You can put the game's best player on your box cover. You can bring back a million-dollar marketing ploy. Heck, you can even get the Pope to give his blessing and promise a Rolls Royce to loyal fans. Unfortunately for 2K Sports, once again they'll be watching from the dugout as the competition does their annual victory lap. Six years into their exclusive third-party publishing deal with Major League Baseball, the developer has yet to get their act together and produce a baseball simulator that really does the sport justice. This year is more of the same, and at this point seems as if 2K is happy to simply coast towards the end of their partnership (which expires in 2012). Yes, folks, it's going to be that kind of review, so prep yourselves.

By Troy Mounis

THE WIND-UP
In the spirit of unbiased reportage, you'll hear us reviewer gasbags tout our commitment to providing complete, unfiltered commentary of video games, promising that things will be done on the straight and narrow and that no stone will be left unturned. Well, this writer specifically is tired of turning the 2K series' stones: Let it be known that when it comes to baseball simulation video games, it is the lesser of the two available major brands out there. By a mile. It's not even close. And MLB 2K11 proves it again. Whether it's the graphics which somehow have not kept pace even though they have admittedly been revamped, the sub-par animations (which become very evident when players run the bases like they’ll get shot if they merely step outside of the baselines), or just the dumb-as-bricks computer that seemingly substituted players in and out at random, there are simply too many hurdles to jump here, and it makes the game fall flat in the end.

GAMEPLAY
On a lighter note, where the otherwise superior MLB 11: The Show misses, MLB 2K11 actually does a great job: in the broadcast booth and in the hitting department. The golden-tongued troika of Steve Phillips, Gary Thorne, and John Kruk are simply a better, more believable, and enthusiastic group of commentators than what's found elsewhere—and with new dialogue and talking points, they're quite the treat when it comes to providing some background noise during at-bats.

Also, lo and behold, hitting is actually quite a bit more fun since the last time we hit the 2K diamond circuit. The payoff of smacking a line drive down the line for a double or a walk-off homer to win the game is spot-on, making it feel like we're really in control of the hitting situation just as the batter would be in real life. And, really, it’s the least 2K could’ve done to get our attention long enough to plow through the rest of the game...



THE GOODS
MLB 2K has settled on two major modes once again to anchor this year’s offering: My Player and Franchise. The two share the same goal of putting you in control; My Player deals with the evolution of your created character (very similar to Road to the Show in MLB 11: The Show), while Franchise is a player-manager’s wet dream meant to pull in the most meticulous of baseball strategists for the long haul. The key difference is that the My Player mode is not just about stuffing the stat boxes for your personal character, but doing all of the little things to help your team win, like bunting runners over and stealing key bases. Last year's game forced you to somehow be a hitting machine when your stats were atrocious; the focus has shifted toward making good, smart plays, which is key to good baseball.

Franchise mode feels a bit too similar to last year's offering, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We did run into several inconsistencies, the most glaring being that the Royals wound up winning their respective division in our first run-through. We're all about giving our KC folks some love, but c'mon. It just seemed that the AI powering the back end, from how unfair trades were compared and allowed to execute to bad teams on paper making it to the playoffs, was a half-step off the entire way.

THE PAYOFF PITCH
There isn't one specific thing that stands out as the culprit behind the bad taste the game leaves in our mouth. It just feels that the developers never really addressed some of the shortcomings in its core mechanics, particularly with the all-important pitching engine. They've tried pretty much everything to get that aspect down pat, but the mechanics behind pitching still seem wonky and not true-to-life. In fact, it felt like it was much easier to hit our spots when on the mound—rarely, if ever, were we able to issue any walks, which is anathema to how the game has been marketed (especially with their second annual Perfect Game contest).



Overall, while there are several points of noticeable improvements in MLB 2K11, the series still feels flimsy, hollow, and—when compared to its competition—is several years away from being taken seriously. Perhaps throwing money at a few more creative designers and QA testers to really lay the foundation for something more meaningful, instead of creating fictitious buzz through 2K's "Million Dollar Challenge," is the answer. Or maybe it's just time for the developers to hang up their cleats and let someone else have an at-bat (we're looking at you, EA). Come 2013, it may not be their choice to make.

 

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.