Major League Baseball 2K6 Preview
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit with Anthony Chau of 2K Sports and preview a beta version of MLB 2K6. As with NBA 2K6 and College Hoops 2K6, MLB 2K6 has all of the features that are currently found in the Xbox and PS2 releases. The Swing Stick is pretty fun once you get the hang of it. It reminds me of Sega’s World Series coin-op game that featured a bat that you pulled back during the pitcher’s windup and released once the ball gets closer to the plate. The presentation was always a strong suit of this series, and this year appears to be no different. The new Inside Edge feature is also found in this version and is a welcome addition. This feature adds a new managerial and scouting element to this year’s game that wasn’t present in previous versions of this series.

As most of you know, the majority of the changes in the Xbox 360 version are graphical. The stadiums are beautiful and the crowd is fully three-dimensional. The crowd moves up and down the aisles, and pockets of the crowd will reach for foul balls when one enters their section. The same uniform movements found in the 2K Sports basketball games are also found in MLB 2K6, although they are toned down. 2K Sports also signed an apparel deal with Rawlings, and MLB 2K6 features many ballplayers' authentic equipment. The actual gloves of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are in the game, among others.

It is clear from playing this game that many of the animations from the Xbox version are still found in the Xbox 360 version. However, there are a few new animations found in this version; primarily the fielding animations. A major issue I had with last years game that the batting animations were the same for every batter, and sometimes, "contact" would be made with the ball - even though it appeared that the bat never actually touched the ball. All of those issues appear to have been fixed in the Xbox 360 version. The swing animations appear to be more fluid and more natural. The fielding animations are also more varied. I played four innings and saw a number of different animations, including different over-the-shoulder catch animations. One small but important feature found in this year’s game is the ability to move the batter around the batter’s box and position the catcher behind the plate.

My biggest concern with this game is a concern that tends to pop up with most 2K Sports games: Bugs. Now that 2K Sports owns the exclusive rights to third party professional baseball games, the pressure is on to produce a bug-free game. Xbox 360 owners no longer have a choice when it come to MLB games, so if a “game-killing bug” is found, the backlash will be much worse. Anthony acknowledged that bugs have been found in previous MLB 2K games, but that they primarily occur in Franchise mode, which is the most difficult mode to bug-test. He further stated that this is not an excuse, and that 2K Sports has in the past and always will patch any major bug that is found in their games. When determining what constitutes a "major bug", 2K takes into account the number of people this bug affects and whether there are any obvious workarounds. That said, the MLB 2K6 team is taking the extra weeks between the Xbox and Xbox 360 releases to fine-tune the game and ensure that the game ships as close to perfect as it can be.

My initial impression is that the game looks pretty darned good, however, this is only based off of a round of Home Run Derby and four innings of gameplay. In my opinion, if the game was released in its current state, I would purchase the game and would be initially happy with the purchase provided there are no major bugs. The fact that 2K Sports is taking a few weeks to tweak the game before release can only help the game, and I'm anxious to see what the final version will look like when its released in mid-April.

Interested in more about Major League Baseball 2K6? Then stop by our Forums and join in on my Q&A thread about the game!