Major League Baseball 2K6 Review (Xbox 360)
Generally, you'd be right. That's about how we roll. But then along comes something like Major League Baseball 2K6 for the Xbox 360, and makes you question your life of game-reviewing adventure. It's times like this you realize that when compared to a buggy, rushed game like this ... well, that razor-edged bowler hat doesn't look half bad.
What's the problem with Major League Baseball 2K6? Let me allow 2K Sports to explain it in their own words: "For those customers experiencing technical issues with Major League Baseball 2K6 on Xbox 360, 2K Sports is aware of the 'freeze' problem some customers are experiencing and is working on a solution. This appears to occur for owners of Xbox 360 with HDD and a solution will be available in the very near future." This simple messageboard post appeared the day after release, and confirmed what a seeming majority of players already knew: 2K Sports has shipped a game that simply does not work. The game freezes into a hard-locked iceberg between innings ... sometimes you can get in an inning or two, sometimes six. Until I removed my Xbox 360 Hard Drive (and later reformatted it), I was unable to complete a single game. I even called Tech Support, which is an absurd enough step for a console game. PC Gaming with its' myriad of components constantly runs into support issues, but the uniformity of a console is supposed to remove all that. I left PC gaming behind largely because I was tired of dealing with tech support … yet here I am, making a long distance toll call to talk to 2K Sports' technical support team. On the day of release, I described my problem, and was told it sounded familiar and they would be publishing something on their website to help those affected. Though they have promised a fix with a variation of the classic programming speak of "Real Soon Now", as of this writing there is still no solution beyond a suggestion to remove or disable the hard drive (or load three other Xbox 360 games before you want to play MLB). Users on messageboards everywhere are scrambling to find solutions ranging from deleting selected files to reformatting (and losing all saves) to removing the detachable hard drive (making the game useless beyond exhibition games). I've spent so much time trying to get the game working that I'm going to refer you to the review Clay Shaver wrote of the Xbox version to get a fuller picture of the options available: I was limited to exhibition games for most of my time with the game because that's all removing the hard drive would allow.
Frankly, it's absurd. 2K Sports has had a history of buggy games, but this takes the cake. It is not an esoteric set of circumstances that trigger this bug, this is a case where most users have bought a $60 coaster. I assume that a patch will be issued on Xbox Live at some point (and hopefully a provision will be made for gamers that can't access the service), but it seems like a case of "too little, too late". This kind of sloppiness and disregard for gamers is simply unacceptable.
The sloppiness doesn't end with the between-inning freezes I've already talked about:
- While tutorial videos are included with the Xbox and PS2 versions, they are nowhere to be found on the Xbox 360. Due to exclusivity deals, many former MVP Baseball fans are trying the series for the first time. Even series regulars will be mystified by all the new mechanics and controls in what is one of the more complicated games on the market. To not take the time to adapt those tutorials, or include any sort of help beyond a sloppily written manual is either stupid, lazy, or indicative of a rush job.
- Every year, baseball game makers have a tough time with rosters, as they need to lock the file at a certain point before opening day. I wish I could say that the dates appeared to be the cause of the dreadful rosters that shipped with the product, but that doesn't appear to be the case. I don't know that I've seen worse rosters in any officially licensed sports game. I can't figure out any date since the Hot Stove went cool that it would have made sense to have Frank Thomas sitting the A's bench, and that's simply one of the more easily pointed out flaws.
- You'd think shaking off the "Curse Of The Bambino" would net you some respect, but that's not the case at the 2K Sports offices. In a blunder that must make the Red Sox Nation cringe, this game can't even get their away uniforms right. I'm not nitpicking about sock length here: the away jersey says "Red Sox" instead of "Boston". It's not a matter of research, because with the MLB license comes a style guide providing the specifications of every uniform in the league. All it takes is some attention to detail ... but when "freezing between innings" is a detail that gets missed, I suppose it's not surprising that accurate uniforms isn't high on the list.
- I generally think that commentary glitches are superficial, and don't really effect the game. At times though, the commentary here is so off that it becomes distracting. After a first pitch strike, the commentary will mention that the player was down 0-2 and knew that pitch was coming. After a nice throw from second to first, the announcers will gush over what a great throw the first baseman made. Announcers will often talk about how a player had no home runs last year, even as the stats show that's not the case. It goes on and on, and at times can pull you out of the game to the point you'll lose concentration.
What makes the freezes and sloppiness all the more frustrating is that I like the game that sits underneath them. If I were treating this as a tech demo or prototype, I'd be excited about where this franchise is going. It's filled with glitches and issues, but when I actually can get a game in, I'm having a lot of fun with this baseball game. Pitching, batting, running, even throwing out runners are all more engaging than in most baseball games. I realize while playing Major League Baseball 2K6 how much watching I do in other baseball games. Like baseball itself, hitting the ball is only the start of the job. There's no time to sit and admire that long fly ball - you need to haul out of the box, manage baserunners, and judge fielder's arms against your speed. The new pitching interface means that you'll carefully manage your effort through the opposing lineup as you work hard through the likes of Albert Pujols, and relax a bit when the pitcher steps to the plate. Swing Stick Batting is a fun new mechanic and while it takes some getting used to, it really gives that feeling of "swinging out of your shoes". Though the "baseball" is suspect at times, the "game" is exciting, involving, and immersive. The player models need a lot of work to be called "next-gen" with suspect faces and a lack of body types that ensure Big Papi is just Regular-Sized-Like-Everyone-Else Papi, but the stadiums and light are fantastic and show the realism we're all expecting from the 360. The animations are limited, but some are breathtaking - I particularly like some of the off-balance throws across the body. It feels like the franchise was almost completely reinvented this year, and while that may have been a bite that was unable to be chewed there is a lot of potential.
Fielding is an area where my initial impulse was pretty negative, but that I've come to enjoy once I stopped comparing it to other baseball games. When playing the field (especially the outfield), momentum and speed are major factors. It's a bit over done, feeling at times like Madden from seasons past where every direction change requires a dig and push from the player. What's enjoyable, though, is that I find myself needing to play smarter. I work on taking better angles, on trying to anticipate a bounce off the wall, and working out where the wind will make a simple fly end up. Like many other things, outfield play is simply more active in Major League Baseball 2K6 than in many other games.
On the field, you'll see puzzling AI. Off the field, you'll see questionable stats and more questionable AI. How much of a problem that presents is up to you: I enjoy seeing boneheaded moves from time to time. Seeing a baserunner caught who's indecisive about turning a double into a triple and getting caught in a rundown is the kind of idiotic AI that I want to see more of in sports gaming. Expert systems that predict the "right" move in any given situation are easy enough, but the next generation should bring is "fuzzy" logic, where bad decisions are made. That's what makes sport so compelling, that's what we talk about the next day: not the well-timed sub of a pinch hitter, but the pitcher left in too long. Lopsided trades and players who take the field in unexpected positions are part of the game. Much of the talk this Spring Training involved the “bad AI” involving Alfonso Soriano: a puzzling trade, a strange change of position, and some inexcusable fielding. Major League Baseball 2K6 pulls too many of these brainlocked moves to maintain a sense of credibility, but I really feel it's more a matter of balance than outright bad code. More often than not, they are following that unwritten book everyone goes by ... just not quite often enough. Though it's often frustrating, it's another area where I see promise for the future of the franchise.
One unexpected delight in this bug-ridden debacle is the online performance of the game. Many will be frustrated by it's pared-down gameplay: cameras can't be adjusted, options like pitching and batting styles can't be changed for each user, cut scenes and presentation are nonexistent, and even some gameplay elements like catcher positioning and "Inside Edge' are missing. It's a streamlined mode, but it works, and works shockingly well. Not only does it not freeze, but I can't think of a sports game with smoother online performance. Online is completely indistinguishable from the offline game, and in baseball - where timing is everything - that's the most important thing. It's a tradeoff I would have taken in the offline game, given the choice: less options, but more stability.
I don't know what happened here, and I really don't care. Did the shifting release dates affect development? Did 2K Sports simply bite off more than it can chew? Did MLB exclusivity make unexpected demands on development? While theories will abound, at the end of the day it is this simple: 2K Sports is charging $60 for a game that does not work. That's inexcusable, and it can’t be looked past. As I look through the OS review archives, I see our lowest score is a 2/10 ... but at least those games didn't crash after 10 minutes of play. I'll give Major League Baseball 2K6 for the Xbox 360 one point for a good tech prototype that contains some interesting ideas, and leave it at that. Perhaps a patch would change this rating, and I may revisit the game at a later date. No patch will excuse what 2K Sports has done here, though.
Update: On April 27, a little over two weeks after release, 2K sports released an Xbox Live AutoUpdate which addressed the freezing issue discussed in this review. While some users still report having issues, and there has been no announcement made of how people who cannot connect to Xbox Live will recieve the updated software, I wanted to adjust the score here to reflect the fact that the primary bug in the game as been fixed. The other issues noted in the review (freezes when logging into Xbox Live if your VIP is the same name as your Gamertag, the Boston uniforms, etc.) still exist, but at least buyers can now play a full nine innings of baseball.