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.