With a fervent amount of critical acclaim and an impressive amount of polish garnered across its eleven year lifecycle, the MLB: The Show franchise is the interactive equivalent of the New York Yankees. Love them or hate them- the games consistently deliver an undeniably well-developed, offensive force which appears poised to win this season’s sales race. Likewise, rival Visual Concept’s MLB 2K series could be compared to the 2010 Texas Rangers- while coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory, the title was humbled by a tendency for troublesome errors.
While Major League Baseball 2K11 has clearly made some improvements in the off-season, the title remains an underdog against Sony’s formidable juggernaut. Most noticeable are the augmentations made to the game’s vigorous control scheme, which for the past four seasons, have required players to deliver increasingly intricate Street Fighter II-like stick sweeps. Although last year it was fairly easy to get the stitched leather sphere past AI players, the difficulty of pitching has been ratcheted up, with computer controlled batters vigilantly resisting anything on the far fringes. The enduring mechanic of throwing to the outside corners has been remedied by adding a bit of ambiguity to the strike zone and allowing the man on the mound to be spooked. Once the bases fill, expect your control to emit a disorienting rumble, while your aiming cursor trembles nervously.
Once at the plate, players are given a choice of two distinctive battling control schemes. A classic mode merely requires an astutely timed press of the A button, while gesture-based hitting entails aiming with the left stick, as the right analog peg is snapped to initiate a contact, power, or defensive swing. Both pitching and battling will be affected by 2K11‘s Dynamic Player Rating System (DRPS), which gives a statistical boost or reduction based on the each players real-world performance. When combined with the game’s MLB Today component, the system draws data from the last four weeks of an athlete’s performance, supplementing the game with timely real-world influenced commentary.
Although fielding was purported to be given a significant overhaul, I only noticed some faint tweaks. This season players have to be a bit more accurate in balancing the strength and accuracy of their throws; nailing those double plays now feels like a minor achievement. Now, a player’s prowess affects both their reach radius and animation routines- so rookie fielders are likely to make highlight-reel ready diving catches.
Regrettably, MLB 2K11‘s gameplay mode have only received nominal changes. While the title’s Franchise component allows players to direct minor league divisions and expands the command of player injuries, it feels remarkably similar to last season’s mode. Likewise, the career trajectory of My Player only benefits from additional ways to earn experience points. Arguably, the game’s most significant modification is the incorporation of additional sliders, which grants players the ability to fine-tune the difficulty of each element of the game.
While the developers have quashed many of the bugs and glitches that beset last season’s game, a number of oddities persist. Any illusion of recreated a major-league game is spoiled when AI athletes behave like inattentive t-ball players. From teammates who collide with a wall while attempting to glove upper deck fouls to basemen who show little interest in protecting the bag, gamers are likely to witness some outlandish behavior. Visually, the game still contains a number of unpolished elements, ranging from framerate drops to repetitive motion-captured animations. Although the three-man commentary team of Steve Phillips, Gary Thorne, and John Kruk provide some clever chatter, some of the dialog from 2K10 has been reused.
Despite Major League Baseball 2K11‘s enhancements, a number of small but cumulative blemishes prohibit the title from vying for MLB: The Show‘s established dominance. Ideally, Visual Concepts should sidestep the pressure to turn out a slightly revamped iteration to coincide with next season’s opening day, and rebuild their franchise from the ground up. Doing so would put the studio in the best position to dethrone the reigning champion and establish their own near-impervious dynasty.