Baseball is a love of mine, so much so that I scheduled a trip to the U.S last year around the game between the New York Yankees and my beloved Seattle Mariners at the newly built Yankee Stadium. So imagine my joy, when it was announced that after a hiatus of many years that the Major League Baseball 2K series was finally getting a local Australia release again. I was hopeful that this game would reward baseball starved fans down under with a home run.
Visually, the game looks good in some areas, while underachieving in others. Sports games nowadays are expected to produce high quality, realistic player models. Unfortunately, this game is nowhere near the standard that games like Fight Night and FIFA have set. The player models have some resemblance to actual players, but lack quality and detail.
The player animation was also a hit and miss affair. The base running is awful, looking clunky and has no sense of weight, which also was the problem with the throwing animations. The game does though include some decent fielding, batting and pitching movements. A nice touch was the inclusion of several of baseball’s big name’s characteristics, like Alex Rodriguez adjusting his batting gloves or Ichiro’s batting stance.
The games themselves are presented in a slick television broadcast style, which works really well here. From the introduction of the teams to the graphics that appear to highlight statistics of the team, it does a fantastic job, as it feels like your actually watching a game on television.
The controls in the game, especially the pitching and batting controls is a major positive. Pitches are executed by a gesture on the right thumb stick, with the power behind throws determined by how well you sync up with the meter. Different pitches have different gestures, so straight forward pitches like a fast ball have a simple up and down gesture, while a slider will involve a slightly more complex gesture. It isn’t the most user-friendly system, and will need some time to get used to. You’ll end up throwing plenty of wild pitches and meat balls, but it’s something different from the standard “throwing meter” controls, which is a nice change. To help, the game includes a pitch analyser that will help you to view where you’re gesturing incorrectly.
The batting controls make batting fun, because it’s a simple yet effective system. Like the pitching, batting utilises the right thumb stick. Push forward for a standard swing or back then forward for an added “oomph” to your swing. The batting controls did well in capturing the key element of successful batting in real life, which is timing.
The base running is simple, and managing multiple base runners was a breeze. Unfortunately it’s let down by sluggish animation and controls. And the pitchers psychic ability to know when I was trying to steal a base made stealing a base a lot harder then it should’ve been, and only timing the run perfectly allowed me to actually attempt a steal.
The game features an addictive career mode titled My Player, where the aim is to progress from a lowly AA player in the minor leagues to all the way to being a big league star in the Majors. You can play in any position on the field, including the pitcher, but basically there are only two types - the batter and the pitcher. It would’ve been great to play as in the catcher and actually call the pitches. Unfortunately you can’t, and that makes the catcher probably the most boring position when fielding due to the lack of action.
Players have goals that they must achieve to reach the next level of their career; these objectives include improving certain stats like the speed and power. To achieve these higher rating, players are awarded with skills points for achieving certain objectives in areas of batting, baserunning, fielding and for pitchers, pitching. With perseverance the points will start to flow, except when it comes to points for baserunning. I found it extremely frustrating and difficult to earn points, due to the fact that I was dependant on the A.I. On too many occasions I stranded on the bases due to the fact that the batters after me could not advance me to the next base (which earns a measly 10 points). It’s like they were trying to break the record for most strikeouts in a game. Actually, the A.I proved to be annoying in other areas such as fielding, as they’ll somehow screw up the simplest outs, and double plays were near impossible even from the best possible setups.
During the games, only the action that involves your player will be presented. This is great, as I don’t really want to sit and watch a whole game as that will take hours. Games played as a starting pitcher, generally took longer than one as a batter, but batters play every day while the starting pitcher plays every five days. So while a starting pitcher may earn more points per game, it balances out as the batter plays every day.
Major League Baseball 2K11 also includes the deep Franchise mode, where you oversee the running of a ball club from the Majors all the way down to single A level. This mode is every wannabe General Managers dream, as you can sign, trade, fire and hire players and staff. You can also tinker with the 40 man roster, or change up the line up to achieve maximum results. A feature that allows you to check on the health of players proved to be helpful, as it allows you to identify players, like Erik Bedard who are injury prone.
Major League Baseball 2K11 includes many positive features like the pitching and batting controls and the My Player mode, but then is let down by the lack of quality and polish in areas such as the player models, animation and frustrating A.I. Instead of hitting a grand slam homerun, Major League Baseball 2K11 manages a solid single.