Reviewed: March 18, 2009
Released: March 3, 2009
Baseball season is upon us again! Japan just won the World Baseball Classic again. Major League Baseball teams are deep into Spring training again. The grass is coming in and the leftover hot dogs from last season are still in the cooker.
Major League Baseball wisely has chosen not to go the “exclusive license” route, so we have plenty of baseball games for everyone. The arcade fans will love The Bigs, Wii fans have their backyard series, and purists have 2K, The Show, and several management simulations. This is the way sports licenses should be.
Visual Concepts once again delivers some nice eye candy in Major League Baseball 2K9. It's getting more and more difficult to pick a “best” game from the group. MLB 2K9 offers an improved lineup of game modes, improved graphics and a new broadcast team, which brings it closer to Sony's MLB The Show.
Game modes include Franchise, Post season, Home Run Derby and Practice. It's a basic self-explanatory list. Jumping right to the post season is a new option this year. There is a long list of options to make the presentation incredibly close to watching a game on TV, or you can cut things way back to just play the action.
Franchise mode includes new MLB.com presentations. The players have “ambitions” now which will effect how happy they are with your coaching decisions. There are also a lot more options to customize the CPU ability to make your games more competitive to your skill level.
Teams include all 30 current Major League Baseball teams, the NL and AL Stars, and teams of AL Classic and NL Classic players. Also included are all 30 licensed AAA minor league teams. The AA and A teams are included… sort of. The Minor League A and AA can only be seen in Franchise Mode but only in the form of seeing a schedule and rosters. You can’t actually play with the teams which is unfortunate.
Minor League AAA games are played in small generic stadiums without a TV presentation voiceover. You just get the stadium announcer and crowd noise. The names are announced over the PA system.
Xbox Live includes ranked quick match, exhibition, card battle, home run derby, and leagues. Additionally you can share your rosters with 2K Share and your highlights with Reel Maker software which is now included in the game (it was a DLC on some previous 2K efforts).
There are minor graphical improvements here and there in 2K9. The improvements can be found mostly in the presentation, which closely mirrors a TV show. The new Virtual Director allows for various camera placements. The Atmosphere such as lighting, umpires and coaches bring a new level of realism to the experience. Fans wear the jersey of their favorite team and it's very difficult to pick out the cloned fans in the crowd. Fans even react to foul balls.
There are some graphical annoyances such as the dirt clouds. At first I thought Visual Concepts were trying to do some kind of lens flare effect, but the brown clouds of dirt didn’t make much sense. There was just something very unrealistic about them that made the effect annoying. Additionally there are times when the CPU makes some colossally stupid throws – particularly throwing to 1st or 3rd base, which often sends the ball into the dugout.
2K9 chose a new commentary team this year and they chose very well. Gary Thorne provides play-by-play and Steve Phillips is the color commentator. You may remember Thorne’s excellent broadcasting from NHL games a few years ago. Since the NHL basically imploded and are now relegated to local sports channels, Thorne has been more often heard as a baseball announcer. Unfortunately the announcers are the only part of MLB 2K9 that undoubtedly beats The Show.
MLB 2K9 comes with a basic 14-page manual. There are a whopping 50 achievements available for 1000 points. As with most games, the majority of them will be unlocked without too much effort in the normal course of playing a season. Hitting 3 or 4 homers in a game isn't that difficult on the easy setting. However the “Grand Poobah” award of 150 points for unlocking all the achievements is a bigger challenge left only for the die-hard baseball fan.
Downloadable content from Xbox Live currently only includes some free videos. Considering 2K was a major sponsor of the World Baseball Classic, I expected their to be some downloadable WBC teams. No such luck. Living Rosters on Xbox Live keeps your roster up to date. The rosters are automatically updated behind the scenes so you'll never miss a trade or injury.
MLB 2K9 is improving. It seems to be a best fit for someone who is a casual fan. Not really an arcade game fan, but not a super die hard simulation fan either. 2K does a commendable job bringing some needed improvements to the series, however any real baseball fan will find Sony's MLB The Show a far better experience.