Reviewed: March 19, 2011
Released: March 8, 2011
The MLB 2K series has historically been the industry leading MLB franchise since back in the era when it was a Sega property called World Series Baseball. Since those early days, the franchise has undergone a number of significant changes but has always remained at the top of the hardball heap – partially because of an odd non-first party exclusivity agreement with the MLB which effectively shut down EA’s Triple Play franchise (a response to EA’s NFL exclusivity agreement) but left Sony with the option to start their MLB: The Show franchise. But rather than rest on their “bought” laurels, 2K Sports and Visual Concepts have continued to improve the franchise with unique gameplay tweaks that have kept the game fresh and exciting. |
Before I begin touting the excellent production value and gameplay options, I have to hit on the most irritating feature of Major League Baseball 2K11 – the controls. Veteran gamers know that since the introduction of the dual analog controller sports franchises have fluctuated back and forth between full-analog and button-based controls. The problem with the analog schemes is that they never match the precision and control of the button-based schemes. This year seems to be an “analog year” with both MLB 2K11 and Sony’s MLB11: The Show touting full analog/gesture based input.
I have to admit that I have never been much of a fan of gesture-based input, but in all my years of reviewing baseball titles I have never disliked a implementation of analog control as much as I do with MLB 2K11. This odd gesture-based control scheme is so convoluted and finicky that it becomes a real drag to pitch even a simple inning of hardball. The game does offer a button-based option – which was largely used for this review – but it is overly dumbed-down so much that it undermines the finesse that a good pitching game requires.
The closest example I can give for the gesture based controls is to say that each pitch type is assigned a certain two or three component analog gesture (say: up to quarter-turn left to diagonal down). Problem is, the gestures are unintuitive and don’t seem to resemble the pitches they represent – add to that the fact that that once a pitch starts the game ceases to give a reminder of the pitch’s required gestures and the fact that the sensitivity just seems off – it’s easy to flub up a gesture early on and not know what to do to remedy the inevitable wild pitch.
I pride myself as an accomplished and experienced gamer, and after a solid three hours trying to nail the analog controls, I finally switched to the simple button-based scheme out of disgust. But given the limited nature of the button-based controls, I felt like I was being cheated out of any real strategy my pitching game. OK, now that I have berated that issue enough, let’s talk about the finer points of MLB 2K11.
The production values are absolutely amazing – everything from the visuals to the sound effects, from the menus to the modeling – MLB 2K11 looks and sounds fantastic. In fact, my wife walked in to the room mid-review and at first glance she literally thought I was watching a real game on TV. The commentary is handled by Steve Phillips, Gary Thorne, and John Kruk and is utterly fantastic. I was floored when I heard the commentator remark on my batter’s performance from a prior game. This happened to be with a team I had never played before, so either the comments were complete BS or they were actually pulling the stats from the real-world MLB as part of the Dynamic Player Rating System (DRPS) – either of which is pretty cool.
Speaking of the real-world MLB, one of my favorite features in MLB 2K11 is the MLB Today feature, which keeps track of the MLB schedules and allows gamers to play or simulate actual matchups occurring on each day. For example: log in on say April 28th, and gamers have the option to instantly start playing any April 28th matchup from the actual gaming season. As gamers play, scores from other games are updated in real time – it all adds up to a seamless interaction with the real-world MLB.
MLB 2K11 is not for want of gameplay modes, not the least of which is an intense create-a-player mode called “My Player” which has been greatly improved over the debacle that was released for the 2010 season. Gamers will get to play through a career as their created character – performing all of the batting and any fielding that the player encounters. Pick an outfielder, and games go rather quickly – pick a shortstop and be prepared for a long slog through the season.
The other high-profile mode is the Franchise mode – which is pretty much like any other franchise mode on the market. Additionally there’s the requisite instant MLB Today play, single game, and season modes. All-in-all there are hours of fun to be had with MLB 2K11. I wish I could give a solid recommendation for MLB 2K11 based on the production values alone, but flashy visuals and fantastic commentary do not make up for the flaky control offerings.
If you are a hardcore baseball fan, MLB 2K11 is your only option on the Xbox 360 – so I would suggest checking out a demo or renting the game before signing up for the awkward controls. PS3 owners have the option of Sony’s MLB11: The Show, which seems to be receiving a lot of attention across the Internet – I would suggest checking that out first.