The promise of next-generation sports has, in many cases, turned into a curse. Trying to meet the demands of hardcore fanatics without rendering casual players inept has proven more difficult than anyone imagined at the start of the 360/PS3 cycle. Nowhere has that paradox been more evident than in the baseball realm, which has proven to be tough as nails for all but the most dedicated to crack. The gang at 2K Sports has clearly felt your pain – and believe they have the answer with MLB 2K9.
For starters, it’s never been easier to hit the ball consistently. Gone are the days when successful batting depended solely on luck; the updated Swing Stick works beautifully. It’s no longer the home-run-or-strikeout dynamic of years past, as a simplified interface and forgiving engine allows everyone to step up to the plate and let ‘er rip. Pitching is a little tougher to nail down (and the controls are pretty sensitive), but it’s still manageable after a few warm-ups. Even baserunning – gasp! – is implemented well, as we made far fewer idiotic mistakes than normal, all without consulting a manual.
Unfortunately, fielding is a bit of an adventure, especially in the outfield. There were plenty of times we were lined up for routine catches, only to have the ball inexplicably fly over our head Canseco-style. What’s more, our CPU-controlled opponents had similar issues more than once. While we appreciated the fact that outfield mishaps were an equal-opportunity affair, there’s no reason so many routine plays should be botched. This is the major leagues after all – mistakes like this hardly even happen.
Scads of other problems exist throughout the game, too. There are visual hiccups aplenty, including players gliding through each other on a regular basis, herky-jerky motions between pitches, and occasional framerate drops when the ball is put in play. Heck, even Big Papi’s famous batting stance suffers from a half-second stutter, symptomatic of the lack of polish that permeates the experience. Something that was supposed to be a nice touch – the day-turns-to-night effect of a midafternoon start – is rendered bizarre when postgame highlights are shown; that first-inning home run you hit when the sky was full of sunshine will be represented as if it had taken place in the dark. While none of these issues ruin the solid gameplay, they undoubtedly conspire to take 2K9 down a notch.
We’ve rarely been so conflicted about a baseball game, but MLB 2K9 is a paradox. It’s undeniably fun and accessible, offering plenty of addictive options for hardball fans. It also suffers from too many gaffes that are impossible to ignore. As the only MLB sim option for the system, 360 owners could certainly have it worse. There’s no doubt we’re well on our way to playing a full 162-game campaign, but we were hoping for a more complete experience this spring.
Mar 3, 2009