March 29, 2009 by Jereme Puik
It’s baseball season once again and players are warming up for opening day on their respective teams. Spring training and the World Baseball Classic are just one of many reasons for baseball fans to start getting excited about the spring season. If you’re a gamer at heart, then this of course means the release of the newest iteration in each baseball series of games. MLB 2k9 developed by 2k Sports is the latest in the series and looks to build on its past entries. With new features and toned gameplay physics, plus photorealistic players, does 2k9 hit itself out of the park or does it ground out on the first hit?
With the menu system getting an overhaul and the gameplay mechanics getting their own new additions, MLB 2k9 seems to be heading in a new direction. There is a menu system that looks pretty much the same as the release of NHL 2k9. Everything is folded into one tree that you can access from anywhere. No longer are you bound to confusion as you try to work your way around the game getting stuck figuring out how to get into your Franchise mode.
For those of you that managed to play MLB 2k8 you’ll notice a familiar face with 2k9. Gameplay modes such as franchise, single player, online and home run derby all make a return here. There is even a practice mode and depending on what skill you need work on, you’ll be able to fine tune those skills before the big game.
There are also online leagues that can carry up to 30 players; however, there is no carry over franchise mode online yet. There is some lag between online games, but nothing that overly affects the gameplay much, and as always depends on the connection between both players.
Depending on the play in the game, you can unlock collectible cards taking you back as if you’re a kid again buying cards at the local retail store. These cards are found in the menus and are kept in their own binder which you can view and check out when necessary.
Living Rosters is an excellent concept that makes baseball simulation priceless. Living Rosters keeps the game up to date with everything that happens in the real world. For instance if a big trade happens on the deadline, Living Rosters will update to keep everything consistent with the real world teams. Living Rosters will also update to keep player attributes as close as possible to keep the skill and competition level fairly accurate.
NHL 07 was the first sports title that tried to incorporate the use of analog sticks for complete control in its gameplay and it worked. With MLB 2k9 this is a new field of work for the game, and it’s a mixed bag. Pitching and Batting are where you’ll have the most trouble. Fielding is ok although could use a bit of tweaking here and there. Pitching consists of lining up your pitch and with your selected pitch from the catcher, swings your analog stick as shown in the picture. What makes things difficult is that the strength of the pitch gets thrown out of whack more than 50 percent of the time.
While there is a bit of consistency with the game there is also a bit of inconsistency. Player AI is what needs the biggest work and seems to have a mind of its own throughout each game. For instance, the catcher never tries to change up the pitching and seems to throw out fast-balls and 2 seam fastballs with the odd change up or curve ball in between. Fielding AI is decent although is weird at times but is off even more so. Throws to first base end up off the mark with the player moving himself off the bag before the ball even gets there allowing for an infield hit. Other than that, the AI seems to be a decent challenger if you can manage a good game.
More often than not games become slug fests no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Pitching duels fail to be the highlight of the game. It’s too frustrating to even get a strikeout unless you’re lucky and throw out of the strike zone forcing the AI to swing away. You’ll see homerun balls aplenty and doubles/triples outside of that. Scores will reach somewhere from 10 to 20 runs for both teams, a bit unrealistic obviously.
2k Sports has always done something right with their games and that’s give gamers a well produced presentation. Photorealistic players in the field, dugout and fans in the stands all bring to life the aura of an MLB game. While there are a few hiccups here and there with graphical issues, it still manages to surprise you as the camera pulls up for a close up shot as your favorite player walks up to the plate. Stadiums are all detailed and match their real life counterparts. Even the fans react as a foul ball or homerun ball is hit into the stands, which is something that was always missing from a baseball title.
MLB 2k9 brings together the music and feel of each stadium around the league. You won’t have to worry about the game butchering your favorite stadium with uncanny tunes that will make your ears bleed. The crack of the bat and the sounds of the stands are all there and present a nice feel as if you’re really at the ballpark for the day.
An oddity of sorts for the MLB is the commentator pair of Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips provides an odd commentary on the game. There were moments that Gary Thorne would make you regret that he was the announcer. For instance, no matter what the weather was like outside, the same weather comment would be repeated throughout every so often. It would’ve been nice to hear Jon Miller and Joe Morgan covering the game at any given time. It would’ve made things a tad more realistic. Besides all of that you still can’t get over the feeling of being on the baseball field with your favorite team in tow. It’s just an experience you’ll have to hear to believe.
If there’s one thing that MLB 2k9 has going for it is its depth. It has more then one gameplay mode to keep you satisfied. If you can get past the slug fests of games in franchise mode then you can head straight for the home run derby. Baseball fans will find it a treat when you step up to the plate to hear the roar of the stadium whether you’re in Shea Stadium or Fenway Park. The gameplay controls while iffy at first are something that you can get used too. While, I give credit to 2k Sports for trying something new, in the end it makes franchise mode a little too complicated and makes one have the urge for online play even more.
If you’re one to find something positive in everything there is to life, you can at least find that MLB 2k9 carries a bit of light in this dark, dark shadow. Those analog controls can always be refined and changed as the years past, and 2k Sports’ set of games can easily match up with their competitors in that of EA Sports.
MLB 2k9 has a lot going for it and it’s certainly a game that can improve over time. This was the same case when EA Sports introduced the skill stick back in NHL 07. With 2k Sports they can easily climb themselves out of this hole and bring back the fun in baseball simulation. With the presentation all set in order minus a few graphical issues here and here, MLB 2k series will find itself in competition with MLB the Show in no time. Baseball purists, however, looking for a baseball filling in their void, this is no mans land. You are on your own if you decide to go with MLB 2k9 this year. While it has a lot going for it, it doesn’t quite stack up when looking at longevity.