It has been about a year since the last version of an MLB game from 2K Sports spun inside consoles, and gave baseball fans something to do while waiting for the next game to be televised. In that time, it is fairly obvious 2K Sports took a lot of time looking over what was making the series successful, and did their best to improve upon the things that weren’t. Lots of little things have been changed, while the overall experience is only slightly improved. Those new to the franchise won’t be disappointed, while annual purchasers might not get a mind-blowing upgrade they may or may not have been expecting.
The gameplay creates the right atmosphere, and any onlookers will get the impression that they are watching an actual MLB game, at least at first glance. From the first boot, the game updates the rosters and stats based on the actual MLB games that were played. Using these stats, the players’ abilities and skills adjust accordingly, now reflecting the performance in-game with that of the real-life athlete. If a particular player is hot and performing extraordinarily well, that same player in 2K11 is going to have a slightly easier time performing well, just like the athlete they’re representing.
Everything from the short breaks between innings, to the seamless instant replays, creates the illusion that most baseball simulation fans are looking for. The problems begin when minor glitches start to take away from the experience, and you lose some of the magic that was sucking you in. The mechanics work well enough to keep the game moving along, but sometimes the location of the end result of something like a throw to a base, causes some jerky movements and slight teleporting to occur. For example, if you threw a scooped up grounder to third base, the throw might be good, but the third base player might catch the ball at the last second by jerking towards the location of the ball, then teleporting back to the base for the out. Another slightly annoying glitch, that may or may not be a result of the analog stick on the controller, is noticeable while pitching. For whatever reason, using the analog stick while pitching can be a crap shoot at times. You make the motions, and most of the time you get your expected result, based on your own skill at timing the movements and moving the stick accurately. Other times, even though similar movements were executed on the controller, the end result has the pitcher throwing wild and seemingly uncontrolled pitches. If that’s not enough, as fatigue sets in, creating a realistic scenario for the pitcher, the on-screen guide indicator is jerking around frantically, making it increasingly difficult to get your desired results, on top of having to accommodate for a player with a sore arm.
Minor annoyances aside, the gameplay and controls do a good job at simulating a real game, and you can mostly enjoy a good couple of hours of baseball, assuming you don’t skip the replays and in-between commentary, in which case you could breeze through a full non-simulated game in about an hour. Pitching relies on both the player rating and how well you execute the gestures, or the movements you make with the analog stick to create a particular type of throw. The higher the player rating, the less accurate you can be and still throw a decent pitch. Take a lower rated player, and completely ignore the precision of your analog stick movement, and you’ll throw a pitch so out of whack, you’d think a celebrity was throwing the first ceremonious pitch of the game, glitched or not. Hitting feels a bit more forgiving as, while you do have a selection of hit types you can perform, you are generally more successful once you get the timing down. Sure some players may be more stronger or quicker on the swing than others, but it never really felt like there was difference between hitting either at the beginning or in the later innings. Fielding is more controlled as a basic guideline, as you can move the intended player to a particular spot to make the play, but the AI seems to take over once you get in the general vicinity. This actually was a welcome mechanic, and was sure to avoid any frustration slightly missing a fly-ball could have caused.
The graphics have been reworked to bring a greater sense of realism to the game. Everything from the players’ facial features and uniforms, down to the lighting and crowd, have been tweaked to help create that illusion of watching an actual baseball game. The player animations look more unique for each player, and more closely represent how the real player moves and how their body reacts to certain movements. The illusion gets a little faded when the animations sometimes got jerky or a little too stiff, but for most part the animation did feel slightly improved over last year.
The sound is up to par with what you may have come to expect from 2K. The in-game soundtrack gets you pumped and holds your interest while navigating menus and waiting for updates to load. Commentary heard throughout a game is dynamic and tailored for each of the teams and some of the individual players. The announcers may notice how well a player is performing and reiterate that the player is or isn’t having a particularly good game. What really may catch your attention is the small sounds that come from the crowd. You’ll not only hear crowd cheering that elevates depending on the performance of your team, but the individual fans shout little phrases that simulate what you might hear at a real game. Of course, there isn’t any foul language or unsportsmanlike heckling, but the effect works quite well.
With the return of the My Player and Franchise modes, baseball simulation fans have what they need to keep busy for hours on end. If you’re not into long hours spent helping your created player grow or taking your favorite team through a dream season, then the big draw may just be the possible $1 million contest that 2K is once again offering this year. If you pitch a verified perfect game, all those hours of perfecting the Total Control pitching mechanic could very well pay off.
Overall, the experience that MLB 2K11 is a fun one, especially for baseball fans looking for a fun simulation sports title. The look and feel will make any player feel right at home, and will give any spectator the sense that they may be watching a live baseball game on TV. Despite a few minor bugs and glitches, there is quite a bit of entertainment to be had and baseball dreams to be played with the use of this game. The minor improvements over last year’s title may barely be enough to entice a yearly purchaser of the series, but the chance at making some money for throwing a perfect game could have more gamers warming up their throwing arm.
*2K Sports provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy.