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Power pitchers are sexy again. Three years into its revamped look -- the dramatic reduction of offense, thanks to the elimination of steroid-fueled muscle men lugging bats to home plate -- a dominating hurler is more important than ever in Major League Baseball. These days, teams will sacrifice anything to get the likes of a flamethrower like Neftali Feliz or Justin Verlander to stand on their mound. 2K Sports does a terrific job putting us in their cleats and making us feel supremely powerful this season, thanks to the best pitching system we’ve used in years. Unfortunately, the package that surrounds it is decidedly less savory than the engine underneath. Such is the tragedy of MLB 2K12.
First, the good news. The pitcher-batter matchups are more dramatic than ever thanks to new dynamics that work beautifully. Key at-bats --particularly later in the game -- take on new meaning; based upon how well (or poorly) your pitcher has fared against each hitter, his attributes for every pitch are adjusted. Tim Lincecum’s fastball may work like magic against A-Rod in the 7th inning if he’s struck him out twice with it earlier, but that same pitch is much less effective to Mark Teixeira if he cracked a double on it in the 4th. The level of strategy and execution is heightened, and the latter half of games resemble chess matches. It’s engrossing stuff.
The focus on pitching makes sense, considering the state of the game today. We love the two-step mechanics -- and have for years -- which are based on specific stick movements that differ per pitch. It was a bit of a challenge to master them, but once they “clicked,” we felt like kings on the mound. The satisfaction of nailing the timing of a high fastball just right is sweet, from the instant feedback of the pitching cursor to the sight of a hapless batter swinging and missing.
On the other side of the plate, hitting feels a bit tougher than in the past, but never cheap. Just like in the big leagues, your success will depend on working counts, waiting for your pitch, and even sacrificing an at-bat or two early in the game in order to give yourself an advantage later on. In our first few games, we swung early and often, paying for it with shutout losses. As we learned how to track the incoming pitches a bit better -- then backed that up with getting the timing right for normal and power swings -- we had more success.
It’s a shame, then, that MLB 2K12 looks so unimpressive in motion. Terrible framerate issues often cause hiccups when the ball meets the bat as well as on plays in the infield. Even making catches in the outfield can feel like an adventure thanks to the clunky animations. None of these are game-breaking, but they make 2K12 suffer greatly in comparison to the silky-smooth competition. Even if it didn’t have so many struggles in action, the ordinary-at-best visuals are uninspiring. The infield doesn’t kick up dirt as runners chug the basepaths, shadows on player faces are pixilated, and the catcher’s throws back to the pitcher seem faster than the pitches he’s receiving.
Baseball is all about the details, and MLB 2K12 is all over the map. There were a couple of niceties we picked up; for example, a first baseman’s uniform was filthy when he came up to bat right after making a diving play in the dirt to end the previous inning, while bunting was draped in the ballparks along with special postseason logos on the infield for the playoffs. On the other hand, when we hit a walk-off single to win a 14-inning playoff game, there was no on-field celebration; the players were shown ambling off the field as if it were an ordinary half-inning. We also had a bizarre in-game situation occur when a smash up the middle bounced off a pitcher then magically warped right to the second baseman.
The commentary, however, is mostly outstanding. MLB 2K12 is drenched in statistics, and the three-man booth does a good job calling the action based on what’s happened and what the numbers say. Occasionally we’d hear Steve Phillips make a reference that didn’t quite mesh – such as saying it was still early in the game when in fact we were in the 8th inning – but these were the exception rather than the rule. Inside Edge does more than provide the announcers a great basis to talk from as well; based on the plethora of information available to you, there’s more than enough data to turn you into a Moneyball-esque on-field game manager as well as front office expert.
My Player mode has received a few updates this year, mostly around defining your role before your career begins. As seen in past games, it suffers from two problems. First, it’s extremely menu-driven, which means tons of loading and clicking instead of enjoying games. Secondly, if you’ve spent much time in it last season, there’s little appeal to repeating it again. To be fair, though, the different roles provide a nice variety and no two careers should play out exactly the same.
The early stages of online play have been decent, but we’ve experienced some slowdown when the ball is in motion that helps cause fielding issues. Because our timing was thrown off, we wound up committing lots of throwing errors, and so did our opponents. When there are runners on the basepaths, things slow down even more. None of this is game-breaking, but is definitely annoying. On PS3, online has seen even more issues. In addition to the aforementioned issues that also afflict the Xbox 360 version, we also had a game in which the commentary started echoing badly for some bizarre reason (which hasn’t happened offline). As of week one, there are some issues that could use a patch.
We’ve been unable to play the all-new MLB Today mode, but we’ll have in-depth reports on that (as well as more on My Player) in upcoming Box Score columns and podcasts once Opening Day comes and that mode takes on relevance.
Despite its many issues, MLB 2K12 packs a significant punch when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of big league baseball. We’re excited about taking a couple of teams through the season. Unfortunately, it’s just too ordinary-looking and choppy-playing to appeal to a wider audience. For all its good points, a game of this stature should be more polished at this stage of the franchise’s existence.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360 as the lead platform. We also played through sections of the PS3 version to see if there were any distinct differences, and any technical distinguishments are noted above.
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