Major League Baseball 2K7 Review
It's no secret that last year's MLB 2K6 was riddled with a bunch of problems that prevented the game from being anything other than ordinary. Because of a time constraint to launch on a new console, Kush was unable to release a product that was worthy of the gamer's attention. But now with more time to spare, experience at hand, and a list of improvements desired, did Kush Games manage to put out a sim that is worth your cash? Eh, it's hit-and-miss. With the reigning champ of baseball games being Sony's MLB franchise thanks to its superb A.I. and balance, Kush needed to make sure that MLB 2K7 stepped up to that. And unfortunately, it doesn't.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe MLB 2K7 is 'unbalanced', and that's a word you're going to see me repeat often in the review. The game continues to be homer-happy and at random moments, too. Often times games will slip away from you, even though your pitching accuracy and strategy remains precise. And it's this sort of unbalance that turns everything upside down all in an instant, no matter what difficulty you're playing on.
For example, you may find yourself playing a perfect game - you're up 7-0, it's the top of the 9th and you're on the mound. You've got a fresh pitcher whose mindset is clear, and his arm is healthy. Next thing you know, a line drive and a man's on base. It doesn't end there, despite your cleanest efforts the A.I. is suddenly juiced and on the next batter...a homerun. The next few batters make their way to the base, and hey...a grand slam. One more seals a 7-7 tie, and the next thing you know you're diving into another 5 innings of play, without a single hit or homerun in sight. It isn't until an error occurs, after a hit, that you score a run, and the frustration finally ends.
Now, don't think that this is a single occurrence, either. There have been plenty of other times where the CPU caught-up to a wide lead, and it's usually after the first half of play. I've encountered the sudden spurts across all difficulty levels, and it's more prone to occur in the harder ones. Customizing the difficulty creates a slightly more balanced and realistic game, where as the standard difficulties are either too easy, moderate, or too punishing. Additionally, you may notice that if the A.I. climbs a wall to rob you of a homerun...they'll be successful at it most of the time. I've never seen so many consecutive homerun thefts in a baseball sim. In fact, I've yet to see a single one get dropped, and I even managed to have 3 stolen from me within four innings.
There are a lot of issues with the game's A.I. that you'll be able to correct by spending a bit of time fine-tuning MLB 2K7's difficulty, by adjusting not just general aspects of the game, but in-depth aspects too. If you tweak around with the A.I. settings long enough, you'll be able to get rid of a number of dumb quirks that the game has - although a bunch will remain, so the experience continues to be far from perfect.
As a tip, it's best to not listen to the catcher A.I., and regulate throws manually with the right analog stick. When you disable the catcher's suggestions, you'll be able to control the placement of the catcher's hand, as he anticipates your throw, by using the right analog. Once you've chosen your throwing territory, begin your pitch. The game does a good job of explaining control of the pitch, which is a plus. Likewise, the game also does a solid job of explaining the batting game. If tips are enabled, a pop-up will likely appear showing you a tip; the tips usually occur when the game senses lackluster performance.
Controlling the fielders seems to be a bit of a hassle. Overstepping/missing the bag for an out will happen frequently, so prepare yourself. Catching a high fly-ball is sloppy, as players make jerky, last second catches - instead of locking onto the ball's sight and catching it with confidence. These sorts of things begin to remove you from the game, and suddenly you don't feel like you're playing a product that's very polished. Certain aspects of the game need to be a bit more automated, such as catching fly-balls.
Players should get locked into a position before a ball is caught and call the catch by signaling out to surrounding outfielders. Otherwise what happens is another fielder gets too close, and if the catch is jerky, the player may drop the ball by accidentally bumping the nearby fielder. The more you play MLB 2K7, the more you'll begin to notice dumb mishaps that should've never existed in the first place.
If you can look past the issues, MLB 2K7 continues to offer a bevy of gameplay modes and options that the franchise has always delivered. You have the standard season, exhibition, franchise, situation, GM career, Home Run Derby, Manager Situation, and Tournament. The game also has online gameplay, but it's not an experience you're going to enjoy very much. Online games are marred by lag, as batting and pitching simply share very little consistency. For instance, because of the speed a ball travels at, any minimal amount of lag will wreck the balance of your game, causing you to miss a swing no matter how perfect your timing is. Basically, latency renders online games useless a majority of the time. Lastly, you'll also have a plethora of options to tinker with, including a bunch of management stuff too.
The controls are fairly standard, the face buttons represent each base on the diamond, so hitting Circle will throw to 1st, Triangle to 2nd, etc. Pitching requires a timed double tap and batting can be done in three different ways. You can set to use either the SixAxis' motion sensor, swing stick, or classic method (X button). Surprisingly, SixAxis controls work very well. The angle and force of your motion will determine the ball's recoil. The swing stick also works fairly well, but it will take time to adjust to. Of course, with all three batting methods you'll be able to control where you want to hit the ball...which I don't believe is exactly the most proper way of doing a batting system.
Ball control should be determined more by pitch type, with less influence from the batter. I noticed proper manipulation of the batting mechanics will often yield a high fly-ball (homerun or pop)...and grounders altogether aren't that frequent in the game, unless you purposely attempt one. And unless your grounded ball rips down the middle where someone can't get to it right away, the infield A.I. will continuously send you back to the dugout. Thus, you start aiming to the skies, and suddenly MLB 2K7 loses more of its balance. In other words, you can exploit the batting game when you figure out the mechanics.
If you're an MLB purist and don't want to be constantly frustrated by a game's weird antics, then I would hold off on MLB 2K7. You can get a decent game out of 2K7 if you spend a lot of time tinkering with the horde of options the game has. But despite the options, you will see a ton of flaws and off-balanced gameplay from time to time. On top of that, the online has been pretty useless during every game I've attempted to play; and it isn't an issue on my end, as plenty of others have reported the same.
Visually, MLB 2K7 isn't the tour de-force it appears to be in the screenshots. While yes, the players are well modeled, a lot of them don't resemble their real-life counterparts very well. Aside from good depiction of each athletes build, the faces are mediocre at best. There's just something lifeless and flat about them that really dampers their look.
In addition to that, field detail is downright poor most of the time. When batting or pitching, the grass has this blurry and smeared look to it that makes it look like one flat texture; that can be attributed to poor use of mip-mapping, because when you're looking at replays, the field looks fine. The depth of field perspective that this game attempts to use is embarrassingly bad. Instead of featuring a smooth transition between foresight and hindsight, it's just a sharp line that breaks up the screen and what you see is tons of Vaseline-like blur to cover up the background and then the foreground.
And then there's the way the game runs, the framerate, the aliasing, and the animations. First, this game could use a little bit of cleanup, as it looks a little jaggy in parts. On top of that, there are some poor animation issues, and the players exhibit jerky transitions from one animation to the next -- you'll notice this in replays. But worst of all, the framerate is horrendous. When in action, the game chugs at around 20-25 frames per second. This is immediately noticeable when the camera is flying around the stadium and panning to different locations and the screen will stutter constantly. Stadium detail is ok, I suppose, I didn't notice anything worthwhile; but the crowd continues to look bland.
The audio is decent. There's a soundtrack in the game that can be heard during the menu screens and in the stadium during the game. But the most important aspect is the commentary, which is performed by Joe Rogan and Jon Miller. There's quite a bit of dialogue exchanged between the two of them, but the play by play isn't always up-to-date on the game. Occasionally they'll announce a pitch before its even thrown, or talk about a play that the game has already moved on from. Inconsistencies like this tend to remove you from the experience, but they're not that common. After a few matches, you'll begin to hear some of the same commentary - but there'll still be plenty you haven't heard the more you play with/against other teams.
At the end, even though this has been a largely negative review, I'm won't suggest not playing MLB 2K7. I had quite a bit of hope for the game, and so my expectations from Kush Games were too high. While the game is largely improved over its predecessor, it still manages to feature more than a chock full of issues and quirks that really worsen the experience. The A.I. can be dumb, but at the same time make superhuman maneuvers, controlling the fielders can be messy, the balance is quite screwy, and the game will require a lot of time spent adjusting options in order to make balance better, but still not great.
Visually it's disappointing, as the field detail and the framerate are the worst offenders. Lastly, the commentary is just barely acceptable, but may get repetitive sooner than you think. Go out and give MLB 2K7 a rental and see if you like what you're playing. If not, then wait for Sony to release MLB 07: The Show in April, or pick up the PS2 version now.
3/18/2007 Arnold Katayev