2K Sports annual Baseball titles looks to draw the pitching power from cover athlete Tim Lincecum in the 2K9 edition of Major League Baseball. It has been a long time coming, and we finally have our first look at a next-generation 2K Sports MLB title. Since we are fans of the 2K Hockey experience, expectations are high for Major League Baseball 2K9. It’s time to step up to the plate, Major League Baseball 2K9 is up to bat.
Since switching over to the new consoles Extreme Gamer hasn’t had the chance to fire up any of 2K Sport’s Major League Baseball offerings. 2K Sports is renounced for their realism and dedication to the core experience of the sport, so I was really looking forward to knocking a few out of the park with 2K9. Sure, other games might add an extra of polish, but you can always rely on 2K to bring the goods when needed. In this edition of Major League Baseball, 2K is focused on making the game easier to newcomers to get into. Since I fall into this category it was interesting to see if 2K accomplished this goal.
In the minority, I jumped into an exhibition game and found that I needed a little more training as I was being buried in the first inning. Into the training grounds I jumped to learn about the excellent thumbstick controls in 2K9. Learning how the game played only took me a few minutes of experimenting with the timing and use of the analog stick in place of the face buttons. Once I got the skinny on the controls I felt a lot more comfortable, and I jumped back into an exhibition game without picking the Socks. Canadian proud, I picked the Toronto Blue Jays to represent my skills and had a great time going through the nine innings. I didn’t come out on top in my first game, but that didn’t discourage me. Feeling the pressure of performance, I jumped into another exhibition game and did fairly well sneaking a few runs in the end of the eight to win the ball game.
While I was learning the ropes I jumped into the Home Run Derby competition and felt like a king hitting homer after homer with the heavy hitter, Ryan Howard. Using Howard in the Derby was a great place to home my skills on how to hit the ball in 2K9. The mechanics they have in place are realistic to the real world with movement and timing being very important to how your swing connects to the ball. The overall experience felt a little disconnected, but I wasn't expecting perfection. Overall the battling felt very intuitive giving a nice real sense of actually holding the bat and swinging. The pitching in MLB 2K9 is a little harder to get into with a confusing in-game pitching menu. It takes a while to get used to. Throwing pitches didn’t have the same cool vibe as bating. This leads to believe 2K could improve the overall feeling of the analog controls in the pitching until it matches up with the grounded feeling of bating.
So what this tells me is that 2K has accomplished the goal of giving a newbie a chance. The only part I can comment on is how it changed from last game. Thinking over to my experience on MLB: The Show, I feel as 2K9 has a unique spin on their controls. I wouldn’t say the one was better then the other, they are different. MLB the Show is the perfect mix for the newbie even more then 2K’s refined controls, but I think the baseball fanatic might choose the control scheme of 2K9 over MLB: The Show. When it comes down to its personal preference and the best advice I could give for new base runners is to check out the demo of both products, assuming you have a Playstation 3. If you’re an Xbox only type of guy, it is 2K9 or the Bigs. Controls play a big part in sports games and MLB 2K9 is no different.
The next mode I examined was the Franchise mode which is ultra-realistic. Depending on how deep you want to get into the game and world of baseball, 2K9 lets you decide. The back-end trading system is wildly deep and provided some interesting results with a hard to shake A.I. The statistics available continue the realistic vibe along side the Inside Edge that has more details and reports. If you’re into the statistical side of the game then you’ll likely be into the number crunching you can do in 2K9. The franchise mode has a lot of options on every level. Minors, GMs, Managers, Budgets... and that is without playing one game. It’s all in 2K9 which will keep the die-hard follower content.
2K9 also features a huge game online. If you are brave enough to join the hardened online ranks then you’ll find an enough features to keep you happy for a while. I’m not the best player, so I only tried my hand at the Home Run Derby and again had some cheap fun. I imagine the league play would interest most gamers who want to participate in a virtual gaming season and it seems like MLB 2K9 can handle the job. Online MLB opens up supporting lots of cool features like roster trading. The most interesting connectivity feature in MLB is the "Living Rosters" feature that automatically updates you game so you have the most current up-to-date stats for the real world athletes. For those who follow the game, its excellent to see instant adjustments.
Before I wrap up the game section of this review I have to comment on questionable behaviour that I witnessed the A.I. partaking in. At times it seems like the computer reacted a little slow to aspects like stealing bases, responding to double plays, or even the running to home. I didn’t really catch on until I was partly through the franchise mode where as I had a few two many “what” moments. I wouldn’t say it’s a pressing problem that ruins the gaming experience, but it something 2K might want to adjust in the future. I also found the difficulty to be a little on the easy side. Like my experience with NHL 2K, sliders need to be adjusted to find that perfect balance. On the default setting it will be only a matter of time before you have the A.I.’s number. Given the amount of variables it hard to be perfect and for the most part the baseball simulation was pretty spot on. For those who find the challenge too easy there are plenty of options available to find the appropriate balance.
The graphic quality in MLB 2K9 is admirable. MLB 2K9 has a lot of flair in its animations, but I’m afraid that is the only real trait that can somewhat stack up to its direct competition in Sony’s heavy hitter, MLB the Show. Even without commenting on the lack of presentation, MLB 2K9 doesn’t have the polish to compete on the same level as The Show, or the flash of The Bigs. This shouldn’t translate in a purchasing factor for most die-hard gamers; it is the newbie’s that will be drawn to the high polish of the other game when looking at the two brands. Aside from the animations, 2K9 has a little more work to do in their player models before it can become more lifelike. At the moment 2K9 feels a little stale compared to other sports titles.
The audio commentary in 2K9 is handed by Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips, who replace the old team of Miller and Morgan. Although I never heard the old announce team, Thorne and Phillips do an acceptable job at the play-by-play without being too over the top with “lines”. The feel and sensibility of MLB 2K9 owes a lot to Thorne and Phillips who bring out that baseball atmosphere with great taste. Commentary in Baseball games is hard to nail giving the slow nature of the game, but I think 2K9 has a good team here with Thorne and Phillips.
It was great to run a few bases with 2K Sports, Major League Baseball 2K9. After years of featuring The Show, it is good to know the alternative is a worthy competitor. In an all out brawl, 2K9 might have a little ways to go before it reaches the same level as The Show, but it seems like Visual Concepts is working hard to perfect their craft. 2K9 has its strong points and its new control scheme fit perfectly in my newbie hands. If 2K9 is an indication on where the future will be like for this pitch hitter than 2K Sports is loading the bases for the heavy hitter.
Gameplay:6.5, Graphics:6, Sound:7, Innovation:7, Mojo:7 Final: 6.7 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 03.12.09