Major League Baseball 2K11 Review (Xbox 360)
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Article 1: Initial Impressions
Article 2: Initial Online Impressions
Article 3: Mid-Review Update
Article 4: My Player and Franchise Impressions
For the past couple years I have been rooting for the MLB 2K series. At one point on the last-gen consoles, it was a masterful series. But when MLB 2K6 came out on the current-gen consoles, the franchise unfortunately spiraled out of control. That downward spiral culminated in MLB 2K9, one of the more disappointing games in recent memory. However, I thoroughly enjoyed MLB 2K10 despite its flaws, and I had very high hopes for MLB 2K11.
So did MLB 2K11 find its source of power this time around, or did it just find another way to swing and miss?
On the field, MLB 2K11 plays a solid game of simulation baseball. Revised contact windows at the plate lead to an impressive amount of hit variety, and the revamped fielding system -- while it does shortchange some guys and expose some attribute faults -- places a renewed emphasis on player abilities. The default offensive camera angle is a site to behold, and the gesture-based analog pitching is still the best pitching system in a video game to date.
2K just needs to add some additional polish to the game. There is some frustrating slowdown when a ball is put in play; running animations and some swinging animations look out of place or just plain wonky; and frustrating bugs, like a player running through an outfield wall to catch a home run, are just hard to look past.
As I mentioned in the online article listed at the top of the review, MLB 2K11 seems to play a smoother technical game online than it does offline. However, the lack of any type of in-game presentation beyond the commentary is a difficult pill to swallow, especially when you even have to pause the game to see who’s currently batting.
Even with this flaw, online play is relatively lag free and can be a lot of fun depending on your opponent. If you can stomach the bare-bones approach to presentation, there is definitely a lot of fun to be had online with this title.
Here’s the area where 2K really hits its highest highs and lowest lows. From a broadcast-presentation standpoint, the game's MLB Today commentary and statistical overlays are second to none. Unfortunately, the game's graphics, players models and lack of small baseball nuances are severely lacking.
For a company that prides itself on integrating “signature style” into its sports games, 2K should be extremely disappointed with how some of these players look. There is no reason why a veteran player like Ramon Santiago should be graphically represented as a tan Caucasian with a goatee. The same could be said for a player like Miguel Tejada, who looks nothing like himself in this game. Even more disappointing is how bad some of the game's batting stances look (Miguel Cabrera), and just the amount of players with substantial service time who were given generic player photos and models.
One final note worth mentioning is the ineptitude of the CPU AI at times. CPU managers will leave relievers in games too long, multiple players will at times converge on a ball, which leaves a base uncovered, and there have been multiple instances where a CPU base runner was clearly safe on a steal attempt yet the umpire called him out.
It’s the little details in this game that are missing, and it's a problem that many sports gamers will notice. That being said, I don't want the brilliance of MLB Today, as well as the commentary and presentation associated with it, to be overlooked either. John Kruk especially stands out in this area, and the amount of TV-style polish here is simply incredible.
MLB 2K11 is a stat-head's dream game. Simulation stats look spot on sans the league leading home run totals, which only seem to get into the 30s. There is no doubt that simulated seasons will look different depending on what version of MLB Today’s constantly updating rosters you download and bring into your franchise. Also, for anyone interested in playing MLB Today games, the dynamic statistics based on real-world player performances promises to inject some life into the Quick Play game mode.
Please note: In the five years of Franchise mode I simulated and played through, I did not notice any long-term player progression or statistical issues.
Franchise and Career Modes
This title features a good My Player mode and Franchise mode. In My Player it is still fairly easy to progress to the majors, so higher difficulty levels are suggested for those looking to walk in the shoes of a true minor-league player. Regardless, this is a fun mode to lose yourself in for hours at a time.
Franchise mode is bolstered by some good AI logic -- no really insane trades here -- but the mode has some problems, both new and old. The new problems include the game's new injury system and malfunctioning fatigue system, both of which I detailed in my earlier article about the Franchise mode.
A new issue I noticed since writing that article is actually an old problem that has been in MLB 2K before. Essentially, big-time players who are about to be free agents (think about guys like Pujols and Fielder this year) will pretty much always re-sign. The real problem with this is that these players sign for below-market value, and it leads to a free-agency market that tends to be filled with just average players, all the while teams have all this extra money to spend but no one to spend it on.
I can only a hope a patch is inbound soon to address these issues. While each issue can be handled with certain house rules and extensive edits, the problems are hard to look past if you are really into Franchise mode.
MLB 2K11 falls a little short of taking that next big step towards greatness. Even with the enjoyable gameplay, this game lacks polish. From the lack of attention given to player faces -- the new body types are a welcomed addition -- to the constant frame-rate hiccups when a ball is put into play, it is difficult to look past such issues that should not be appearing in a major sports title. While some may disagree, big-budget titles can't just survive with solid gameplay. These types of games also need outstanding visuals, presentation and attention to detail to truly separate themselves from the rest of a very competitive sports gaming pack. MLB 2K11 only nails a couple of those aspects.
In short, MLB 2K11 is a good game, it’s just unfortunate that 2K has not quite figured out how to add the little things that could make it great.
Learning Curve: Once you nail down the game's slick analog controls, you should have no problem playing like a pro.
Control Scheme: Analog pitching and hitting both feel fluid, and the new throw meter is one of the best I’ve experience in a baseball game.
Visuals: A mixed bag that ultimately hurts the overall package.
Audio: Commentary and crowd noise are dynamic and on point.
Score: 7.0 (Good)