I’m going to get something off my chest right out of the gate: I haven’t been a fan of baseball nor baseball videogames for the last decade or so. Watching the game can be downright boring, and playing a virtual representation seems to result in little more than timing mini-games and a few button presses.
Then along comes Visual Concepts’ MLB 2K10. For the first time since I last held aloft a piece of lumber, here’s a video game that actually made me feel like I was playing the game again. Everything feels crisp, clean, and connected – as if you are actually on the mound dueling with the batter, desperately trying to keep the sweat out of your eyes as you look down another full count with the bases loaded.
The presentation of the 2K10 is spot on, from the commercial bumpers during the telecast, to the voiceovers calling the shots during the games themselves. Having spent enough time running bases and trying to make double plays, I have yet to hear a repeat canned soundbite, which was a great surprise and welcome change from previous years’ entries. You get the best of both worlds from Visual Concepts’ setup – all of the stats and random personal facts that hardcore hardball fans crave, but enough of the “seen on TV” presentation that it flows wonderfully into you actually stepping into the batter’s box to see just how far you can crank that sliding fastball.
Your options for gameplay seems to have improved significantly as well. You can play any MLB game currently being played, or set up to be played on a specific day through MLB Today. It’s always fun to see if you can do a better job than the big boys at there own game (or feel as humbled as they do when things don’t exactly work out the way you wanted them to). Home Run Derby is included, and is pretty much exactly what it claims to be: hit homers, anything else is an out, get the most points. My Player is the heart of the game, and you’ll definitely find yourself spending the majority of time grinding away through this mode. You create a rookie phenom, pick your favourite franchise to be drafted into, and then set off to try to become an MLB legend.
Skill points are awarded just about every time you hit the field. Hit a single, and you get points for hitting. Make an assist, and you get points for fielding. Cross home plate with a run, and you get points for baserunning. Strike out the side, and you get points for pitching. You can see where this is going. There are special objectives and clutch situations which provide extra points: you might be called upon to record an out in under five pitches, or work a hit-and-run when standing on first. You take part only in the plays that your player is involved in, which allows you to zip through entire seasons while still playing nearly every game on the schedule.
However, all the action you see depends on the position you choose, of course. If you play a pitcher, you’re right in there with every toss from the mound, and you can even get called up to the majors after making a measly five starts in AA. If you assume the role of a catcher (my personal choice, as that was my position back in the day), you just take your at-bats and step into the field every now and then to try to pick off steals for second, or bunts for easy outs at first. Unless you’re completely committed to your role, you will get tired of seeing the same few animations repeated over and over. Still, the role-playing aspect is superb, and you’ll find yourself feeling a real team vibe.
My Player is not only addictive – you can actually see your player working their way up with each improvement you give to their stats, adding a very nice RPG element to an otherwise good sports game – but very unforgiving at the same time. Especially if you choose anything other than a pitching role. The game becomes very tedious trying to fill out the criteria for being called up the majors. Want a power hitter but not too interested in a Willie Mays Hays? Good luck, because you need to get your baserunning speed up to 65 before a call will come down from any GM for you. This system needs a little tweaking, but overall there’s a lot of potential for something great over the next season. As long as the balancing act is polished up for next years’ release, My Player has the potential for drawing you in and keeping you there for a long, long time.
Visually, the game is beautiful. Player models are spot on, and facial expressions are not only visible this time around, but actually reflect what’s going on during the game. Pitcher has the bases loaded? Not only will you see a reaction on the player model, but you will feel the intensity as your controller vibrates to show how much pressure you’re actually feeling. This definitely makes controlling your pitches more difficult, but adds to the realism of the game – you have to line up where you want your pitch to end up while you’re setting up, then have to lock in your context-sensitive pitch. If you make a messy stick-move, or enter it too fast or too slow, you could throw it in the dirt or into the umpire’s face. This really adds to the dynamic of the pitcher-batter duel, and draws you even further into the game, allowing you to glimpse what it would actually be like to be out there on your own.
A few aspects of gameplay feel off though. At the default slider settings, everything in the field is too frantic when you’re out there, which comes as a bit of a shock when compared to the duel between pitchers and batters. Speed isn’t so extreme that you can’t make plays, but ball and player movements have been accelerated so that catches and throws often look unrealistic. Weird animations make this effect worse. It’s just about impossible to steal a base with anyone but the best runners in the MLB. You have to get off to a perfect jump: go a split-second early, you get picked off. A split-second late, and you’re gunned down by a throw that always seems to be dead. It’s immensely frustrating, particularly when you’re doing baserunning drills early on with a My Player prospect.
But these problems pale in comparison to issues with online multiplayer. The games are lag-filled, and seemingly impossible to get into, and if you do manage it, expect your opponent to quit out on you at the earliest opportunity.
MLB 2K10 is a very good baseball game but still needs to be refined in a number of areas, which keeps it from knocking the ball out of the park. Even still, the franchise has certainly taken a huge leap forward and sets the stage for next year’s game to make a legitimate run for the title.