2K Sports has had issues with their baseball game for a long time, especially in the past few years after Ben Brinkman's attempted total overhaul of the series was a disastrous failure. During this time, Major League Baseball 2K had played second fiddle to Sony's first party baseball series MLB 'XX: The Show.
While MLB 2K dealt with serious AI issues, broken gameplay and some painful glitches, The Show cruised along with intelligent design and realistic gameplay. Last year's Major League Baseball 2K10 suffered problems, but it was clear that the issues could easily be fixed in the next year's edition. This assumption proved correct.
From a pure aesthetic standpoint, MLB 2K11 has made some needed changes, starting with the player likenesses. 2K10 had some nice renditions, but there was sort of a mannequin feel to them - and managers were just creepy. 2K11 fixes this, and not only do players and managers look less like invaders from the Uncanny Valley, but their facial expressions are more realistic, and dynamically react to events to the game. The players in the dugout will even react to the flow of the game.
Players look better than ever.
Another new feature of 2K11 in terms of presentation is the fact that every stadium has their own unique, true-to-life camera layout. The effect is that gamers will get the actual television broadcast feel of that stadium. Fenway Park's cameras are almost behind the pitcher, while Yankee Stadium's camera is more over the pitcher's right shoulder. Crowds look good, but while fans will fight over foul balls at the point of landing, the rest of the crowd will act like nothing happened.
Moving to the more important arena of gameplay, the game finally gets the game right. While it would be impossible to expect perfection, the game presents an amazingly lifelike game. One of the biggest bugaboos of 2K10 was the utter aggressiveness of both the pitchers and hitters, throwing strike after strike and swinging at the first strike in the zone. Now, AI pitchers have less control, and will try to get the human player to chase more, while allowing the human player to work the count; running even an ace's count to 100 by the 7th is possible. Meanwhile, AI hitters will even stare at a fastball strike if they don't think they'll drive it. They can be fooled into swinging at pitches outside the zone, as before, but they can even be fooled into taking strike three, too.
Part of this is due to the fact that the umpires now have a more random strike zone. While a pitch over the plate will be a strike, trying to nick the corners won't always result in a strike call, even if the pitch indicator shows it was on the line in the zone. As a result, human walks can happen more.
Pitching remains the best part of the game.
The analog pitching control is still unmatched and a pleasure to do. Hitting is less so, but has good enough feedback; checking your swing is still almost impossible to do, and it feels like a gameplay balance decision rather than an oversight, which makes it feel cheap. Fielding has been utterly revamped. Good outfielders will reach balls that bad outfielders won't be able to do; this is indicated by a sphere around the landing point of the ball - the better the range of the outfielder, the bigger the sphere, and if the fielder gets into that circle, he'll catch it. Infielders have throw meters. The better the infielder, the bigger the green on the throw meter; overthrowing will result in errors. Unfortunately, the same fielding issue with infielders is still there - they'll stop in their tracks waiting for the player to take over control and allow routine grounders up the middle to go for hits.
Baserunning and stealing has been improved a little. To steal, after taking a lead, the player holds down the trigger (for the lead runner) or the shoulder button (for all the runners) to take off. When a pitcher is getting ready to do a pickoff throw, the camera will change early, to let the player know that a pickoff is coming, unlike previous edition's surprise pickoffs.
The in-game AI seems sound this time around, as is the managing, though as before, the manager sometimes will have a slow hook on starters. Occasionally, a fast hitter will attempt to bunt for a hit, but the computer seems more reticent to steal bases. The game physics will cause some great unscripted moments to occur, such as a line drive bouncing off the starter - the AI is up to the task in reacting to the play. Baserunners no longer do incredibly stupid things, and will do some basic, smart baserunning like advancing to third on a grounder to the right side.
Some of the stadiums are gorgeous, like picturesque AT&T Park.
The two Game Modes that most people will engage in are harder to evaluate. The Franchise Mode seems sounder now, with some interface improvement, though the franchise GM AI is still a little off. It'll be harder to judge until 20 seasons are under the hood and you don't see some egregious trades and roster decisions. On first blush, it feels good.
The MyPlayer career mode is also improved, and one of the things players will immediately notice is that the progression is slower. Fortunately, the game now recognizes that relievers aren't meant to throw 6 innings, and future closers will find work slower (as the game doesn't trust them in that role until they improve) and more far in between, and will have less opportunities to advance. The long relief roles might have been unrealistic, but they did have some gameplay balance.
Since the season has not started yet, it's impossible to evaluate the dynamic roster updates that have been touted by 2K Sports, but the game still allows you to even play that day's exhibition games.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL 2K11 VERDICT
Overall, Major League Baseball 2K11 is finally the game that many 2K Sports fans have been waiting for, and at the very least, the gameplay and presentation is exciting and engaging. Check this title out.