MLB 2K11 Review
For the past several years, Sony’s The Show offering has reigned supreme in the world of baseball simulators. The lone competition, 2K Sports’ MLB 2K franchise, has never quite managed to keep up in terms of graphics, presentation, and AI. Sadly, too many of the same problems exist in this year’s entry, although I will admit the game remains entertaining for those who can overlook a few glaring issues. Playing online was plenty of fun and the inclusion of MLB integration (updated scores and what have you) is a definite highlight, but developer Visual Concepts still needs to iron out a few kinks if they wish to gain an even footing with Sony’s superb series. Still, let’s not forget that you can’t win $1 million for pitching the first perfect game in The Show; that promotion is exclusive to MLB 2K11.
Visually, if we were to compare MLB 11: The Show to this game, it really is no contest. I don’t mean to imply that we see no improvement from last year’s version, though: player detail and design is indeed much better; those who played MLB 2K10 will probably remember the bizarre player likenesses…they were just weird. This time around, character animation is more fluid and realistic, and the developers added a very cool feature that provided every stadium with its own unique camera setup. That being said, there’s a distinct lack of refinement and clarity that we find in The Show and for some reason, I found the overall coloring to be vastly superior in Sony’s effort. Lastly, the presentation still suffers a bit in 2K11; the menus aren’t anywhere near as slick as they could’ve been, and a lot of it just feels/looks clunky. Strides have been made, but they’re not quite there yet.
The sound is fine, as both the effects and soundtrack tend to gel nicely with the style and gameplay. It’s a little different than The Show, although it’s difficult to explain how, exactly; it’s just a slightly different atmosphere and attitude, I think. The background and ambient audio in The Show is definitely better, although 2K11 isn’t without its fair share of sound highlights. I particularly liked how players in the dugout would respond to particular plays; technically, on a visual and auditory level, this is a huge bonus for one seeking the utmost immersion. The commentary isn’t quite as stellar as expected and some of the music selections are questionable but besides that, the game sounds quite good from front to back. It’s not the total package (balance is a tad off, for instance), but it’s close.
My biggest problem with MLB 2K10 was the lack or authenticity in regards to the AI and how players would react in certain situations. At first, it seemed like that problem had entirely disappeared: 90% of pitches thrown aren’t strikes and batters will actually watch a few pitches go by. The computer will also try to get you to chase pitches out of the zone a lot more often, which increases both the challenge and overall realism. Plus, the analog pitching seems to work extremely well and while the hitting mechanic retains a few small eccentricities, the fielding is both intuitive and accessible. In fact, in some ways, I took to the fielding in this game more than I did in The Show; I had a little trouble playing defense in The Show, although I did get better with practice.
I think the analog pitching control in this one isn’t quite as reliable, though. There are times when I felt I was unfairly punished and the analog didn’t respond accurately. I admit a lot of this could’ve been in my head, but it happened often enough to warrant a mention in this review. Secondly, the hitting is just plain iffy. You can use the analog or utilize the face buttons but either way, getting your timing just right can be extraordinarily irritating. And when you try to gain some assistance by enabling an option that allows you to make contact easier, it’s too pronounced; the mechanic becomes too arcade-y. And speaking of arcade-y, I couldn’t help but think some good ol’ rubber-band AI is in effect. I do understand that teams and players can get hot, but after the fifth consecutive hit off my best pitcher, I started to question. I was up 6-1 at the time, by the way.
On top of which, the franchise mode is bland and uninspired. You can take control over just about everything, as you might expect (including all the minor league teams in your organization), but it just feels totally blasé. Looking at the positive side of things, playing with someone else greatly increases the fun factor, and that’s primarily because we get rid of the AI’s extremities. Playing online didn’t pose any problems and in general, it’s just preferable to have a friend over when playing this game. As I said earlier, it really seemed that, at first, the AI issues had been addressed in full. And there’s no denying that your opponents act more like their real-life counterparts; that much is obvious within the first hour of playing. But if you play long enough, a few of those old drawbacks begin to rear their ugly heads. It's unavoidable, really.
At the same time, I did appreciate a few of the subtler features and changes that made the experience worthwhile. The specific talents of most major players are well represented, as faster players will be faster in shagging long flies, and there are flashes of smartness when it comes to both offense and defense. Base-running seems to be a lot better, too, as players will often make good decisions even without direction. Then you’ve got the great MyPlayer mode that has been improved- you can’t advance as quickly as before and most every aspect feels a lot more authentic. From the moment you start, you’ll sort of feel as if you’re on a long road to the top, and that’s most appropriate. At the end of the day, playing through nine innings can be very fulfilling and there’s no guarantee that all shortcomings will be immediately visible.
MLB 2K11 seeks to fix a lot of what was wrong with last year’s effort, and they do succeed in some capacity. The AI has gotten better but there are still obvious instances of stupidity, and while the visuals don’t shine with unparalleled brightness, the detail and animations are markedly better. Pitching is fun and relatively easy to grasp (even if I occasionally felt ripped off by over-competent opponents), playing out in the field isn’t perfect but remains functional, and the MyPlayer and online modes are definite bonuses. But they still need to fix parts of that AI, the graphics just can’t compete with The Show, the presentation and menus remain questionable, and the hitting mechanic needs to be addressed. The latter has fantastic promise but doesn’t really deliver. In the end, it’s fine if you want a shot at winning that million bucks but when it comes to the baseball game of 2011, it’s Sony’s MLB 11: The Show.
The Good: Improved graphics and decent sound. Better AI that makes the game feel more realistic. Pitching control is usually lots of fun. Accurate recreation of specific player skills. Multiplayer is a bonus.
The Bad: Technicals still need a little work. AI can be erratic. Sound balancing seems off. Hitting mechanic is often too frustrating. Franchise mode feels bland and a little boring.
The Ugly: “So…can I get a hit, or not?”
3/15/2011 Ben Dutka