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.