Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Major League Baseball 2k12 isn’t half bad

MLB2k12

I almost didn’t buy Major League Baseball 2K12 for the Xbox 360 because the title got so many so-so and/or poor reviews.

One review started off referring to MLB 12: The Show for the Playstation 3 and then bashing the 2K Sports title without mercy after that. Another did talk up the improvements made to the series, but ended up touting The Show.

Here’s the thing – if you have an Xbox 360 and you want a baseball game, you don’t have much choice in the matter. You can grab a copy of MLB 2K12, pick up an old copy of The Bigs (complete with larger-than-life plays and all) or throw a fit. Cruise through an Xbox-related message board or two and you’ll find plenty of people complaining that Xbox 360 owners deserve more choice when it comes to baseball.

They may have a point, but here’s the thing – if you want a better baseball game, rush right on out to the nearest Target or Best Buy, pick up a Playstation 3 and grab a copy of The Show. If you don’t want to do that, at least give MLB 2K12 a shot because, truly, it’s not a bad game at all.

homerunBesides, what’s so horrible about having just one game from which to choose on a system, anyway? Back when I was a kid with an Atari 2600, we had one baseball game for years – an abomination called Home Run (1978) that was so awful that Mattel Intellivision commercials used to ridicule it. It couldn’t even properly be called baseball because Home Run was to baseball what Pong was to tennis – a simulation so primitive that it aped a sport only on its most basic levels.

In other words, we’ve only got one real choice in baseball games when it comes to the Xbox 360 but it is at least a solid game. MLB 2K12 features some pretty innovative stuff such as a pitching mechanic that utilizes the right analog stick and requires the player to get some timing down so as to not throw a bunch of rotten pitches. The batting is solid, too, and also requires the skillful use of the analog stick (well, you hit the “X” button to bunt). That also requires great timing that is truly hard to get down effectively.

The fielding is solid, too, in that a hit from an opposing team will put the player in charge of the fielder with the best play on the ball. The player can dive for catches, scale walls to rob hitters of home runs and pull off a lot of other nifty tricks. And, yes, there is a timing element in fielding, too – if you don’t flick that ball to a base when the “throw meter” is in the right spot, you’ve just committed an error or blown a double play.

There are some other elements about the game worth mentioning. The presentation is outstanding and the developers did a good job of mapping the major league stadiums around the country. You view the game in a familiar “television broadcast” format and commentary keeps the game active. Online play is smooth and players can opt to develop their own players and develop them from the minors through the majors in the game.

In short, MLB 2K12 is nothing less than a solid baseball game that allows players to concentrate on winning games, diving into the management aspect of running a franchise, etc. You can, in other words, become as immersed in the game as you want to be – while checking on rosters can be a nice diversion, I prefer to let the computer AI handle it while I concentrate on winning games. Still, those who love the management aspect of a baseball sim won’t be disappointed.

Is the game perfect? No. No it is not. For one thing, the players are rendered fairly well but they are stiff and tend to lurch around, zombie-like throughout the games. They are almost always scowling, too – it’s hard to imagine that people who get paid very well to play a game would look that miserable, but 2K Sports seems to think so. Also, you’ll notice the occasional framerate dive that can be a real drag at times and there are some graphical glitches that pop up from time to time. Yes, it is creepy to see bats floating through midair as they’re whirling around on-deck circles or making themselves to the plate. While 2K Sports may eventually deliver a patch to clear up that particular problem, I hope they don’t – the phantom bats are a hoot.” Another graphical shortfall is that the crowds are made up of about 20 distinct people that are repeated – clothes an all – throughout the stands.

The computer AI is also a problem because it does idiotic things at times. Here’s a scenario. Let’s say I’m up to bat. I’ve got two outs and a man on first. My player hits a grounder to the shortstop and the second baseman is covering his bag. The shortstop, by the way, is maybe a yard away from second base. The logical thing for the shortstop to do in that situation is to either flip the ball over to second or simply step on the base and force the runner out, thus ending the inning. In that situation, I’ve seen the computer choose a third and stupid action – make a terrible throw to first so the batter is safe and the runner is on second wondering how he got there safely. The computer AI seems to have trouble with the concept of throwing a ball home when runners are on base and a hit lands in the shallow outfield. More than once, I’ve sent a runner from third all the way to home while a fielder is holding the ball and acting like the play has ended. Strange.

The biggest flaw with this game, however, is that there is no tutorial mode. That oversight is glaring when one considers there’s a steep learning curve to MLB 2K12 and getting the timing necessary to play the game is essential. Bear in mind that every button, both analog sticks and the control pad are mapped to do something and the pitiful instruction manual (actually, it’s more of a pamphlet that sums up the control) isn’t much help. Yes, 2K12 does offer players the option of downloading the “full” manual (a cheap move when one considers this game retails for $60), but that online PDF isn’t much more detailed than the awful black-and-white pamphlet that comes with the game.

The solution to that problem becomes obvious after a time – set the difficulty level to “rookie,” set up your favorite team in a franchise then play through spring training to learn how master timing and the controls.

Once I invested some time in spring training, I found the controls to be intuitive, the pitching mechanism to be a blast and the overall game to be very enjoyable. The Show might be a better game, but that’s not an option for me as I’ve got enough video game systems plugged up to my HDTV set as it is and don’t need a PS3 adding to the clutter (buying another gaming system might cause my wife to throw a fit (yes, I do still have my old Atari and at least one console from every generation since)). MLB 2K12 is more than good enough for Xbox fans wanting a solid baseball game.

There are a lot of PS3 games that have made me question my decision to purchase an Xbox 360. The Show isn’t one of them – MLB 2k12 is a very good game and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by not having another title available for my system.

If you want to read a review of MLB 2K12 that concentrates on that title rather than how inferior it is compared to The Show, click here.

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