes with the HDD almost impossible to use. If you want to enjoy playing Final Fantasy XI on your PlayStation 2 console, pick up an inexpensive keyboard at the computer store. It will be well worth the $10 or $15 you will spend.
Another difference between FFXI and previous Final Fantasy games is the lack of a detailed storyline. This time, no catastrophe will happen if you fail to do something. The main focus of Final Fantasy XI, like most MMORPGs, is leveling. You work to build your character's levels so you can get better stuff, such as equipment, weapons, spells and more money. However, there is a lot more to do than just that, including quests for the citizens of Vana'diel and crafting.
Though the gameplay is different, there is plenty of Final Fantasy spirit left in XI. Spells, summons, equipment and a few famous monsters from the original FFs remain. And of course, moogles and chocobos play a large role.
The happenings on the screen are only part of the fun in FFXI. You will find there is something special about sharing the experience with an international community of gamers.
Cost is the main negative with FFXI. Buying the game is only the beginning. Because FFXI is an online game, you will need an internet connection whether you are playing on a PC or a PS2 game console. To play one character online, you'll pay $12.95 a month. Additional characters cost $1 each, and playing the card game Tetra Master from Final Fantasy IX will cost another dollar a month.
- SCOTT STEINLE, Times correspondent