Exclusives scare us - we’re fans of competition in our sports video games. For the second straight year, 2K Sports owns the only rights to build a licensed MLB game for the Xbox 360, and last season’s was little more than a painful foul ball off of the foot. To their credit, the gang over at 2K did an in-depth overhaul rarely seen in annual sports games; the result, we’re happy to say, is a smashing success.
As we expect by now from a next-gen game, the visuals and sound are pretty darned sweet. There’s eye candy in all over the place, from nifty wind physics that have uniforms flapping gloriously in the breeze to slick in-game graphics and awesome virtual lineup cards. MLB 2K7 isn’t just a pretty face, though, as the inherent gameplay is as deep and varied as Johan Santana’s pitch repertoire.
Everyone knows that pitching is an art, whether you’re commanding a master of finesse or a strikeout machine. The traditional components of timing, location, and speed are part of the puzzle, but the addition of manipulating the break of your particular hurler’s pitch fleshes it out even more. The mechanics are a little wacky - we don’t love with the whole expanding/collapsing circle deal - but they present so many opportunities for pinpoint location via movement that it’s almost a game unto itself.
At the plate, there’s less to do; conversely, there’s almost no time to do it. It takes microsecond-level judgment to determine when and if to swing, and if so in which direction. Using a “Batter’s Eye” helps a tad, but with no visual cues as to the pitch type, you’ll need a lightning quick eye along with a bit of luck to turn your Rob Deer impersonation into something resembling Ichiro's record-breaking hitting consistency.
Inside Edge scouting tools return this season, giving you vital info that can help turn baserunners into runs scored (and vice versa when on the mound). While the Edge is a nifty feature, it’s hardly foolproof; Ryan Howard, Manny Ramirez, and the like can and will jack some homers when they get a hold of ‘em no matter how good your pitches are.
This ain’t Baseball for Dummies - mastering your skills takes practice, but we like that. If it were easy, there’d likely be little reason to play for long. As it is, we’re addicted to both our franchise and online play; 2K Sports’ famously robust internet leagues and websites return to embarrass all other comers’ usually feeble online offerings.
It’s taken awhile, but 360 owners finally have a great baseball game on their hands. Sure, there are quirks and hiccups - for example, handling your outfielders is more adventurous than it should be, and players can meld into each other on occasion - but randomness coupled with the human condition makes baseball the toughest of all sports to represent well in a video game. MLB 2K7 is a stellar title that’ll keep baseball fans happy all season long.