Spring Training has begun, and with it comes the release of the newest versions of the baseball video games. The two major games releasing in early March are Sony’s MLB 09: The Show and Visual Concepts’ Major League Baseball 2K9. This past weekend, 2K Sports lifted the media restriction on gameplay videos for its newest baseball game, and various sites have since released a number of gameplay videos for people to view.
After watching all of the videos that have been released, it is apparent that Visual Concepts has improved the game drastically this year. But, while there are many positives to be derived from the gameplay videos, the game is not yet perfect. With that being said, here are a few positives and negatives I have noticed in the beta videos of MLB 2K9.
Major League Baseball 2K9 is set for release in a mere two weeks.
From the real-world presentation and graphics, to the refreshing new commentary team, to the new practice mode, there appears to be a lot to like in this version of 2K Sports’ annual baseball title.
The real-world presentation that Visual Concepts first mentioned in the initial feature list is what I was most interested in this year. After seeing the feature in the gameplay videos, it appears that Visual Concepts has an amazing feature in its game. It adds much more than I would have imagined to the presentation of the game, especially when the camera pans out to show the entire field and the players running towards the dugout. With all of the cuts between the dugout and players on the field, I really get the feeling that I am watching a televised broadcast of a live game, which immerses me in the game more than ever before.
After experiencing last year’s mostly reused dialogue from MLB 2K7, the new commentators, Steve Phillips and Gary Thorne, are a welcome and refreshing change for the series. Thorne does an excellent job with play-by-play in the game, and Phillips chips in at just the right time with interesting tidbits about certain specific aspects of the game, such as a lefty pitcher on the mound facing an offense with lots of left-handed hitters. While the commentary may become repetitive partway through the season, it sounds much more fluid than in previous years, and gives the user the feeling that Thorne and Phillips are actually discussing the game with each other, instead of simply repeating lines of dialogue.
The practice mode looks like it will be an invaluable asset to players. Last year, it was relatively difficult to pitch successfully right away. While there was an included pitch tutorial accessible at any point in the game, this practice mode looks to be even more refined -- the added option of easier pitching controls also helps. Including batting, fielding and running practice modes also ensures that consumers will be able to refine any aspect of the game that is difficult for them.
While there is a lot to be excited about, there are some causes for concern for MLB 2K9.
What Is Not?
For all of the positives listed about MLB 2K9, there are still some rough spots in the title. The good news, though, is that compared to previous years, many of the potential negatives about the game -- at least from watching the videos -- seem to be fairly minor; and in some cases, they may be nonexistent by the time the game is in stores.
Questionable Animations and Frame Rate
There is no question that Visual Concepts has been busy trying to clean up a lot of the issues that plagued the game a year ago. However, some animations still seem to be lacking, which hurts the game’s fluidity and overall appearance. Obviously, the signature animations are rendered beautifully; however, one of the most noticeable animation glitches occurs between the batter’s pre-pitch routine and when he is waiting for the pitch. In between these two animations, there seems to be a transition missing. Because of this missing transition, the batter appears to snap into a hitting position, briefly interrupting the seamless presentation the game offers.
There also seems to be a slight frame rate drop after the ball has been hit and the camera is focusing on the fielder making the play. If Visual Concepts can make the batter transition and fielding a bit smoother before the game is in consumers' hands, it will make the gameplay much more enjoyable.
The Same Unrealistic Bat-on-Ball Contact Sounds
For the past few iterations of the MLB 2K series, the sound of the ball hitting the bat has been jarring. The current sound does not sound accurate when compared to real-world bat-on-ball contact. It instead sounds too loud and somewhat hollow. It is surprising that this has not already been worked on considering that many fans have complained about this sound for a few years now.
A Pitching Visual Aid That Detracts From the Presentation
This is a cosmetic annoyance rather than an actual problem with the gameplay. It is unfortunate that MLB 2K9 looks so good in so many ways, and yet the developers cannot make the pitch graphic smaller when the user is pitching. Maybe in a future version of the game there will not be a visual indicator when the user is pitching? Instead, the game could still incorporate the right-stick pitching controls, but after the pitch has been thrown, there could be an indicator that shows how accurate the motion was. In theory, this could work something like the batter’s-eye information available in MLB 09: The Show, where the user can check information about how accurate a swing was after each pitch. Either that, or simply making the on-screen visual aid smaller would likely enhance the realistic presentation of the game.
Will MLB 2K9 be able to stand alone and be a very quality title this year? We will find out soon!
Unfortunately, I have not been able to sit down and play MLB 2K9. However, for all intents and purposes, the gameplay videos that many media sites have been releasing for a few days now should give some hope to baseball fans. MLB 2K9 looks to be much improved over last year’s version, and kudos is in order if Visual Concepts can resurrect the flailing baseball series this year. If VC can fix a few of the issues apparent in the beta version of the game before the game is released in March, MLB 2K9 could return to its former glory.