Ahhhhh…the scent of freshly popped popcorn in a box; the loud, distinct call of a food vendor walking up and down the concrete steps; a dad and child catching their first game together; the altogether madness of the 7th inning stretch. With the start of the regular baseball season only a few short weeks away, all of these things are memories that many fans will soon form with the upcoming season and will continue to form over many years as one of America’s favorite past times hits its yearly release and makes its way to our beloved consoles once again.
I’ll lead in with that I’ve never been a huge fan of baseball video games or even watching the sport on television as I’d rather be at the park taking everything in. And just maybe that’s why I decided to give this years MLB 2K12 a try and to not hold anything against a digital version of my childhood memories. I mean, it’s not the developer’s fault that they can’t truly recreate the experience that you get from attending a baseball game, right? With the advances in todays videogames, fantasy worlds and character models, todays videogames have become so lifelike that developers should be able recreate a pretty impressive baseball world without any problems. Maybe, just maybe, 2K has done such a fabulous job of recreating the look and feel of baseball that there’s a slight possibility that I will enjoy my time with the game. After taking a spin with MLB 2K12, I found that 2K did try to recreate the most realistic game possible, but it falls short in many areas that still don’t have me sold on a digital version of baseball.
You’ll find that while the graphics and menus upon entering the game are very pretty, you’ll soon be fairly disappointed with the inconsistent player models and the barely better than PS2 crowd graphics and their crazy reactions. The up-close player models are actually very nice upon first glance, but as I played a little longer and started looking at some of the character details I came to realize that while looking nice the majority of the time, there are intermittent movements and glitches with the character models that just don’t seem right and the models start to look a little ugly. Character models are one thing, but when it comes to the attending crowd you’ll find they are totally wacky. Hit a foul ball into the crowded stands and the crowd reacts as if a rabid wolverine has been unleashed beneath their feet and is causing pure havoc. I hit many a foul ball into the stands and watched in amazement as the crowd not only jumped and reacted before the ball ever got to the stands, but I also witnessed the crowd still jumping and reacting to a ball in the air that had already hit the ground in the stands. I also saw moments of hitting a foul ball towards the stands and having the ball completely disappear from the screen and then having the same crazy crowd reaction as they tried their hardest to catch the invisible ball.
I did find that minus the crazy crowd and awkward player models that the game does lend itself well when it comes to just picking it up and playing. A simple forward flick on the right analog takes a normal cut at the ball, while pulling back and then flicking forward on the analog gives you more of a power swing. It will take you a little time to get the timing down, but you should pick up the batting aspect pretty quick and be hitting line drives in the gap, and slow tappers down the line like a pro in no time.
When switching over to defense and pitching, the controls get a little trickier. Using the left analog allows you to place the ball where you want within the strike zone, while the right analog is used to throw different pitches. A very useful pitch menu showing the different pitches you have access to is up until you decide on the pitch. How you do from there is on your own. There’s a little learning curve to getting the pitching meter correct and it did take me a little longer than I had expected to figure out the timing. Totally screw up the analog motion and you’ll be throwing wild pitches as if they were going out of style. The more time I had with this style of pitching, the better I got at using it. The one thing you will have to watch as you pitch is use a pitch one too many times and that pitches rating and effectiveness drops. Throw a pitch that a batter hits and the rating drops also.
The one major issue I had with how the game controls is when you are on defense and the ball is hit to you. As you proceed to throw the ball to any of the corresponding bases to get the out, a meter appears above your head. As you press and hold the controller button of the base you would like to throw to the meter begins to fill. Queuing up throws will result in a smaller sweet spot and higher risk of error, while stopping to set your feet will usually result in a larger sweet spot and more accurate throw. Let me tell you that you don’t want to land in the red zone and will be painfully hoping you hit a green zone. Land in the green zone and you typically make a beautiful throw to get the out. Land in the red zone and you can pretty much count on making an errant throw. I appreciate what they were trying to do with this function, but it just doesn’t work very well. I can probably count on one hand the times I actually made a good throw for an out and would probably have to take my shoes off to be able to count the number of times I landed in the red zone and made that errant throw.
Another issue I had with the controls happens to be when the ball is popped up for a routine pop fly out. Typically when a ball is hit on a pop fly, the player previously has had time to get under the ball, make the catch and count it as an out. When a pop fly is hit in this game though the player movement seems so slow it’s as if they are wading in mud in the outfield. Even if you get close enough to make the catch and get the out, the player movements are so inconsistent that there’s a possibility you’ll either dive for the ball when you really don’t need to or the player will make a quick step right or left of where they should be, making you miss or drop the ball. While I eventually enjoyed pitching the ball, I absolutely dreaded playing defense when the ball was hit in fear of having to try and catch a ball.
While some of the gameplay mechanics are a little wonky, MLB 2K12 does offer up some pretty nice gameplay modes. Along with the return of The Perfect Game Challenge, MLB 2K12 also includes some notable modes such as the standard Franchise Mode, My Player Mode and MLB Today Season Mode.
In the new MLB Today Season Mode mode, you’ll play an entire MLB season at the same pace as a real MLB team. Using the new MLB Today engine, players can track and compare their stats and record to their real-life counterparts, and play through the team’s games, one game per day. My schedule normally only allows for me to get in one game per day, so I really liked this mode. If I happened to miss a day for some reason and couldn’t get my game in, I didn’t have to worry about going back in and playing that missed game to play catch-up as the system would automatically sim the game for me and has me back on schedule with my real-life counterpart.
The Perfect Game Challenge is being run a little different from previous years. Instead of being a “first to pitch a perfect game wins $1 million”, it’s being run more as a contest this year. In the new format, it contains a universal leaderboard that ranks the top eight perfect games thrown in MLB 2K12, based on pitcher rating and the opponent faced. At the end of the competition, the top eight competitors will face each other in a live tournament, where the winner will receive $1 million. Kind of like a baseball version of Survivor and I applaud them for taking the challenge this route and making it more of a contest to where others have a chance to win.
Overall, MLB 2K12 is a decent game that I’m glad I had a chance to play and review. Even with its weird crowd reactions to foul balls and even weirder character models and movements in the outfield, MLB 2K12 was actually a better game than I had originally expected. Although, it still had been quite awhile since I had played any baseball games on a console and after a few hours of playing I finally realized why it had been so long; it’s just not like being at the ballpark. I applaud the developers for trying to make it feel more lifelike with the advances in pitching control, but that alone is not enough to push it over the top. Given the choice to stay home and play MLB 2K12 or journey to the park and take in the sights and sounds of a real MLB game, I’ll stick to creating memories in real life, not in the digital world.
A copy of MLB 2K12 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review from 2K Sports.