Developer: Visual Concepts / Publisher: 2K Sports / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone (Mild Lyrics)
Grow your beards, rip open a bag of sunflower seeds, and send your thumbs to the bullpen because it’s time for Major League Baseball 2K11. For the diehard PlayStation 3 fans out there, you have options when it comes to baseball. For you Xbox 360 owners out there, this is the only Show in town…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering that MLB 11: The Show has adopted the analog control scheme made popular by 2K Sports. But if you are expecting changes in epic proportions in this year’s game, think again.
MLB 2K11 simplifies America’s pastime into simple, intuitive controls. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or stuck in a perjury trial, you know that the game’s control scheme revolves mostly on pure analog motions for pitching, batting, base-running, and fielding. Rotate, flick, swipe, aim with the left stick until you get the job done. As far as the pitching and hitting are concerned, they remain pretty much the same as last year. The AI does seem to have been beefed sufficiently to make getting hits somewhat harder than past years. Pitching is always difficult using the analog controls; you have to work for a strikeout because a hot slugger can take you deep with the slightest mistake, especially superstars like A-Rod and Albert Pujols. At times you can deliver pinpoint pitches with a fluid motion but the ball still ends up in the wrong spot. This can be a tad bit frustrating, especially early on in the game when your pitcher is fresh and the bases are clear.
The fielding system has been revamped as well. An accuracy meter has been added when throwing the ball as well as landing indicators for fly balls. Guys like Derek Jeter and Matt Kemp have great range and throw the ball straight with less chance for errors. The Mannys and Adam Dunns of the world, on the other hand, might give you some problem.
Winning the Million Dollar Perfect Pitch Challenge will be harder this time around with all the improvements made to the AI, fielding, batting, and pitching.
As for new modes, there are none, and honestly I don’t see why there should be. MLB Today, Online, Franchise and My Player provide plenty of options and variety especially considering that diving into a season means committing to 162 games. MLB Today provides all the real world match-ups of the day so you can play them virtually instead of watching on your widescreen. The only difference in this mode, as opposed to others, is that the stats, commentary, news, and box scores of the other games follow the ones in real life.
Franchise mode has seen some subtle changes, especially with the trading AI. I was still able to pull off a few minor questionable trades, but overall it’s hard to land a big-time name or a top prospect without giving up the farm.
My favorite time-suck is still the My Player mode. Hours can fly by as you play and upgrade your player’s stats. The methods of earning experience are a little harder this year than last. You can’t jump into the Majors right away after playing only a few games in the farm system, you have to grind it out and work hard at your skills and drills. As you follow your character through the tribulations of getting promoted to the dance you have the options of changing positions (which is great if you get bored of being the pitcher, catcher, etc.) and eventually making it the big leagues. While up there, you can use your superstar status to tell the team to sign key free agents. You can end up being the next Roy Halladay or be a career bench warmer, all that depends on your performance and the decisions you make.
Graphics and Sound
Right off the bat veterans of past MLB 2Ks will notice improvements to the player models, gestures, habits, and deliveries. From Brian Wilson’s super sweet, epic beard down to his signature tribute to his father following a save, attention has been paid to real personality details. The virtual players act and look exactly like their real life counterparts. There are still a few questionable looking models, like Russell Martin and Jay Gibbons for example, who look generic–but maybe that’s just them.
The presentation is broadcast quality, from the improved crowds to the million cutaways, stats, and Don Mattingly having a heart attack in the dugout after another one of Matt Kemp’s brain farts. Not enough can be said about the visual presentation, so sit back, grab a beer, and enjoy the fine work the Visual Concepts team has performed in recreating what you see on your TV in an interactive way.
Many of last year’s glitches have been fixed but quite a few new ones have joined a frustrating parade. Your opposition AI definitely plays harder and is generally smarter this year, but still displays questionable decision making, especially with the pitchers. Like a 2010 Hanley Ramirez, your team AI doesn’t even react or put any effort in to some easy fielding plays. Then there are the occasional weird animations, like when you lose a game badly and your player is clapping with joy as though you won. Or after a wild pitch has been thrown, the ball goes to the backstop, and your batter swings at the ball for no apparent reason. I guess he wanted to release that pent-up power stroke or something. As an ongoing work-in-progress many, many areas still require polish.
The audio is crisp and the three-man commentary team is back for another season. Phillips, Thorne, and Kruk definitely deliver the goods with their play-by-play analysis, an aspect of the game much superior to MLB 11: The Show. Try playing with the same team a few times and you will hear the same lines over and over and over again. Though annoying and receptive, with the amount of players in this league it’s understandable that you can only record several lines for each superstar and team. The soundtrack is pretty solid and features hits by Pearl Jam and Joan Jet just to name a few.
The online gameplay is surprisingly good this year and we experienced many fewer framerate issues and less lag when compared to last year. There are sill a few frame skips and glitches here and there but it’s definitely playable. MLB Today also updates player’s stats daily, which also includes the Franchise and My Player modes. If there was only a way to update trades, call-ups, lineup changes for Franchise and My Player without having to start all over again after major changes in the league and roster updates. One day I guess. Getting into an online league with your friends is still available with no major futzing of the core experience. It’s still a fun, trash-talk–friendly experiences nonetheless.
If you are going into MLB 2K11 expecting seismic shifts in its gameplay offering, then you’ll be disappointed. Still, several necessary upgrades have addressed last year’s glitches while also improving the gameplay, My Player Mode, and presentation. There are still a few hiccups with AI, glitches in gameplay and presentation, and repetitive commentary that need to be checked off on the “To Do” list for next year. Overall, it’s a solid, occasionally masterful, occasionally frustrating sim of the national pastime. Now excuse me while I go and try to win a million dollars.