Publisher: 2K Sports / Developer: Visual Concepts / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors]
Spring is in the air. Major League Baseball teams have reported to Spring Training in hopes of chasing that elusive World Series Championship in the fall. This time of year hope springs eternal from New York to Kansas City, and from Los Angeles to Baltimore. It is also time for a brand new year of video game baseball, and 2K Sports is looking to pitch an equally elusive perfect game of their own. Does MLB 2K12 belong in your starting rotation of sports games, or will it be sent to the showers early?
The MLB 2K series has long been known for quality presentation elements as well as solid commentary. The commentary does not disappoint this season as a ton of dialog has been added to revolve around pitching strategy in particular. 2K is stressing pitching in a smart and fundamentally sound way this year as opposed to finding a “go to” pitch and spamming it on the AI batters. The announcers give feedback to the player as to what pitches seem to be effective as well as for those that aren’t quite working. Visually this game looks brighter and a bit sharper that it’s predecessor, but overall the player models and animations still leave a lot to be desired. Not much has changed in the way of the game menus, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just feels familiar at this point and is still a little confusing as you need to access most modes and options via a flick of the right stick rather than an on screen button prompt. I do like the main option screen which mimics NBA 2K12, in which some of the most popular modes such as MLB Today, My Player, and Franchise are all featured front and center.
2K12, just like the previous titles in the series, is sorely lacking in the area of real life baseball atmosphere. What I mean by this is that if you are controlling your favorite team’s path through playoff and World Series glory, you would hardly know it aside form a logo or two painted on the grass. This game needs an upgrade in presentation for playoff games badly. Let the players show some emotion, throw in a cut scene or two of the trophy and MVP presentations, anything of this nature would be welcome. Currently you win the World Series, and your team will do a very odd dance around home plate as if they were circling the drain. If I invest the time to take my favorite nine all the way to the title, I want the reward to match the effort. The 2K team does get kudos for including the new playoff format with the added wildcard team in each league even though the new format was only announced days before the release of the game, well done!
The major game mode addition to MLB 2K12 is the MLB Today Season mode. It is a neat idea as you can take control of your favorite team and play along with the real life MLB Season with all the stats and rosters updated as you go. The mode is limited, however, by only being able to play through October, and not future seasons as you would in franchise mode.
Franchise mode returns and offers pretty much the same options as last year’s game. There is plenty to do here and the replay value is obviously high as you can play out multiple seasons at the helm of your favorite MLB team. The same can be said for my favorite mode in the game, My Player mode. I was really hoping for some of the great elements that were added to My Player in NBA 2K12, such as gaining endorsements and being featured on billboards and magazines. Also I had high hopes for any kind of post game press conference set up, but unfortunately none of these innovative enhancements have been ported to the baseball experience. I feel this is a missed opportunity to have vastly improved the career mode and given this game a new look and feel. There have been minor upgrades to the My Player mode, mainly in designating a few preset character types when first creating a player. Player types such as Slugger, Speedster, and Power Pitcher have been added to steer players to the right attribute sets to correspond to the type of player they wish to cultivate. Once started with your career, you are free to spend those experience points wherever you like and break the mold that the presets intend to create. My Player mode is where I will once again spend the majority of my time within the game this season.
Online play is still hit or miss as finding an opponent can be another somewhat confusing task. Once you get into a game you will find that MLB 2K12 is still plagued with lag at the worst possible times, mainly in the delivery of the pitch. The online offerings are essentially the same as last season with no new mode added to the mix. I found myself hopeful that the game would play a little smoother online this year, but so far I am just not sold.
MLB 2K12’s gameplay feels very familiar; to a casual player it may feel exactly like last year. Throwing meters have been improved to take into account for throwing on the run or off-balance situations, where your green or “safe” throw zone is accordingly smaller. Pitching is more of a challenge because no longer can you throw fastball after blazing fastball and expect to get away with it. AI hitters are smarter and will start knocking you around the park if you cannot keep them guessing. If one of your pitches is getting hit hard, you will see a corresponding drop in effectiveness ratings for that pitch. I would tend to argue that the AI hitters are almost too good at times, but that can be dealt with via game sliders.
Hitting in 2K12 seems to yield a large amount of fly balls for some reason, many more than I remember seeing in last year’s game. The defensive AI of players will have you cursing at the TV at times as well. Why won’t my first baseman simply tag the runner who is running right past him up the baseline? Certain animations are missing in these cases that just detract from the realism of the game of baseball in my opinion. I also noticed way too many glitches that should not exist at this point in the franchise. Base runners will score a run and then stand on top of home plate as a second runner attempts to score, making for one messed up tangle of players when you add in the catcher trying to prevent the slide to the plate. I also find the mechanic for switching fielders to be unnatural, as a fly ball hit to the outfield starts me off with control of the pitcher standing on the mound, leaving me desperately seeking control of the closest fielder to the ball.
MLB 2K12 is a fun video game representation of baseball, but it just doesn’t always feel like a solid baseball game. Too many quirks and glitches still exist in the gameplay for me to fully immerse myself into the sport. 2K12 makes pitching more challenging and stands out as the most polished aspect of the gameplay. Very little has been added in the way of game modes this season, but the standards still play true to form. The commentary, which has always been a highlight of the series, has only improved this time around. There is a lot of fun to be had here, and baseball fans should be able to get their fix. MLB 2K12 does not deliver a perfect game, but it has enough juice to entertain us well into this year’s pennant races.