The BIGS 2 Review (Xbox 360)
While most people have never heard of it, there is an actual sport called chess boxing. In it, athletes alternate between pummeling their opponent in the ring and outwitting them on the chess board. To win, one must possess both quick reflexes and a strong strategic mind.
While having nothing to do with chess boxing, The Bigs 2 requires the same skills. It demands continuous thought and lightening-quick reflexes, the first a rarity among arcade sports games.
And from first pitch to last out, this game is one of the most fun baseball games I’ve played in a long while. Unfortunately, some aspects are a bit flawed, which detracts from an otherwise stellar title.
The Bigs is a good title with just a few nagging flaws.
The Bigs, Part 2
For the uninitiated, The Bigs 2 is an arcade baseball title that seeks to break the game down to its most exciting plays: clutch pitches, long home runs and spectacular fielding gems. It doesn’t eschew the fundamental rules of the game, or add ridiculous concepts like punching base-runners like in MLB Slugfest. Actually, there may be one "ridiculous" concept that I’ll discuss later, but nothing on the field is absolutely foreign to the game of baseball.
To facilitate these big plays, gamers fill two meters. One is a rather standard turbo meter, like those found in most arcade sports games. To build this meter, you either need to throw strikes or take balls. I wish there were other ways to build turbo, such as "three up, three down," but as is, it puts a definite emphasis on the batter/pitcher duel.
This turbo meter can be spent on just about any aspect of the game. Activate it while batting, and your hit will have a little more "pop." It can add heat or movement to a pitch or extra power on a throw. And it enhances the speed of both fielders and runners. The flexibility of the turbo power is pretty remarkable -- as long as you have some, you can always use it to your benefit.
The second meter is the Big Play meter, and it is built up by just about any successful play, from a simple base hit to a spectacular catch. The more impressive the play, the more points that are added to this bar.
These points have a more limited and specific use. You activate this power only when the bar fills completely (think Gamebreakers from the EA Big games). When on defense, this gives you unlimited and more effective turbo during one entire at-bat. If activated when batting, any contact during that at-bat results in an automatic homer.
The building of these points adds a layer of strategy throughout the entire game. It’s important to pay attention to not only your own acquisition of points, but your opponent’s as well. Knowing that your opponent can come back with a big home run when the meter is full should impact your offensive and defensive game plan, as well as your use of turbo.
Big Slam, Small Problems
Unfortunately, my one main issue with the gameplay is closely tied to the Big Play meter. If you wait a bit to spend the power, you can fill a second "level" of this bar. This second level allows for one of the game's numerous mini-games, this one called the Big Slam.
Essentially, four batters each get one pitch in quick succession. For the first three batters, any contact puts them on base. The fourth batter, should he connect, will be rewarded with a grand slam. Knowing your opponent is sitting on four potential and nearly automatic runs can make you nervous, and is another example of how strategy runs deep in this traditional "arcade" sports game.
However, some may find this literal game-breaker a cheap way to amass a lot of runs at once. Again, I don’t see that as a problem, but rather as another layer of depth and as a mechanic that forces you to make strategic choices, again in an arcade-oriented game.
But the problems I do see with this feature are two-fold. First, while pitching against an active Big Slam, you actually only control the pitcher during the first pitch. It seems that the effectiveness of that pitch plays some part in how well the pitcher does after that, but it’s all automatic. I was disappointed that I didn’t have more control throughout the sequence.
The other issue is one that removes this mini-game from the actual dynamics of baseball. It seems that the only at-bat that actually matters is the fourth one. In other words, if the first three batters swing and miss, they aren’t recorded as outs, and the fourth batter still gets a shot at a home run. The best you can do as a pitcher is make all four batters swing and miss, equaling one out. Statistically, I’m not sure what happens to those other players -- they aren’t on base and they aren’t out.
Also, these quick hits won’t drive in other runners or otherwise impact the current game. I understand that this was probably done to keep the drama of the moment intact, but it seems like a sequence too far removed from "normal" baseball. Certainly "arcade" titles can play fast and loose with the rules of a game, but The Bigs 2 seems to pay a great deal of respect to the game throughout. It seems this whole mechanic could have been tweaked to fit better within the context of the actual sport.
There is such a thing as intimidation...this is an attempt.
One Part Strategy...
Still, I haven’t quite scratched the surface when it comes to describing the strategic elements of this game. Every at-bat will have you question whether to challenge a batter or play it safe. Should you rely on your out pitch, or save your pitcher's stamina and mix it up? Is it worth risking a steal to force your opponent to burn some turbo? What about injuries?
Even setting a lineup challenges your ability to manage, as players now affect each other's skills or have other power-ups that change the game. For instance, Chase Utley gets better in the last inning, and Ichiro comes with "built in" turbo. Some players give the the outfielders a speed boost or a power boost to the preceding batter. This whole system is fun to manage and track, and it is a welcome addition to the game.
When it comes to forcing you to constantly think about how you want to play, all of these aspects and more make this "arcade" game rise above even some "sim" games
...One Part Button Mashing
While I’ve outlined the "chess" part of the game, I haven’t mentioned the "boxing" element or quick reflexes needed for The Bigs 2. This game is littered with quick-time events that, while sometimes repetitive, are varied enough to remain interesting. They also fit well within the game.
There are button-pressing events for all aspects of fielding, from pitcher comebackers to catches at the wall. While there are some similarities, each specific event is different and depends on the context of the situation. For instance, an infield catch may have you holding a button for a certain length of time, while a catch in the stands asks you to "balance" a ball using the triggers.
During my time with the game, I got pretty good at these games, to the point where I was surprised when I messed up. That said, the computer doesn’t mess up often either, though, it’s not 100 percent automatic. These "games within the game" are certainly more fun when playing against a human opponent.
Again, aside from issues with how the Big Slam was handled, this is an extremely fun game of baseball on the field. But there are
some other flaws when looking at the auxiliary gameplay aspects in the various modes.
Bigs à la Mode(s)
The main mode is Become a Legend, which sees your player recover from injury, rehab in Mexico, play in the postseason, and eventually make the Hall of Fame. It’s a lot of fun to see your customized player progress through a career, although it’s a career filled with some strange occurrences (again, though, this is an arcade game). A convenient trade, impossible games and some world travel are at once a stretch, and yet they are creative ways to experience various aspects of the game.
You can steal players, but you can only use three stolen players in any one game. On top of that, you don’t have control of who those players replace on your roster. Playing on the Tampa Bay Rays, I was dismayed that if I used three stolen position players, Carl Crawford was dropped from my team, not an unused bench player.
This mode also seems unbalanced. When stealing players, you make your team significantly better than most of the teams you play.
When playing through this mode, losing is not the reason you don't advance, but rather it's because you failed to meet a game's objective, such as record a hit and two RBI with your created player.
Many of my games were blowouts on the Medium difficulty level. There are two difficulty levels above medium, either of which is recommended for seasoned players. You will also be playing games against Hall of Famers in order to gain HOF votes for yourself. These games, compared to the career games, are very hard, which is to be expected. But it is a little jolting to blowout teams consistently, and then struggle to score against the Superstar team.
And, while I think it’s neat that you are playing with a team of potential Hall of Famers (Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, etc.), it’s a little limiting. There aren’t a lot of infielders to chose from, and your starting pitchers are overmatched in most games. Still, these games are a welcome challenge, and it’s fun to see these classic players rendered in this form.
In between games, you’ll increase your skills via some isolated mini-games. These are a fun and quick diversion, and they can be challenging on the first few attempts. That said, there seems to be a very linear way that your character progresses. If you complete all of the challenges, your player will be maxed-out.
I would have liked this mode more if it forced you to decide what skills you deemed important, rather than simply giving you full power in each. However, I assume that’s probably not possible because of the simplified skill system used in The Bigs 2.
He hit that one...but was it a mile?
In various categories, players are given a 1-5 star rating, or, for certain players, Legendary status. While it’s slightly difficult to ascertain the differences between a 3- and 4-star skill rating, you will definitely be able to tell that player apart from one with legendary skills. Those players simply stand out in their various categories. The only problem I see with the Legendary skills is that they seem to have been given out a little too frequently.
Other main modes found in The Bigs 2 include Season, Pick-Up, and Home Run Pinball.
Season mode is enjoyable and interesting, yet feels a bit underdeveloped -- it’s even under the "Extra Game Modes" menu and not on the front-end screen. It’s a standard season mode, with an odd (yet compelling) mini-game for recovering pitcher stamina and executing trades. There’s some limited stat tracking, awards and franchise objectives. I wish the rosters had been expanded, as some of your team’s star players probably start on what’s equivalent to a free agent list. Despite its limited nature, it’s a welcome addition.
I was a little disappointed with Pick-Up mode. The computer randomly pools 18 players, two from each position. When you select one, the other team gets the other player from that position. I would have liked this mode more if there were more players to choose from, so as to have flexibility with defensive positioning. I don’t see a large penalty for playing players out of position, so I would have gladly picked two shortstops and played one at second if that was the best move. Alas, you aren’t given that option -- in fact, you can’t even set your lineup in this mode. This mode would have also been a great online option, but is only available offline.
Home Run Pinball is back, this time with more locales. For me, it’s fleeting fun, but it is fun nonetheless. I can’t see myself spending a great deal of time here unless I was playing against another person. The same can be said for the other mini-games, which are nearly identical to those found within Be a Legend mode.
The Look of Glove
Graphically, this game looks great and has a great style. The gameplay is very cinematic, with high-contrast lighting and a pulled-in camera. The camera isn’t very traditional for a baseball game, but like other areas of this game, I think it works within the context. The rest of the game has a very clean and sleek look. The career movies are very well produced, even if short and only expository. Home run celebrations are quirky and dynamic, although they can be a little repetitive.
The players are a bit more toned down in stature this time around, at least in comparison to the first Bigs. Again, it works. The only complaint here is that some faces don't look like their real-life counterparts.
Overall, this game, despite some flaws, hooked me from the onset. If you go in knowing you are playing an arcade baseball game that’s not attempting to re-create a sim game, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the layers of strategy that appear. Switching between the various game modes, especially playing with others or online, will delay some of the repetitiveness that can plague arcade games. And turning up the difficulty once you have learned the controls will help make the Be a Legend games more challenging (although you may have to turn it back down for the HOF games).
On the Diamond: The continuous strategy, demand for quick reflexes, and rules grounded in real baseball overshadow the occasionally clunky controls. A blast to play with friends or online. Diverse in-game events will constantly have you on your toes.
Graphics: Excellent graphics with very appropriate style. Parks, especially, look and animate well. Players look good for the most part, but some faces are a bit strange or unrealistic.
Presentation: Commentary is OK, but again fits this style of game. Either way, it can get repetitive.
Entertainment Value: With two lengthy modes, Pinball, online, exhibition and plenty to unlock, I think you are definitely getting your money's worth. The whole experience may get a bit repetitive, especially if you are only playing by yourself. Still, there’s a lot to do, and gameplay is probably enough to keep you hooked.
Learning Curve: A helpful tutorial system is in place, as well as a "Strategy Guide" with some hints and suggestions. Some parts of the game don’t seem well documented, such as the in-season trading system, until you are well into the game.
Online: One of the best ways to play. I wish there were more modes, beyond Exhibition and Pinball. Pick-Up mode would especially be fun. Downloadable rosters looks to be an option in the future.
Score: 8.5 (Excellent)