I will be the first person to admit that I was not expecting much out of MLB 2K9 this year. With the development team switch from Kush Games to Visual Concepts, I did not think that there would be enough time for Visual Concepts to take control of the MLB 2K series and turn it around in just one year. While there is still very little information available concerning the game and there is still a month and a half left until the game releases, I am now becoming more intrigued as to what the company has in store for consumers come this March.
Last week, the feature list for MLB 2K9 leaked onto the Web. While there are obviously some spotty areas on the list, the developers look to be focusing more on the core game of baseball and also on the surrounding atmosphere, which is a welcome relief to both baseball fans who only own an Xbox 360, and also those consumers looking for an alternative to the MLB: The Show series.
Real-Time Living World
One of the most noticeable additions to the series, as stated in the feature list, is that of a "real-time living world." One of the faults of the MLB 2K series in the past has been the lack of a true baseball atmosphere. Previous games were marred by instances of the crowd being relatively quiet during a close postseason game, or the winning team overreacting in a regular season game after a shutout has been thrown.
The real-time living world could be very interesting and bring a new level of detail to the game. Instead of a game like MLB 08: The Show, which has excellent presentation but relies on cut-scenes to show batters walking up to the plate, pitchers coming in from the bullpen, and the players running back to the dugout after the inning is over, this list gives the impression that everything will happen around the user without requiring any cut-scenes to show the action. Does that mean the user may not see some actions, or will the user be able to look down the line and see a relief pitcher take off his jacket and begin to warm up at all times?
Also, with the amount of problems MLB 2K8 had with frame-rate stutters, potential consumers will need to see gameplay videos of this "real-time living world" in action before they can decide if it truly is as immersive as the feature list makes it out to be.
Topps Trading Cards Changes
The feature list also mentions some alterations to the Topps Trading Card feature in the game. The system seems to be more streamlined and easy to use, allowing users to unlock trading cards by playing either with or against certain players. Users will also now be able to view their trading cards at any point in the game. Also, like last year’s game, users can create their own trading-card team and compete with it online. What remains to be seen is how stable the online play will be for MLB 2K9. If there are still major problems with the online experience, trading-card teams may go unused for another season.
Core Gameplay Enhancements
Visual Concepts has also apparently made quite a few changes and improvements to the core gameplay: pitching, hitting and fielding.
In MLB 2K8, consumers, in general, either loved the right-analog pitching system, or they hated it. There seemed to be very little middle ground among those who played the game. This year, it seems as though Visual Concepts has recognized this problem. The feature list mentions that VC has improved the pitching system by changing it to two steps: hold and gesture.
It still sounds as if the right-analog system is in place, but now allows for "increased accessibility for pick-up-and-play users." This is a step in the right direction because last year a lot of consumers did not understand the new pitching system, and gave up on it before they had a chance to get accustomed to it.
Hitting has been changed as well for MLB 2K9, incorporating a new zone-hitting system, which is something that fans have been asking about for many years now. In addition, the feature list mentions improved hit distribution, resulting in a wider variety of hits. However, I still have some reservations about this comment because this was promised in MLB 2K8 -- there was more hit variety when compared to the 2K7 version, but there were still not enough extra-base hits, excluding home runs.
Lastly, fielding has allegedly been improved in MLB 2K9. According to the feature list, the fielding A.I. has been upgraded to a point where the specific fielder’s true abilities will be recognized. This leads me to believe consumers will hopefully no longer see unproven rookies making spectacular plays all throughout the game, which would be a welcome change and would add more realism to the gameplay.
Two other major changes to the fielding system, and throwing in particular, pertain to the ability to either quick throw in order to start a double play more quickly or throw on the run, and the ability to hold the ball, which would effectively allow the user to cancel a throw and instead throw to a different destination. Also, while it is not specifically mentioned in the feature list, I was a huge proponent of the meter-based throwing system, and I am hopefulhat it is still in this year’s game because it made throwing seem much more fluid in MLB 2K8.
Overall, the feature list for MLB 2K9 seems to be a large step in the right direction for the series. However, those people who only have an Xbox 360 -- and therefore can only play MLB 2K9 -- may be getting a bit worried about the dearth of pre-release information, screenshots and videos that have been released. For a game that releases in only a month-and-a-half, it is peculiar that the game is not being marketed more heavily. With that being said, more information will hopefully be released after 2K’s other baseball game, MLB Front Office Manager, is released later this month.