The centerfielder we’ve created in The Bigs’ Rookie Challenge mode is not only grossly overweight, but he also sports the most horrific aviator sunglasses and mutton chop sideburn combination known to man. But the kid has undeniable talent, with blazing speed and a prowess for launching home runs that’s earned him the nickname “Dr. Bleachers.”
The Bigs is the exact opposite of our creation: beautiful to look at, but an on-field performance that leaves a bit to be desired. The biggest offender is the fact that the game’s arcade style elements just don’t make things very interesting. It starts with the Big Play feature, a points-based gauge that you build up through getting hits, catches, and just generally doing things right on the field. When it’s maxed out, you can hit an all but guaranteed home run as a batter – known as a “Power Blast,” which sounds suspiciously like a flavor of Gatorade – or collect an equally likely strikeout with a pitcher that’ll sap the other player’s Big Play meter.
The problem is that home runs happen so frequently over the course of normal play that being able to engage the Big Play to hit one automatically is almost completely redundant. The ability to throw a guaranteed strikeout is even less useful considering the simplicity of the pitching interface, though it is nice that they let you steal your opponent’s points.
The other big selling point is a Turbo system that’s fueled by throwing strikes or, when at bat, taking balls. This one grants you a temporary, superhuman boost in your players’ abilities for the duration of one play. To give you an idea, you might stretch a single into a double with David Ortiz despite his glacial speed, throw out a runner with the noodle-armed Johnny Damon, or even chase down a fly ball with the withered husk of Barry Bonds. It’s a bit more useful than the Big Play, providing a few exciting moments, but you don’t get to use it often enough to really affect the way you play the game.
Taking the excitement level down another notch or two is the fact that the game’s amazing catches don’t stay amazing for very long. That’s especially true for the over the wall grabs that happen on nearly every normal home run. The opponent’s outfielder will jump six feet over the fence to put a glove on the ball and either drop it for a home run or hold on to it for the out. It’s really cool at first, but with the frequency and lack of variety to the catching animations, it becomes an all too familiar sight after a while. The same can be said for the slo-mo double plays, too.
This repetition and lack of depth is what nearly kills the game’s most promising feature, the aforementioned Rookie Challenge. Here you’ll create a player and build up his skills over the course of a season. Unfortunately, the skill progression travels awfully slowly considering that every match feels more or less the same. So playing a full season is a tough hill to climb, but we will admit that this mode winds up being quite rewarding as you build your player into an MVP over the course of his rookie year.
Another gameplay mode is a sort of pinball home run derby, which has you standing in the middle of Times Square hitting baseballs into objects like neon signs and taxi cabs in order to rack up points. It’s an odd addition to the game’s main menu, something feels more like an unlockable mini-game than anything else.
But as we said earlier, without a doubt The Bigs’ best attribute is its visual appeal, with the 360 just edging out the PS3 in looks. Nearly every player’s face bears a striking, sometimes scary resemblance to his real life counterpart. That applies to the usual big names as well as a surprising number of lesser knowns. The over-exaggerated bodies are good for a chuckle, too, and the stadiums look absolutely fantastic.
It’s a shame, then, that the audio isn’t up to the same par. The announcer does a pretty good job, but his lines are recycled much, much too often. It won’t take very long before you have his entire repertoire of jokes memorized - we certainly have more than a few permanently branded into our memory banks.
Despite the failings of the arcade style boosts, what’s left over isn’t a bad baseball game. It’s pretty accessible, with simplistic interfaces and beautiful eye candy all around. But considering that those arcadey enhancements are what’s supposed to make this game unique, we can’t help but feel casual fans would be better off playing MLB 2K7 on easy difficulty.