Warning to all you baseball gurus out there: The Bigs 2 is not a simulation of your favorite sport. Far from it. It's an arcade representation with crazy stunts, crunching hits at the plate, and more mini-games than should be allowed in a single videogame. Nevertheless, The Bigs 2 adds enough new features and game mechanics to make it a solid improvement over the original.
The original Bigs had its Rookie Challenge and The Bigs 2 has Become A Legend mode. The premise is very similar. You create a unique player who has suffered some incredible injury during the previous year. You then start in the Mexican League and build him back up to prominence, eventually making your way back to the MLB. You'll travel around to different cities and countries, participating in everything from standard games to come-from-behind victories to myriad mini-games.
As you work through Become A Legend you'll be tasked with beating a slew of Hall of Fame players with the ultimate goal of earning a spot in the Hall for yourself. The only problem with the general design of Become A Legend is that the games don't present a simple win/loss scenario to progress. Instead you'll have to meet various requirements such as completing a Legendary Catch with your created player, getting a certain number of hits, throwing out 'X' number of people, and other annoying statistical requirements.
The issue I have is that you have no control over where the other team hits the ball or how often they give you a pitch to hit. It's sort of blind luck and requires little to no skill. Thankfully the seriously annoying scenarios don't crop up until later down the line, but the fact that they're in at all isn't good. So while the Become A Legend mode has plenty of length, it wears out its welcome with overly annoying requirements at the tail-end. By the time you hit the end of the Become A Legend mode the gameplay has gotten tedious and frustrating enough that completing it almost doesn't seem worth it.
Thankfully The Bigs 2 isn't meant to be a career-focused game that you play for 18 or 20 hours. The Bigs has always been about sitting down with a friend or against the AI and duking it out with your favorite baseball players and, in that area, the game is still able to deliver.
The mini-games are really the biggest addition to the action in The Bigs. Some take place in standard games and others are different affairs altogether. I enjoy the mini-games that take place during standard play. You'll see things like the aforementioned Legendary Catch where you'll need to hit buttons in a sequence, hold a button for a certain amount of time, and balance a ball on a beam when you're leaning over a railing to make a catch on the side of the field. Those are fine and don't typically happen often enough to be an annoyance.
The other types of mini-games are of the off-the-field variety. There are contact, speed, glove and power mini-games to be played and they'll pop up throughout your career and can also be accessed through the main menu. The issue I have with these games is that, in your career, they're nearly the only way to improve the given statistics. What's more, a few of the games don't make much sense in the game of baseball. Whacking away at a slew of baseballs and running on top of stadiums doesn't really make much sense to me. I would have much rather preferred if your stats improved organically as you play. If you go two for three with two homeruns, your power should go up. If you steal two bags with smart use of your turbo, your speed should go up. Sadly that's not the way it is.
Standard gameplay has seen more changes than the addition of the aforementioned mini-games. You'll now notice a wheelhouse indicator on every batter that steps to the place. If you're pitching, that's the area you're going to want to stay away from. It's a glowing red zone where hitters will be able to really crank the ball. If you pitch a strike into this it will shrink and if you're able to enhance your pitch (by tapping the selected pitch again at the proper time) and get a strike a greater percentage of the wheelhouse will be lost. It's a nice layer of risk/reward strategy that adds to the gameplay.
Elsewhere you'll find the Big Slam ability in addition to the Big Blast and Big Heat. Big Slam allows you to instantaneously load the bases and then take a shot at hitting a grand slam in a rapid-fire, four pitch sequence. It's a bit too easy to get the Big Slam and get a quick four run boost. I wish that the pitcher had an alternative to combat the Big Slam. As it is it seems a bit one-sided.
I also have a few other issues with the gameplay in The Bigs 2. First of all, the AI is a bit dumb on the default difficulty level. I had no problem throwing the same pitch to identical locations and still striking guys out. When batting I noticed that there are only about 15-20 hit types, meaning that they aren't so much physics-based as they are determined by timing and the direction you're aiming. I've seen the same liner down the third and first base lines way too many times. I suppose it's asking a bit much for an arcade baseball game to have this type of realistic hitting, but I would have liked to see more variety while at the plate.
All of that said, The Bigs 2 is still a very fun, arcadey game of America's favorite pastime. If you don't want to play in Become A Legend mode, you can always play a single game or participate in a full season with your favorite club. Being on the diamond delivers lots of enjoyable moments, whether pitching or at the plate. The turbo abilities that were in the first game are still intact and as fun as ever and there are few moments that can compare to mashing the A (or X on PS3) button in order to smash into the catcher with full force and knock the ball loose for that all-important run.
Hopping online, there really aren't many features to speak of, but that doesn't mean it's still not a good time. My experience was generally lag-free with just a bit cropping up while at the plate. It was fairly easy to adjust and the rest of the gameplay ran smoothly. You'll find ranked and unranked games available, but besides that things are barebones.
On the graphics side things look just a hair better than they did last year. Faces are still more accurate than 2K Sports' other baseball offering, and you'll notice added details like gritting teeth and other facial expressions during certain moments. The Legendary Catch cutscene can be a bit jarring at first, but once you know it's coming the gameplay flows much smoother. My main issue with the visuals was the grass texture which looks very strange at some points in the game. Another small gripe spills over from The Bigs 1. For some reason I still can't get over how close the camera is to players. I understand the effect of making them look larger than life, but it just seems a bit much to me.
Audio fares a bit worse thanks to the repetitive commentary. It starts off funny as the announcer subtly pokes fun at baseball's steroid use (quoting homerun numbers then saying "back when those numbers used to mean something"), but after awhile you'll hear several redundancies that get grating before long. Same goes for the soundtrack which includes the stereotypical rock music from years ago. It's not terrible, and I suppose it fits with the game, but it's annoying nonetheless. Sound effects in the field are as boisterous as ever.
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