Major League Baseball 2K6 Review
All three of the above car brands offer high speeds, smooth handling, and plenty of optional features. The difference between them is that Ferraris and Porsches look sexy, whereas a BMW is typically dull and business-like. That's MLB 2K6 in a nutshell--playable, but not much fun to watch.
In terms of atmosphere, some baseball games have come a long way in the past few years. It's impossible to play EA Sports' MVP 06 NCAA Baseball and not be impressed by what seems to be an infinite variety of acrobatic plays and shotgun throws. Or, consider Sony's own MLB 06: The Show, which set the bar for broadcast flair higher this year, thanks to its snazzy TV style cutaways and seamless play-by-play commentary.
Unfortunately, the one baseball game that didn't receive a personality makeover this year is MLB 2K6. As was the case with MLB 2K5, the same plays seem to happen all the time and the same TV style cutaways tend to appear multiple times through the course of a game (when they appear at all). The play-by-play commentary, contributed by the legendary duo of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, while uplifting, doesn't flow very well and isn't always accurate. Nobody cared much about this kind of stuff a couple years ago, because we didn't really know what developers were capable of. Now that we've seen what EA Sports and Sony can do, a tepid "by the numbers" presentation like this is unacceptable.
Granted, EA swiping the ESPN license out of 2K Games' hands didn't help matters any. The familiar ESPN overlays contributed a good deal of charm to last year's game, as did the "K Zone" and "Web Gems" camera replays. Their absence is sorely missed in MLB 2K6.
Not that the graphics aren't sufficiently crisp. They are, and the animations are nice and smooth too. Stadium models and the majority of player faces and batting stances are right on the money. Although there aren't many TV style cutaways, the few that do appear at least look authentic. Sign and scoreboard textures in the PS2 version are perfectly legible, while they're somewhat blurred in the PSP version. Player uniforms and other stadium structures, however, look perfectly sharp. Once again, the game's problem isn't that the plays and cutaways don't look good, it's that there aren't enough of them and the flashier ones don't happen often enough.
Audio is fine in the PS2 version. All of the sounds of the ballpark are present, including crowd comments and umpire calls. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan don't always do the best job of keeping up with the action, but they deliver a talkative commentary with plenty of player-specific trivia and historical anecdotes. Their commentary is somewhat pared down in the PSP game, mainly in that they don't make specific player references. Incredibly, the PSP game is also totally lacking any crowd comments or umpire calls.
Anyone that plays MLB 2K6 for more than a few minutes will understand, the game just makes baseball seem boring and repetitive (more than it actually is!). It's a crying shame too, because the features and gameplay are first-rate.
There are plenty of play modes to keep a person occupied, including a comprehensive franchise mode and an online mode. Franchise play is "sofa king" sweet, because it offers minor leagues, contract negotiations, and time off schedules. Online play in the PS2 version lets you setup tournaments and leagues. It's a bummer that the PSP version doesn't allow tourneys or league play, but that's about the only feature the handheld game doesn't share in common with its console brother. All of the typical single game, season, and home run derby modes you'd expect to find in a baseball video game are present as well
All of the controls are easy to get the hang of and geared toward simulation-style play. Fielding and baserunning are handled just like they are in every baseball game, except that you can push a button to make the players run faster. The hitting controls in either version of the game let you aim your swing and influence grounders or fly-balls using the left analog stick. In the PS2 version, you can use the right analog stick to actually take your hacks, by pulling down and then letting go. The pitching interface is the most complicated, although it's not terribly difficult to figure out. After you aim and select a pitch, the cursor will grow into a big circle, indicating how much power or break your pitcher is going to put on the pitch. Once you let go of the button, the circle will quickly shrink back into a crosshair and then expand back into a large circle. You want to tap the button when the crosshair is tiny, in order to make an accurate pitch. It sounds complicated, but really it's just a matter of press-let go-tap.
Enhancing the controls in this year's game is a feature called Inside Edge. Like any good baseball sim, MLB 2K6 bases the tendencies that CPU-controlled players have on actual statistical and scouting data. Inside Edge takes this a step further, by giving you suggestions during the game as to what pitches to make, where to locate your pitches, and where the opposing pitcher might place the ball.
Taken together, the various control schemes do a wonderful job of pulling people into the game. Once you figure them out, you'll start to feel like you're the one out there throwing the heaters, making the double plays, and smashing the towering blasts. Of course, none of that would matter if the A.I. didn't play a smart, aggressive game... which it does. Star hitters like Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols will be walked if first base is open. The CPU will try to steal bases when a speedster is on, especially if your pitcher doesn't have much gas. It'll also bunt to advance runners.
A few infrequent, but potentially pesky bugs in the fielding A.I. seem to occur from time to time in the PS2 version of the game. Fielders occasionally won't break for the ball fast enough, or the game won't let you control the fielder even when the circular highlight is around him. If a ball bounces off the wall, the fielder will sometimes ignore it or boot it multiple times before picking it up. These things don't happen often, but they do happen often enough that you'll notice them and perhaps surrender a run because of them. For whatever reason, the PSP version doesn't suffer from these annoyances.
In the offing, 2K Games has made a comprehensive, deep baseball sim that just isn't much fun to watch. The fact of the matter is, unfortunately, that every baseball game out right now is equal with regards to features and gameplay. The ones that go the extra mile are the games that duplicate all of the little plays and all of the myriad broadcast cutaways and replays that fans would see in an actual ballpark or during a major-network TV broadcast. Major League Baseball 2K6, unfortunately, doesn't go that extra mile. As such, it's tough to recommend it over the more polished products on offer from Sony and EA Sports.
4/18/2006 Lance Kwok