There comes a time in a mediocre franchise’s life when the developers must decide whether or not to keep making the same game over and over again with few changes, or to shake things up, and drastically revamp their game in an effort to make it more popular or playable. Sadly, MLB 2K10 falls into the former category, and this year’s attempt, while a bit more polished than 2K9, is a meager effort put out for fans that deserve so much more.
Taking a note from their NBA franchise, MLB 2K renovated their old user interface, for a more user-friendly end experience. What this new set-up does is make it much easier to jump into a game, either online or off, and see what friends of yours are already playing a game. It’s not an incredibly big deal, but it’s the first time in ages that something different has been done to improve the game’s front end, and it’s a welcome change to the previous standard. Though the way you start a game has been modified, many of the game modes remain exactly the same. Borrowing inspiration from EA’s NHL series and Sony’s The Show, as well as their own NBA 2K10, MLB 2K10 introduces My Player to the fold. If you’ve played Be a Pro, Road to the Show, or even the My Player mode from NBA, getting the hang of this mode shouldn’t be too difficult. Basically, you create a player, get drafted by a team, and try to work your way up from the minors to the major league. The mode does a lot right in regards to building your character’s stats. Each of the major categories you can earn points in, like batting or pitching, are given separate point pools to make it easier to distribute them. Do well at the plate, and the points you earn that game will go into the batting pool for later use. It’s about the only thing 2K’s game does better than The Show (where the points you earn are used across all categories), but it’s definitely a feature that could have been great if it wasn’t hampered by the lackluster gameplay.
As brilliant as analog stick batting was in previous years, 2K10 takes a slight step backwards. Check swinging is gone, as it’s been replaced with defensive swinging. By flicking the analog stick sideways, you can attempt to foul off a pitch to stay alive. It’s not very natural, and it in no way makes up for the lack of check swinging. There’s nothing better or more responsive about this year’s batting, and it’s high time someone at 2K looked into finding a way to make the batting more natural. I appreciate their efforts thus far, but now that they’ve seemingly reached the limits of what they can accomplish, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about a new approach. Thankfully, the same can’t yet be said of their analog pitching system.
I was never really in love with analog pitching. While it added a bit more realism to the game in the sense that you needed to replicate the movement properly or end up throwing a bad pitch, the system itself was both too sensitive and too critical. You had little to no leeway in previous games, but this year that seems to be rectified. In addition to being a bit more flexible, the analog pitching now comes complete with an analyzer, which lets you see just how horrible or great your stick motion was on the previous pitch. It’s helped me tremendously, and not only do I have a better grasp of the motions, and where the start/finish points are, but I’m also starting to really like the analog pitching a lot more. While it’s still got a few issues, it is one of the most unique and enjoyable features in the game, and I look forward to the day when 2K finally perfects the pitching.
Strangely enough, fielding in this year’s game is pretty bad. Actually, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s that you don’t get very much input. For whatever reason, most of the fielding (on default settings) is handled by the computer, and all you’re really responsible for as a player is throwing to the right base. Part of the reason many of us play video games, particularly those that could be considered simulations, is for the opportunity to have the experience of playing the real game. If the computer handles most of the workload, what incentive do I have to actually play? I understand when the game prompts the first seconds of a response in between when the ball hits the bat and the game changes camera angles, but when the character I’m defaulted to for fielding a fly ball to left is actually the shortstop, while the left fielder sizes up the descending ball, I have to question the developer’s intent. It’s an extremely puzzling aspect to an already dangerously average game, and in trying to make the game more accessible, they’ve somehow managed to dumb it down a bit too much.
One of last year’s weakest points, the broadcast presentation, has been improved tremendously, and with the addition of John Kruk to the previously established team of Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips, 2K’s got a really great commentary team. It’s just too bad so much of the rest of the game is so painful to watch. Player models are atrocious, and with this being a continuing issue, it’s time for this problem to be addressed. NBA 2K10 has some really great player models, yet for some reason, 2K’s NHL and MLB franchises look absolutely awful. Real players look only remotely like their avatars, and even that’s stretching it. Eyes are lifeless, facial expressions are awkward, and body types are either thin or bulky. There’s little to no in-between, and seeing players up close can really take you out of the experience. Stadiums don’t fare much better. Even though 2K smartly rethought their stance of over-advertising, many of the ballparks look terrible and unfinished, despite being fairly accurate representations of the real parks.
Online is a bit of a disaster this year, with the ability to play random ranked matches only being patched a few days ago. Lag is still a pretty prevalent issue, and on the PlayStation 3, it’s pretty tough to find a game. Not only will you have to wait to find a person to play, but when you finally do, the game you then play ends up being ravaged by connectivity issues. Online is not a new feature for gaming this year. Issues like this are no longer acceptable. Once again, MLB 2K10 will also be implementing living rosters, but since the season hasn’t actually started, I have no idea how well this feature will work. If they’re as diligent as the NBA team, it’s going to be a cool feature, but it will in no way save the game from mediocrity.
I truly feel bad for all the non-PS3 owners who are also baseball fans who have no choice but to play this game if they want to play video game baseball. MLB 2K10 makes few strides forward, and still feels like a game developed during the second year of current generation consoles. The exclusive contract 2K has with the MLB has only a few more years to go, so they don’t have much time to get their act together for the day when they no longer are the only game in town. Perhaps it’s time 2K went back to the drawing board, and created an entirely new experience to wash the bad taste of the last few years out of players’ mouths. Until they do, this franchise will continue to wallow in mediocrity.