MLB 2K9 Demo Impressions and Videos

Posted February 24th, 2009 at 11:20 am


I wanted to get up some initial impressions of MLB 2K9 after running through the demo a couple times. By no means is this a definitive assessment of the game, but there are numerous things worth mentioning that I found to be positives as well as dislikes that I have come across already. Overall the reaction to the demo seems to be quite mixed with most everyone recognizing improvement but much of that being overshadowed by discussion of various issues.

Continue on to read through my thoughts as well as check out the first two videos I’ve recorded so far off the demo in HD.

Unfortunately the demo is short on options. 2K didn’t allow for the changing of difficulty levels, controls, camera angles, and it ends after three innings even if the game is tied. The CPU actually plays the game as if the 3rd is the 9th inning though, so I’ve seen the pitcher get pulled for a pinch hitter and walk-offs result in a celebration (though one that isn’t very satisfying). There is no tutorial included so I don’t even know how to do some things such as the base running. These impressions are based on what the demo allows and although it will be representative of the final product to a large extent keep under consideration that things may vary when those options are adjusted and as everyone gets acclimated to the game.

Much has been made of the changes to the pitching and hitting controls. So far I really appreciate the simplification of the swing stick. I have despised using a swing stick in all of the baseball games, usually switching right back over to the buttons. But now I can see myself sticking with it. It is back to being predominantly based on reaction instead of completing a “process”. The only downside is not being able to check swing effectively.

The pitching however has actually gotten worse. I would’ve rather they stuck with last year’s pitching and just eliminated the meatball. It seems like there is no benefit now, as though you’re forced to do the gesture just to do it. And the giant yellow circle and flash of light after each pitch is unnecessary. The large ball cursor also makes it difficult to really pinpoint where you are attempting to pitch to. It is almost as though you can only attempt to pitch to five sections in the strike zone (middle and the corners) or outside the strike zone.

Is it just me or does it seem like the pitch takes long to reach the plate? Fastballs don’t give a sense of their velocity. While it is nice in the sense that it is easier to read pitches and hold off swinging at balls it also seems to make it especially easy to make contact. I can’t specifically remember swinging and missing a single time.

That, along with the CPU swinging at practically any pitch that is going to be a strike (big problem) is going to lead to games with very low pitch counts. I can see this becoming one of if not the main gripe people have with the game.

Even if it is tied to the difficulty level you can literally pick every CPU runner off. That shouldn’t happen even on the lowest difficulty. It remains to be seen if higher ones will have that same problem.

The framerate seems solid, while I’m not sure it always runs at 60fps it does seem mostly consistent which is the important thing. I haven’t noticed any instances where it has affected the experience for me. That concern seems to have been squashed now. You really notice the difference in how the much better 2K9 feels vs 2K8 based off the framerate alone.

The real-time presentation does really make the game flow nicely. I’m not the type that usually sits through cut scenes, but I’ve let this style of presentation play through at times. It just feels more natural, even when skipping to the next event it doesn’t seem as though you passed up something you were being told you should watch. The only thing that distracts from this is how awkward the players move and some odd events within them. As an example in the first inning video below you’ll see Carl Crawford after a foul ball looking off to the side as he holds his bat. Problem is there is no bat in his hands. I was also disappointed that after hitting a home run they didn’t show the player crossing the plate or any sort of celebration as it just ended as he rounded second base. On the plus side I really like how the crowd looks when they go for a ball hit into the stands.

The new commentary makes a huge difference. After last year and not working on commentary at all (except replacing “Devil” with a pause before saying Rays) and now bringing in the new team it really adds to the experience with a fresh feel and good pacing.

One of my favorite things about 2K9 which is another control element they introduced last year actually is using the right analog stick to throw as a fielder. You can still use the buttons to throw to the bases but I love using the stick. It keeps me engaged and just feels fun that way.

Hit variety seems much improved also. I found good success using the left stick to influence the hits. Pushing down will get you to hit grounders, pushing up will lead to balls hit in the air. The only problem I have with this is that naturally most people will primarily hold up on the stick which may result in more home runs being hit than is realistic. The demo has seen lots of home runs but that could partly be attributed to the difficulty level.

The graphics just don’t reach the standards that other sports titles have set. Several of them including the competition are much more impressive graphically. This is especially seen in areas such as 2K9’s player faces, grass, dirt clouds, and stadium details. The screenshots that 2K released were certainly not representative of how the game actually looks. That is not to say that the graphics are terrible, but in comparison to many other sports titles it just doesn’t match up favorably.

Overall the framerate, presentation, and hitting especially were the things that stood out as strengths. However there are several issues I have come across or things that simply bother me and that is after just a couple rounds of the demo. I’m looking forward to the game’s release next week as despite all these things it appears to be a much better offering than 360 users got last year and hopefully that is a good sign for the future of the franchise.