|Major League Baseball 2K10|
|Platforms||Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Windows, PlayStation 2, DS, PSP|
|Genre||My own baseball story|
|Buy from Amazon|
While I love baseball, I don't play a lot of baseball games anymore. The last baseball game I played was MVP Baseball 2005 from EA, and before that it was Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. I also grew up playing the Bases Loaded series and Base Wars on the NES along with a smattering of sims on the PC such as Earl Weaver Baseball. An erratic and interesting history, to say the least.
So when 2K Sports offered me a review copy of their newest baseball iteration: Major League Baseball 2K10, I jumped at it. I really have very little idea how the baseball genre has evolved over the years, but I like the direction 2K10 is taking it. MLB 2K09 was generally panned by reviewers and let Sony's The Show really grab the spotlight. So developers Visual Concepts really had a lot to prove with 2K10, and while I'm not totally sold on the entire game yet, I do like the My Player mode.
My Player mode is new to MLB 2K10, and let's you create a baseball player and guide him from AA baseball in the minor leagues to the Major Leagues and maybe eventually election into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's curious that this feature is just being added to the series since The Show has featured this since the series was introduced in 2006, but I'm really glad it's there because it is all I've been playing. My Player mode only let's you play as the character you created, so games move quicker and you really feel like you're part of a team effort.
This isn't going to be a typical first hour review where I play 60 minutes and describe the action, but instead I'm going to describe my experience of trying to make the Major Leagues. The road to the Show (sorry, can't help it) does take a few hours, but it is a unique and fun experience to someone who's picking up their first baseball video game in a while.
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The first thing to do is create a character and pick what position you'd like to play as. Every position is available, but it really seems to boil down to whether you want to be a pitcher or a hitter. I like to think I excelled at both when I was younger, but have some memories that really stand out of when I pitched, so I decide to be a starting pitcher. You can also be a closer, but that just sounds like tons of intense situations that may overwhelm me a bit at first.
Now I can customize the look of my pitcher, there are a bunch of things to change, including butt size and whether you want the shades of your sunglasses flipped up or down, but I try my best just to make him look like me. I'm very unsuccessful at this though, probably for a lack of trying. At least I can have a decent beard on him. You also get to select three pitches to throw, I pick fastball, change-up, and slider.
After that, I have to pick which Major League organization I'd like to be a part of. My favorite team is the Chicago Cubs so I select them. Of course, you don't start playing for the Chicago Cubs right away, but are placed in their farm system. Supposedly I was scouted really well though and was not only drafted in the first round, but was placed in their AA club, the Tennessee Smokies. This means I get to skip any rookie leagues and even single A league. Nice! The narrator even hints I might be able to skip AAA altogether and go straight to the Majors!
Instead of starting a game or attending practice, I'm immediately thrown into one of the game's challenges, a clutch moment. My team is winning 1-0 in the top of the 9th inning and there are two outs with a man on first. It is my job not to let him score. If I do that, I'll get three times the number of skill points. Wasn't the whole reason I picked a starting pitcher role was so I could avoid these kinds of situations?!
I don't even know how to pitch in MLB 2K10, so the game shows me a quick tutorial. You have to aim the pitch with the right thumbstick and then "gesture" with the right thumbstick. So for a fastball, first I press down on the stick and then up, a change-up is the opposite, and a slider is almost like a Street Fighter move. Timing is very important with the right stick though, it might take a while to get used to this.
My first pitch goes in the dirt, but then the batter hits a slow roller on the second pitch and we win the game. For winning my first clutch moment, I get 250 skill points, and then another 45 for not letting the runner score. It also looks like I earned another 115 just for performing the moment? Oh, nope, just the 250 plus 45.
So that was relatively simple, after the game, I get to see some of my goals I need to accomplish to make the Big Leagues: I need to improve my pitches and make at least five starts. I check out my skill points and while I have 1500 skill points to spend, improvements cost anywhere from 110 to 2000 points! Well, I need to have two pitches rated at 60+, so let's see about putting some points into my fastball. Oh, but I also need to improve my stamina and composure, where to put the hard-earned points...?
I decide to spread the points out across my pitching skills, which increases my "overall score" a few points to 62. An interesting thing is I can put points into batting, fielding, and base running too, they have their own point buckets too, that's nice.
Time to play my next appearance, my first goal is to strike out the side. Dude, I've only thrown two pitches! How do you expect me to strike out the next three batters? This isn't actually a clutch moment though, this is the first inning of my first real start. Well, the first batter out lines out to third, I fail the goal, but still receive 15 skill points for getting him out. My goal adapts now to just getting the next batter out. Pretty cool. He gets a hit, so now my goal is to induce a double play.
What I don't get is why the baseball diamond legend is upside down when the ball is in play? It doesn't seem obvious why they would do this. Just because the pitcher is looking at home plate from "the top" doesn't mean flipping the diamond is intuitive. I'm actually a bit confused now.
After the inning, the game sims the next half-inning and then I'm back to pitching. The first two men get on, and my pitcher starts to lose confidence. The aiming reticule is jumping all over. I manage to get out of the inning though collecting skill points while not actually completing any goals.
Oh, I'm at bat! This is going to go badly. My goal is to simply get a base hit. How about making contact? Or not peeing my pants? He just throws me heat and my first two swings are very late, but then I ground out to the second baseman. Oh well.
The game continues on, and at my next at-bat, I actually get a hit and drive in a run! Now I'm running the bases and learn the basics of leading off, stealing, and sliding. My goal is: None. I guess the game doesn't want me to try and steal. Before I can do anything though, the guy after me hits a pop-fly.
I suddenly can't do anything right on the mound, and they take me out after I give up five earned runs. I did take in 350 skill points, not that great honestly.
Oh man, my ERA needs to be under 4.50 to be called up, it's at 10.39 right now!
My second game is going a lot better than the first, you get lots of points for not giving up hits and runs! That seems to be the key, heh. I end up throwing all the way to the 8th inning only giving up one run, it looks like I'll take the loss, but my team scores three in the bottom of the ninth and the Smokies win! I don't get the win personally though. I cash in 825 skill points.
The no decision brings my ERA down to 4.38! Wow, that's a big swing in one game.
Before my next game, I need to participate in a training drill. There are six options across pitching, batting, and base running, but I'll stick with improving my pitching. Dang, I'm just supposed to place pitches and I end up failing the drill. That was really quite hard considering I don't have fine-tuned control over my pitches yet.
I finally win my fourth game even though I give up five runs. Phew. I also get two hits myself and drive in a few runs. After my fifth start, that's the required number to make the Majors, but I've got a long way to go before I've got all the stats and experience I need to make it. My bar is only about one-fifth full.
My sixth start really puts me in the green zone though, I throw a complete game shutout and get a ton of skill points. I am now lacking in only two areas to reach the Major Leagues: I need to get my opponent batting average down along with my walks/hits per inning (WHIP). My next few games go okay, but I'm still giving up too many hits and runs to knock my ERA and WHIP below the required mark, just one great game will push me over the edge!
Of course, that one great game never seems to come. I was 3-3 early on, but near the end of the season had fallen to 3-8. While all my other goals were still at target, I just could not get my WHIP down. I finished out the season letting the computer simulate my last game, you don't get as many skill points, but at least it improved my stats a bit.
The Cubs could see my potential though, and at the start of the 2011 season invited me to spring training. This meant I got to play with the regular starters and pitch against major league talent. While the games here wouldn't affect my WHIP, I could still earn skill points. After getting pulled in the fourth inning on my first start, I decide to notch the difficulty down from Pro to Rookie. There's only so much of a beating I can take.
Playing in the Majors, whether it was just spring training or not, really helped my game though. While playing in AA, there are no announcers, so you don't have any insight on what's going on or what might be going through the batters' heads. But as soon as you play that first game with the Cubs, all three announcers, Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk are all there ready and willing to give you as much information as possible. Suddenly I was gleaming gems like throwing down and away doesn't let the batter drive the ball. Why isn't this on in AA? It would have helped so much.
I also turned on pitch analysis after every pitch. Turns out when I thought I was near maxing out my timing, I was actually overthrowing a bit and it gets clocked down to 75% power. This is generally not good and I figured out it's actually better to underthrow a bit than try to MAX out every time and consistently overthrow.
Rookie mode was a lot better to me, and I ended up going 5-1 during spring training. I figured my 2.00 ERA would impress the Cubs management so much that they would immediately promote me, alas, it was back to AA once the real season began.
I wanted to reach the Show the right way, so I set the difficulty back to Pro and buckled down hard. I picked my pitches carefully and prayed that my outfielders would actually dive for the ball sometimes to save a hit, and after a few games tearing up the minor leagues, I was welcomed back to the Majors and the Chicago Cubs as part of their starting rotation. I figure I played at least 15 games to reach my goals and accumulate enough skill points to dominate AA, a pretty good number of games if you ask me. Definitely seems like it would be possible to reach it quicker if you knew what you were doing.
What was awesome: Pitching is a blast and a great evolution from my Bases Loaded days, or even MVP Baseball 2005. I was actually sweating when it was near the end of the game and there were two men on and my pitcher couldn't keep his composure down long enough to properly pick his pitch. It was intense and I really felt like I was in the game during those moments. If the pitching could use anything, it would be the option to throw a practice pitch whenever you want to get a sense of how long you have to perform the gesture. If you go from a heated end of a game right to starting a new one, you'll be under-timing your pitchers as you're still feeling the really fast gesture from before.
Generally, My Player mode is very fun and focused. It's great to get a hit sometimes when up to bat and have the camera follow you around the bases. It almost feels like I'm playing a baseball MMO where I control just my character.
What I liked: The announcers, when I actually got to hear them in My Player mode, were really, really good. I'm not sure if I've ever heard three announcers in one game before, but these guys really keep the conversation moving and since there are three voices, you don't hear the same lines repeated as often. Of course, it would be great if they had let you listen to them during AA ball too, at least have the option.
What I didn't like: Since I haven't played a baseball game in a few years, it feels like 2K10 has reached some sort of uncanny valley of sports game. The more realistic the game becomes and the more it tries to mimic a live broadcast, the more things stand out as being really wrong. The game's animations need a ton of work. For one, there doesn't really seem to be a round-a-base animation, they just go from running at it and then suddenly turn 90 degrees to keep going. Baseball games have almost always been like this, but now that it feels real, it looks really dumb and out of place.
Another thing that bugged me is that at the end of a game in My Player mode, the camera focuses on your character, but unless you were following the box score between innings, you would have no idea if your team had just won or lost. Is he happy there? Is he smiling? No, he's just staring off into the distance looking like an idiot. If 2K just spends a few months cleaning up the animations and presenting the game properly, it'll do a lot for the series.
Gameplay: Pitching is deep fun, but it's hard for me to comment on anything beyond that since My Player was a starting pitcher. Seems like a no-brainer for a baseball fan without a PlayStation 3.
Fun Factor: I will admit, this game was very up and down for me. Since I was so focused on getting my WHIP (walks and hits per inning) down to under 1.45, every single bloop single tormented me. I didn't even care about winning the game anymore, I just didn't want to give up any hits. It really frustrated me and I wish the goals were a little more flexible. Heck, I had a 2.00 ERA in the Majors during spring training, that should count for something.
Graphics and Sound: Could use a total animation redo, but all in all, the game looks and sounds really good. The trio of announcers were top notch.
Would I keep playing? I'm not going to play this game enough to take my character all the way to the Hall of Fame, but I'll probably stick it out for a few seasons. It's great that you can simulate as much as you want any time you want, so once I'm sick of the game I'll probably simulate the rest of my character's career and see how far he went.