Over the past week, I have spent a lot (A LOT) of time playing 2KSports latest installment of their baseball franchise, “Major League Baseball 2K10,” on our XBox 360. According to my wife, I have missed our daughters first words, first steps, first day of school, first date and her wedding.
Mrs. Prof will never understand.
She did finally wrestle the remote away from me. Mysteriously, she all of the sudden knew how to switch from HDMI to Component inputs as if she has known all along and was just pretending to be technologically illiterate.
So until she goes to sleep, I will take this break from “MLB 2K10″ to let you guys know my thoughts about the game so far.
My Favorite Features…
Gameplay Controls: Ultimately, once you get past the glitz and glammer, the most important aspect of the game is battle between the pitcher and the batter. And in “MLB 2K10,” a video game has finally got it right. From both the mound and the plate, the controls are intuitive and give you more of a sense that you are actually controlling the player’s arms as opposed to entering some special code and hoping for the appropriate response.
- PITCHING: Throwing specific types of pitches requires a specific movement using the right analog stick. The movements are just tricky enough that you need a little bit of practice, but not so much that you feel lost. And the movements seem somewhat logical for the type of pitch being thrown. They are even reversed for left-handers, which is just the type of seemingly meaningless detail that actually adds to the realism. But maybe our favorite pitching feature is the stress factor. As the pitcher tires or the stressful situations arise (runners in scoring position, less than 2 outs) the target will shake and the controller will rumble making the process of aiming as difficult as you would expect in a real game.
- HITTING: With hitting, the learning curve is a bit steeper as you need one analog stick to control trajectory of the batted ball (ground ball vs fly ball and pull vs opposite field) and the other to swing the bat. As in real life, don’t expect to be knocking home runs your first time in the box. Rather, you need to get reps to get the timing down. I loved the notification just as the pitch is released as to the type of pitch. It is on-screen for just a split-second, but for anybody that has ever faced live pitching, that is exactly when a batter first recognizes the spin of the pitch. And for once a game is very unforgiving towards those that are free-swingers. The more likely you are to swing at the first pitch, the less likely that pitch will be in the strike zone. So the keys are to learn the strike zone and learn it well. You are going to strike out a lot at first, but eventually, you will get the knack and the hits will start coming.
The “MLB Today” Feature: I admit, this feature seemed kinda corny to me at first, but it grew on me quickly. Basically, with “MLB Today” you can play any game that is scheduled that day in real life and play the game using the same lineups and rosters that are being used in real life. So if Carl Crawford is traded and Desmond Jennings is called up to make his big league debut against the Yankees in Replica Yankee Stadium, that is the roster you will get in “MLB Today.”
“My Player” Mode: Admit it. Ever since sports sims have allowed you to edit players, you have changed one of the players and gave him your name and given yourself Ruthian abilities. It’s OK. You are not alone. Well now you can do it the right way. Create a player and begin their career in double-A. The player will progress based on how you perform overall and how you perform during in-game challenges. I recommend that the first time you attempt the “My Player” feature you create a pitcher. During games you only participate in plays that your player is directly involved with. If you choose to be a fielder that means 4-5 plate appearances and a handful of plays in the field, most of which are very benign. And because of that, the progression of a fielder is much slower. As a pitcher, you will remain much more involved in each game as you learn the intricacies. Once you have mastered a pitcher, you will be looking for more of a challenge.
Commentary: On the surface, this seems like the least important aspect of a sports simulation. But think about it. How annoying is John Madden when he seems to have 10 stock phrases that you hear 50 times each in one game of “Madden”? And as annoying as that is, we never realized just how bad it was until we experienced a game with great commentary. And that is what “MLB 2K10″ provides. There is still some repetition but that is more than made up for with the details that are provided. Whether it is how a team ranked in a specific stat the year before or how a batter did in their previous at bat, I was left thinking that Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips and John Kruk were actually narrating my video game life.
Player Detail: The graphics are still not to the point where you are left speechless, but they seem much improved. And your control over the physical details of each player and the equipment they use seems endless. Seriously, how can you not love the ability to give David Wright a “Gazoo” helmet. Just like real life!
Evan Longoria: Did we mention that Dirtbag is on the cover and featured prominantly in the game’s ad campaign?
One Million Dollars: Think you can throw a perfect game? Well, if you do in accordance with the rules, 2K Sports will give you a million bones. And as Evan Longoria pointed out, that is more than he will make this year. We are really hoping that the feat doesn’t fly under the radar. Whoever gets the grand prize, here is hoping they get 15 minutes of blogdome fame.
The Soundtrack: Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” is included. Game. Set. Match.
Online Gameplay: I rarely venture into the world of online gaming. The few times we have tried, we have been disappointed by the timing lag in games that have a faster pace. This seems like more of an internet problem than a programming problem. So until we have achieved warp speed on the internet, I stay away. Still, it is there for those of you that want to woop up on your out-of-town friends.
Stadium Details: I can’t put my finger on it, but the stadiums and crowds still aren’t “jaw dropping.” Don’t get me wrong, they are very good and they seem very close. They just seem to be lacking a little something. I love the use of minor league and spring training parks. But if 2K Sports wants to go the extra mile, they need to give us historical parks. I want to be able to take the Rays to the Polo grounds in Manhattan and see how Evan Longoria handles the short porches and how BJ Upton handles all that ground in center field.
Steve Phillips: Phillips is one of the color commentators. Obviously 2K Sports couldn’t have foreseen what would happen to Phillips outside of baseball. And obviously this has little bearing on the gameplay. But it was a tad awkward when we first heard his voice.
Spring Training Commentary: I’m nitpicking now, but I don’t need Steve Phillips criticizing my decision to pull David Price after 3 innings in a spring game even though he has yet to give up a run.
Joe Maddon: Ummm, JoeMa is not wearing glasses. How did that happen?
If the actual gameplay is the most important aspect for you, then “MLB 2K10″ is your game. If the graphics are more important, you might still be left wanting more, but you will see that this game is very, very close to where it needs to be on the presentation side.
The battle between the hitter and the pitcher is as realistic as anything on the market today. There is a learning curve, but your mistakes are not overly punishing, and you will have a strong sense that you are getting better the more times you step on the mound or step in the batter’s box.
“MLB Today” turned out to be much more enjoyable than I expected. But in the end, I am still a sucker for the career modes. And quite frankly, both “My Player” and “Franchise” modes are both addicting enough that I haven’t decided which I want to stick with for a prolonged period.
If I can make a Rays analogy…If MLB 2K10 were a Rays player it would be BJ Upton if he hit .310-25-90 with 50 stolen bases and a gold glove this season. It is finally realizing its potential, but you can tell it hasn’t peaked. And you can’t wait to see what both will do in 2011.