‘MLB2K11’ is far better than you think

Like so many people do with movies and music, I can clearly document the stages of my life though baseball video games. Growing up my summer nights were dominated by NES titles such as “RBI Baseball” and “Baseball Stars.” In my early teenager years, a combination of releases with Ken Griffey Jr. in the title for SNES and N64 bring back fond memories of time spent in between bike rides around town.

In my late teens and early ’20s, I can recall many a sunny afternoon spent in a college dorm room or a friend’s living room playing endless innings of “MVP Baseball” for the PS2, a now defunct franchise I personally consider to be one of the greatest in all sports simulation history.

These last four or five years — those that have seen me finish college, find a full-time job and successfully ask my girlfriend to marry me — this period of time will forever be associated with the Major League Baseball 2K-whatever franchise. Not owning a PS3, the 2K baseball franchise has been my only option for digital enjoyment of America’s pastime.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the 2K franchise even if I’m aware through reviews of rival franchise “The Show” and conversations with other baseball simulation enthusiasts I’ve spent a lot of time with the clear second place finisher. Yes, the 2K baseball franchise may be notorious for the most ridiculous glitches and yes, installments from the latter part of last decade came with arcade-like run production ability, but I was able to find the game beneath the flaws and make the best of a mediocre situation.

Last year, the franchise received its biggest single year overhaul in history. The pitching and hitting systems were cleaned up, the graphics were improved and the commentary proved one of the best in all sports video game history. That’s why I was surprised to read multiple reviews of this year’s installment that were less than supportive of the 2011 title.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ve become too familiar and accustomed to glitches and flaws, maybe I just don’t own a PS3 and can’t play “The Show,” but I was completely satisfied when I fired up “Major League Baseball 2K11” last week.

Is it a release for the franchise that will serve as a watermark for subsequent installments like last year? No. Is it a game that comes with a few improvements that makes it worth a $60 purchase price from last year? Yes. And it’s because of a few subtle changes.

For years the 2K franchise has suffered from a common sports simulation pitfall. The ability to perform certain feats, such as pitching, become routine and give the player an unrealistic ability to perform with uncanny precision. In pitching, for example, the previous 2K system allowed you to pinpoint pitches on the corner of a rigidly enforced strike zone. This year, that precision is greatly altered depending on a given pitcher’s ability and the strike zone is more fluid. A pitch that may nick the outside corner in the third inning might not get you a strike later on in the game. It’s a small change but over the course of nine innings in adds a layer of realism not previously seen in 2K titles. Also helping the pitching system and the game overall are camera angles, which change depending on what stadium you’re in. The camera mounted at Fenway Park looks like a NESN broadcast and the strike zone changes size depending on the angle of the camera.

Also tweaked is the franchise’s fielding system. Though previous installments have come with a meter that dictates how hard a ball can be thrown before an error becomes probable, this year’s installment refines the system. Better fielders have a much larger window to make difficult throws and lesser players are much more prone to errors.

Hitting, unfortunately, hasn’t changed much since last year. One drawback in this installment is that games will often end with 20 hits or more between both teams. It doesn’t ruin the experience but it does bring an arcade feel to the whole thing.

Another setback to the release are the glitches. At one point this weekend, for example, the opposing pitcher just stood on the mound for five minutes not doing anything. I had to save and quit my game and re-load it just to get him to throw a pitch and these small annoyances pop up time and time again.

Overall, “Major League Baseball 2K11” is a solid addition to the franchise. Gamers who don’t own a PS3 may be a few years off from enjoying a dominant baseball title but until then, annual gains made in the 2K franchise are more than enough to keep baseball video game enthusiasts like me happy.

 

‘Major League Baseball 2k11’

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Metacritic.com score: 69 out of 100 (mixed or average reviews)

Our take: Despite some small glitches, “Major League Baseball 2K11” is a solid step forward for the franchise with enough changed from last year’s edition that it merits a purchase.

Available on: Xbox 360 (reviewed), DS, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii

Rated: E for everyone

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