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Video Game Review: MLB 2k10

March 10, 2010 | By Herija Green | comment on this post
2k got a lot of things right this year, but why are there that many fans at a Marlins home game? C’mon!!

Of all the reviews I’ve done for this site, none have saddled me with writer’s remorse more than my overly favourable critiquing of MLB 2k9. In the weeks after submitting the review I was consistently finding more issues, and my subsequent remarks in the comments section showed some of that realization emerging. The reality was that title deserved a score in the 3.0-3.25 range, not the 4.0 I had bestowed upon it.

To that end I found it reassuring that, after sitting in on a developer’s call with Visual Concepts, they were very forthright with their own disappointments regarding MLB 2k9 and were adamant that many areas had been rebuilt from the ground up for this season. I’m pleased to say it wasn’t baseless boasting as MLB 2k10 represents a major leap forward from last year.

Controls (4.5/5)

Even with all the problems in MLB 2k9, the pitching/hitting interface had solid mechanics. These return and have been improved. Perhaps the most notable issue last year was that the pitches were selected based on the motion you made with the right analog stick. This led to instances where you’d wind up throwing a curve when trying to throw a slider.

This time you select the pitch prior to throwing it and then make the motion — holding down the first part of the motion until the meter fills establishes how much power you generate while completing it determines control. It works great and makes for more variables with each pitch. Hold down for too long and you’ll overthrow. Don’t make the motion smoothly enough and accuracy will suffer. The meter fills at different rates based on factors like fatigue and composure, meaning it’s tougher to hit your spots in clutch situations or as your pitch count rises.

Hitting has also seen some refinements and is now more timing based. You can still attempt to go to either field by aiming with the left stick, but if you’re late don’t expect to pull the ball even if the stick is pointed in that direction. Also, MLB 2k10 has added a defensive swing (flick the right stick to either side) to compliment the standard contact and power strokes. It works well for fouling off pitches when you’re behind in the count and waiting for something you can drive. However, the ability to check your swing is not on the disc and was instead added as a downloadable patch. This should be fine for most gamers, but those without access to Xbox Live or Playstation Network will be left wanting.

The fielding is better this year as well with some of the more annoying problems (outfielders dropping too many fly balls, first basemen coming off the bag for no reason) seemingly corrected. However, there’s just very little excitement to that aspect of the game. It always feels like the A.I. is doing the heavy lifting and you’re kind of along for the ride. One important item is that fielders now have the ability to load up throws, something that was a major issue last year. It works well as the meter fills at a good pace and most importantly you won’t see your cutoff man hurl a rainbow that arrives at home plate just as the baserunner is reaching the dugout steps.

Baserunning is pretty much the same; although anyone that felt stealing was nearly impossible in MLB 2k9 will find it a much more realistic experience this time.

Graphics/Sound (3.75/5)

It’s a little difficult for me to directly compare MLB 2k9 to MLB 2k10 graphically since last year I had an Xbox 360 copy and this year I’m reviewing the PS3 version. However, things seem to have been cleaned up with nice looking motion capture and less of a waxy look to player faces. However, you’ll still see some disjointed animations and players clipping through one another during post-game interactions. Most of the time, the things that look out of place occur while fielding. Too often players still use full throws when their real-life counterparts would simply flip the ball, and you’ll also see an inordinate number of off-balanced Derek Jeter inspired leaping throws. Other visual shortcomings include the removal of cloth physics from uniforms, balls vanishing during replays and a rough looking crowd.

One thing that immediately stands out on the positive side, though, is that the frame rate has been vastly improved for MLB 2k10. That’s not to say you’ll never detect any slowing, but for the most part things flow smoothly. You’ll recognize plenty of signature stances and delivery motions, and the game does a nice job with statistical overlays as part of an upgraded presentation.

The commentary in MLB 2k10 is also first rate, taking a cue from NBA 2k10 in adding a lot of things to make you feel like you’re part of an ongoing season. Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips return and are joined by ESPN’s John Kruk. The three of them must have recorded a ton of dialogue because you’ll constantly hear them reference recent game results, career numbers for a specific player versus a pitcher or team and so on. That, coupled with a deep statistical database, really helps immerse you in the game and give it more of a broadcast feel. The sound effects and soundtrack both do their jobs well.

Gameplay (4/5)

The core gameplay of MLB 2k10 is superior to last year’s game in every respect. No longer can you just hold the left stick toward the fence and park ball after ball into the bleachers. In fact, this time around you’re actually going to have to do things like work the count, fight off pitches and even take walks. It’s much more like real baseball where most teams play station to station rather than swinging at everything while smacking several home runs per game.

Pitcher fatigue has been recalibrated as well, meaning Roy Halladay won’t be gassed after throwing 70 pitches, though at this juncture it looks as though the game might have gone too far the other way (more on that later). As noted earlier, pitching in your fifth inning of work can have a decidedly different feel than it did in your first, and if you start getting knocked around you may find your pitcher’s composure waning dramatically. It’s effective and the refinements around the battle between hitter and pitcher were clearly a focal point this season.

One addition worth noting in the hitting dynamic is batter’s eye, which essentially tips off what kind of pitch you’re about to see. It pops up as the opposing pitcher is starting his delivery and is dictated by each batter’s rating so a patient hitter like Nick Johnson or Chipper Jones will have that information appear more often than a free swinger like B.J. Upton.

Overhauling the gameplay itself wasn’t Visual Concepts’ only mission, however, as they’ve also implemented a brand new mode called My Player. It’s not exactly a unique concept, but baseball enthusiasts should find it a welcome addition. You’ll begin by customizing a player from the basics like name and position down to the minutia like whether or not you keep your batting gloves in your back pocket when on base.

I created four different players to test things out: one starter, one reliever, a second baseman and a catcher. They all begin the same way, with your player having just been selected in the June draft and being fast tracked all the way to your club’s Double-A affiliate. After being placed in a “clutch moment,” you’ll start the task of improving your player enough that they can meet the goals for promotion to the majors. The goals are split into two sections: performance (i.e., hit above .275 or post a sub-4.00 ERA) and ratings (speed must be rated 65 or higher).

Each game gives you numerous chances to earn points to distribute later. For example, as a pitcher you’ll be given a goal against each batter you face — such as strike them out or induce a ground ball. Succeed and you’ll be given a small number of points. You’ll also earn points for pitching scoreless innings, tossing complete games, etc. For hitters, you get more points for things like home runs and RBI than singles. You’ll also earn points for fielding your position and running the bases. The points are restricted to the area you earned them. This means you can’t take points acquired while batting and use them to boost your fielding range.

It’s pretty straightforward and works well, even if at times it feels like grinding for experience in an RPG. However, it’s difficult to earn points in baserunning early on because you mostly get them for stealing bases (something you’re too slow to do consistently) and scoring runs, which leaves you at the mercy of your A.I. teammates. I can’t tell you how often I was stranded, but I do know that after reaching 25 hits in the minors I had still scored just three times, twice on my own home runs.

Even with the difficulty of earning baserunning points, I still reached the majors quickly with all four players. In fact, every one of them bypassed Triple-A entirely and were starting for their respective parent clubs before the All-Star break. I can appreciate not wanting to bog players down in the minors, but as long as you don’t simulate games and have modest skill, you’ll be up in no time. My starter took just five turns in Huntsville’s rotation before joining the Brewers (insert your own Jeff Suppan joke here).

I would definitely say it’s a more enjoyable experience as a pitcher than a hitter because you’re more involved. As a hitter, you control your at-bats and are fast-forwarded to fielding situations where you’re almost certain to get the ball. It’s almost zero fun to field as a catcher (you don’t call games) and even at a busy position like second base I did nothing but take grounders and pop flies. Not once in over 70 games was I called upon to turn a double play started by another infielder.

My Player also suffers from shaky managerial A.I., which extends to your opponent as well. The CPU leaves starters in far too long, and it’s not uncommon to see an opposing pitcher throwing over 125 pitches. In my first six starts I went the distance four times, including my major league debut where I was left in to hold a 4-3 ninth inning lead despite being fatigued and having Trevor Hoffman available in the pen. It will also allow your pitcher to bat in key situations, such as in a tie game with runners on in the bottom of the eighth, which hurts the realism.

Despite the shortcomings, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had in My Player. Games move quickly, goals and rewards are clearly spelled out and the mode overwhelmingly focuses on the two strongest aspects of MLB 2k10 — hitting and pitching. Some tweaks are needed to take things to the next level, but it’s definitely headed in the right direction.

The game’s other primary offering is franchise mode, which has also been improved from what was seen last year. There are some new bells and whistles that streamline the process, such as a feature that allows you to select anyone on your roster and see what teams are willing to trade for them. You can also go to another team’s roster, select their player and find out who you’ve got that they’d be interested in acquiring. The MLB Draft lasts 10 rounds and is properly placed as an in-season event, and the game now hands out compensatory draft choices for lost Type A and B free agents.

The trading A.I. is competent, though it tends to be savvier when initiating deals built around similarly rated players. You can still outwit the computer, however, as I was able to nab Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates for Corey Hart and spare parts — a deal the Pirates would scoff at in real life. My general feeling is that the game still doesn’t value upside and salary enough. Thankfully you won’t see many truly lopsided or unreasonable deals, which is important.

Also, for those that value realistic stats from a fully simulated season, you’ll find individual numbers to be pretty reasonable though team totals end up low on batting average and high on power. Franchise games can now be “super simmed” as well, allowing you to simulate half an inning at a time and jump in at any point. It’s a nice addition and offers a happy medium to those that want some degree of direct control over games without investing the time to play an entire nine-inning affair.

MLB2k10 also offers head-to-head games online as well as entire online leagues. The leagues can be created to include anywhere from four to 32 teams with seasons that run as few as 10 games all the way up to a full 162-game slate. Of course, baseball remains the most difficult sports game to play online because of how precise the timing has to be and my forays into cyberspace were typically low scoring. If you found the right group of gamers with strong Internet connections, there’s a lot of value in online leagues, but there’s always the possibility that the same problems that plagued Madden NFL 10’s offering (inactive owners, sore losers, quitters) will wind up here as well.

Overall (4/5)

There are still some kinks to be ironed out in many facets of the game, but the truly debilitating issues have been eliminated. Those that have held off purchasing a 2k baseball game in recent years should reconsider as MLB 2k10 is a strong effort that bodes well for the future of the series.

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