This is bat country!
Well, spring is almost here and that means baseball is just around the corner. It also means the weather’s turning so gamers everywhere no longer have the “It’s crappy outside” excuse for not leaving the house…but back to the good news: baseball. Yes, life is about cycles and nothing signifies the changing of the seasons from the dead of winter to rebirth of spring like the beginning of baseball season. (Actually, I live in California so winter consists of slight temperature dips and occasional rain, but for the rest of you poor slobs there are still real seasons, right?)
Anyway, nothing signifies the rite of passage of spring and summer like baseball season: the ballparks, the beer, A-Rod hitting .100 in the post season, (not unrelated) the Yankees spending more money than God and still not winning the World Series, etc. One of the earliest signs that baseball is upon us is the release of Major League Baseball 2K7. So is this year’s version a hit?
The first thing that needs to be said about the game is that it looks amazing on the Xbox 360. Everything about the graphics and physics is almost frighteningly life like. The players look and move like real people and you’ll find that your favorite players are represented quite realistically, right down to their body language. Manny Ramirez wags his bat menacingly; Curt Schilling swaggers like a gunslinger (though virtual Curt isn’t lugging forty pounds of excess gut out to the mound like his real world counterpart); Nomar Garciapara is twitchy; A-Rod walks with a swish. Okay, I made the last one up but … maybe next year?
However, like most things MLB related, be prepared to deal with hierarchy issues. In other words, there’s a star system, and while your teams’ star players are given the deluxe virtual treatment, don’t expect the same for the lesser players on the roster. So, if you or your kids’ favorite player is the utility man, you may be disappointed by his representation here.
The graphical excellence doesn’t just extend to the players; the ballparks also look fantastic. As an added nice touch, the games begin with shots outside the stadium, with home team fans mulling about. For someone who doesn’t live near his home team’s park, and couldn’t afford to get in if he did, it’s nice to see Fenway Park in all its glory, and playing a game there is almost like being there … only without the cramped seat, drunken Sox fans, and the pillar in front of you.
Also, unlike with the players, every ballpark is represented in its full glory, so fans of secondary teams (I’m looking at you Pirates fans) don’t have to suffer looking at a generic stadium to go along with their crappy team.
As with all games (and some say women), beauty is only skin deep, but what really matters is what’s inside, and here MLB 2K7 doesn’t disappoint, offering excellent gameplay in all phases of the game. On offense you use the right analogue stick to swing, rather than the more traditional button-swing approach, lending a nice arcade feel to the game. This year’s incarnation also allows the batter to use the Inside Edge scouting system (where a pitcher could use scouting reports on various hitters to their advantage) from last year’s game as a batter as well as a pitcher, adding more realism to the offensive side of the game.
The Pitching is similarly intuitive. You get your catcher’s call, pick your pitch, and –using the right analogue stick – aim at his glove. New to the game this year, you have to judge where a breaking ball will cross the zone, rather than where your catcher will catch it. Also, when pitching in tight spots, the target moves around the strike zone, making it more difficult to aim.
The defense works well but has its problems. You can position your fielders for the appropriate situation (double play depth, bunt, etc.) and the players get to the ball smoothly. The fielding is challenging enough that you get a real charge when you pull off a nice defensive play, like diving to the hole, digging the ball out, and gunning the runner down at first. But sometimes your fielder inexplicably misses the ball, and I don’t mean commits an error, but rather just doesn’t pick it up. This can be frustrating but is infrequent enough that I manage not to throw my controller at my TV.
For all you wanna-be GM’s out there, MLB 2K7 also has plenty of management-styled gaming as well. You can control your team as an owner in Franchise Mode (though this lacks the depth of say Madden, but who wants to decide concession prices anyway?) or as a GM in GM Career Mode, where you can even pick how your GM looks and name him.
The game sounds (crack of the bat, crowd noises, A-Rod whimpering, etc.) are also good and there’re plenty of catchy rock songs. The announcers are John Miller and Joe Morgan from ESPN and if you’re a fan of this announcing team, then you’ll like their inclusion in the game. If, however, you find Joe Morgan to be a self-important prig like some I know, then maybe not so much.
Alas, not all the news is good in Mudville. My biggest problem with the game is that, like most video baseball games, the statistics (the thing many people, including myself, love most about baseball) are skewed HEAVILY in favor of offense, to the point it clouds MLB 2K7’s resemblance to the real game. This imbalance extends to other parts of the game, too, such as trades.
For example, while managing the Red Sox in season mode the Twins offered me a deal of Johan Santana for Manny Ramirez, a deal that Minnesota would never, ever, ever (EVER!) offer in real life for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being Manny is nearly ten years older and not a left-handed ace pitcher. However, in this game, when Johan Santana is posting an ERA in the mid-fours it makes more sense. What doesn’t make sense is that Johan Santana (the game’s best pitcher) would post such an ERA.
Depending on your perspective this might not be a big issue (after all, offense – like sex – sells) but for me – someone who wants sports games to play statistically as close to the real game as possible – it took a lot of enjoyment away from the game. I remember the offensively inflated baseball of the late-90’s being refered to as ‘Nintendo Ball’, due to video baseball games being known for ridiculous offensive output, and that somewhat fits MLB 2K7, unfortunately.
Another common problem with video baseball is laggy online play, and MLB 2K7 is no different from the rest. It’s hard enough to time your swings offline, but nearly impossible in online matches with their shifting latencies. Here, every pitch is a changeup, even if it’s a fastball. Aside from batting difficulties, the game sports a full roster of excellent online options including ranked and unranked matches, custom leagues, and tournaments. You name it, it’s here.
With the MLB Extra Innings package now exclusively on DIRECTV and no longer available to Comcast customers, some people (like myself) are left to their own devices in trying to secure their baseball fix. MLB2 K7 offers a nice alternative to the real game. While it’s not perfect, the good outweighs the bad. In other words, it’s a nice day at the park … just not Fenway Park.