Review: Major League Baseball 2K9 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Major League Baseball 2K9
Genre: Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: 3/3/2009

Last year around this time, I got MLB 2K8 on the Wii. I was pretty excited about it, since it was the first real, serious baseball game on the Wii, and I figured it would be fun with the motion controls. The result was a thumbs in the middle at first, then pointing sharply down well after the review, when the bugs (including having my season deleted for no reason other than the game felt like it) and generally bad gameplay got the better of me.

After hearing from my brother that MLB 2K9 on the Wii wasn’t much different than its predecessor, both in gameplay and bugs (though a bit cleaned up), I decided to pass on the Wii version in favor of the 360 version, to try something a bit different. I haven’t played a baseball game on the system before, so I’m going in blind; I can’t tell you if MLB 2K9 is an improvement or a step back for the series, but I can tell you if it’s a good game by itself.

First of all, the game modes: you can play an exhibition game, control your team in franchise mode, jump right into a postseason series, or play a home run derby. You can play as all 30 major league teams, AAA teams and all-star teams, including “classic” all-stars (a nice touch). Glaringly absent from the game is the ability to play as World Baseball Classic teams. Basically, it’s about what you’d expect from a baseball game; good, but nothing revolutionary. The game also boasts “Living Rosters”, which will reflect a change in the real life team’s roster in the game, downloading the change when you first turn the game on. This is a great feature, and gives the game a more realistic feel.

The franchise mode has a “MLB.com” interface, making looking up stats and division standings done through MLB.com. It also generates headlines for the results of games, trades and injuries, though there’s no actual story to go along with them (which would be quite the accomplishment if they could pull it off, but I understand it would be a bit difficult). It can be a bit tough to navigate at first, but once you figure out where everything is, it’s not a bad interface.

The actual gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. The pitching in the game is…okay. It’s a little tough to get used to at first, but you can figure it out. Your catcher will call for a pitch (you can shake him off if you want), you aim with the left analog stick, hold the right stick in one direction to charge up a pitch, and then you are given specific movements to make with the stick that will put that movement on the ball as it’s thrown. It’s hard to describe, and I know that sounds confusing, but it’s really not. It works, and each pitcher has a variety of pitches to throw.

Each pitcher has a “Stamina Meter” and “Composure Meter”. Your stamina will fall as you go deeper into a game, and your composure will fall if you get into any tight situations (i.e., bases loaded, no outs), both of which affect your pitching. As your composure drops, the ball jumps around and is harder to aim, which increases the likelihood of throwing a bad or wild pitch. It’s a nice, realistic touch.

The pitching system works, but it’s not without bugs. Sometimes, you can hold the right stick to charge a pitch, but the game won’t register that, and you’ll throw a terrible pitch, usually resulting in a hit. I’ve lost a no-hitter in the 8th inning because of that. Other times, you’ll throw a wild pitch, simply because the game is fucking with you. There’s really no other reason. The pickoff system is also buggy, but in a relatively good way; if there is a runner on second, you will almost always pick him off. Like, 95% of the time. I can’t really complain, since it helps me win, but it’s a pretty big bug.

Batting is pretty easy, just hold the right stick back and push it forward at the right time to hit the ball. With the left stick, you can send the ball to the left or right, depending on which direction you tilt it, or hit a fly ball by tilting up or ground ball by tilting down. You can also bunt and control which runners you want to steal while batting. Again, the sheer amount of controls and things you can do make it sound confusing, but it works out.

Batting is also a bit buggy in a good way, as it’s way, way too easy to hit a home run. If you tilt the left stick up as the pitch is thrown, you’ll hit a fly ball, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a home run or extra base hit. You do have to hit a pitch at the right time, but it’s very easy to get this timing down. Hitting in general is very easy; you can easily string along 6+ hits for a big inning. Again, it’s not much of a complaint since it helps remedy the other bugs, so games are rarely out of reach for you, but damn. How about some realism there?

By far the worst controls belong to fielding. Fielding is extremely buggy, almost to the point that it breaks the game. Sometimes fielders will charge a ball on their own, sometimes they won’t, so if you back off from controlling them and they don’t move, you’ve allowed a hit. Sometimes you can stand right under a fly ball and not catch it (I’ve had a ball bounce off a fielder’s chest. It’s just insane. Was he distracted by a bird?). The infielders turn double plays with all the speed of a slug covered in molasses. Sometimes throwing a ground ball to first will pull the first baseman off the bag, really for no reason. I’ve also had my second baseman start running in the opposite direction of a ground ball. He wasn’t going to cover a base, he just went into right field, while the ball went up the middle. He easily could have made a play on it. What an ass. I could go on all day listing these. Again, the batting in the game makes it easy to fix any errors you make, but these bugs at the wrong time can ruin your ballgame. Seriously, if the fielding bugs in this game were shown onscreen as people, they would be shown holding giant middle fingers right in your face.

The graphics in the game are pretty good, though not perfect. On the one hand, the stadiums, fields and the players themselves look great. Some players look more like their real selves than others, but they look all good, the grass and backgrounds of stadiums are very detailed and true to life, and the crowds are well animated; trying to catch foul balls or jumping out of the way of comebackers. To put it in perspective, right now I’m playing this game on a 5 year old, standard definition TV that a few years ago was submerged in about 4 inches of water, and it still looks good. On the other hand, some of the player’s animations can be a bit jerky, and they do have a tendency to phase out of existence if they stand too close to each other. Not a huge deal, but I feel like it’s something that could have been fixed.

The sound in the game is pretty terrible, though it’s not exactly a deal breaker. Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips provide commentary, which adds a realistic touch to each game, but little else. Ripping on the commentary for any miscalls they make seems silly, since obviously they aren’t really calling the action as it happens, but damn, they make a lot of miscalls. A bloop single up the middle, not very deep, will get a call of “It’s in the gap! This will be extra bases!” even though I haven’t moved from first and the ball is already back in the infield by the time he’s done talking. Sometimes, I would hear at least 3 variations of “And he comes around to score!” after I bat someone in. And he’ll say “The Cubs continue to run away with this one” after every half inning. Basically, it’s buggy, like everything else. The music in the game is a mixed bag, from rap to modern rock to metal, and pretty much everything in between. I’m not a fan of the soundtrack as a whole, but there’s something there for everyone. And since I can’t stand the commentary, the TV’s muted and I have my own music on anyway.

The ad placement in the game might piss some people off. A “Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Game” is awarded after every game, and State Farm ads are rampant throughout stadiums. They even created space for State Farm ads that don’t exist in real life, for instance, on a giant billboard right next to the Wrigley Field scoreboard. If someone put that there in real life, that someone would get killed.

Buggy as it is, MLB 2K9 is still fun. As a matter of fact, I kept putting off finishing this review so I could finish the season I started (World Champion Cubs, baby!) and really couldn’t keep myself from playing it. So they must be doing something right. Again, I have little experience with these games on this system, but from what I’ve read, this is definitely not the first buggy 2K baseball game on the 360, so hopefully these issues will be addressed, but it’s still fun and addicting, if you can look past those issues. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some players to re-sign and a championship to defend.

Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Good
Sound: Very Bad
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Good
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Major League Baseball 2K9 is buggy as all hell, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad. There are some serious issues in fielding controls, but hitting 11 home runs a game, in addition to being really fun, also remedies these bugs. If you can look past these issues, you have a pretty good baseball game; otherwise, look elsewhere for your baseball fix.

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