The Wrap-Up: MLB 2K9

Posted March 8th, 2009 at 9:29 am


Heading into the release of MLB 2K9 there was a certain sense of optimism. Outside of one clearly identified problem everything pointed towards an improved offering, one that while maybe not great would be enough to satisfy baseball gaming fans on the 360. Unfortunately it didn’t take long to realize that not only did that not turn out to be the case, but it is far worse than anyone would’ve anticipated.

As I detailed in my initial impressions I have never witnessed so many flaws and glitches within such a short amount of time as I did with MLB 2K9. They weren’t anomalies either. The more I played the more I saw various repeating problems that totally ruined the experience.

Just to make things clear, MLB 2K9 is more of an arcade game than a sim game. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing except that the game is advertised as a pure simulation and being all about the realism of the sport. It tries to straddle the line between arcade and sim but ultimately the clear focus is to appeal to the casuals. It’s why the CPU doesn’t take any strikes, why they don’t throw many balls, why contact is made on nearly every swing, why home runs are so easy to hit, and why there are distracting giant visual indicators on-screen.

Last year I wouldn’t have called the controls gimmicky. I didn’t like them but there at least was some point to them. Now they have been transformed into gimmicks. I actually enjoy the swing stick some now that it has been simplified. Instead of being an unnecessary “process” it is about reaction and I appreciate that. It just doesn’t result in anything more than a simple button press does.

The pitching has been simplified which was a good idea to do. However again I don’t really see the point to it. It’s actually easier to be pinpoint accurate than ever before, though the huge ball cursor means you’re pitching more to an area than a spot. They probably should’ve kept the pitching the same as last year but just removed the meatball concept. The actual pitches have no sense of velocity as they are all very slow to the plate. This is especially noticeable with fastballs that have no sense of speed to them.

Graphically the game is very disappointing, it doesn’t match up well to any of the sports titles out there on the 360/PS3. The player faces are horrendous, elements such as the dust clouds are embarrassing, and the lighting is mediocre. This could be overlooked if there was quality gameplay.

The big problem that was spotted pre-release was the hyper-aggressiveness of the CPU at the plate. It is extremely rare to see the CPU take a strike. They might occasionally if it is right on the edge. Despite that I’d estimate over 90% of thrown strikes are swung at. This results in quicker games which would be a benefit if it didn’t also mean the games have no sense of authenticity or strategy.

Also 2K has for some reason removed exhibition mode as well as removed player editing options. No idea why these things were done but it is certainly understandable why people are frustrated about them having been taken out.

Now on to the glitches and atrocious AI. I haven’t played through a single game where I haven’t encountered at least one problem, and usually there are several. Below is a video showing examples from just two of the games I played. In the video you can see the CPU: 1) Blow a routine catch in the outfield 2) The 3B not react at all to a sharply hit ball 3) The OF makes some sort of unnecessary cut that results in misplaying the ball 4) The OF go normal speed then switch into slo-mo so that they don’t make the catch 5) Misplayed ball up the middle, confusion between the 2B and SS, and then another slo-mo situation which is beyond explanation.

The most frequent glitches being seen are the misplayed balls in the outfield, 1B not standing on the bag which allows for hits when they should’ve been outs, and the outfielders going into slow motion so they either can’t reach a ball in time to catch it or so they perform a more dramatic catch. Outfielders struggle to play balls off the wall. Also pickoffs are incredibly easy, actually to the point of being automatic at second base and pickles are completely broken.

I’ve also noticed that the CPU seems to replace their pitchers too early in games. This especially makes no sense considering the low pitch counts. I’ve seen them pull pitchers in the 5th inning who are throwing shutouts for pinch hitters. Not good CPU management.

The framerate is definitely not the consistent 60fps that 2K had assured us it would be. There is slow-down usually right after a ball is put into play or when there is a great deal of action going on. These same situations are magnified online. It usually hasn’t affected the outcome of the plays but it is annoying. The framerate is better than last year but claiming it is a consistent 60fps simply isn’t true.

In theory the new base running system sounds good. But base stealing is absolutely terrible as it’s almost impossible to steal. I like the leading off using the trigger and holding in until it vibrates for a steal. However I’ve yet to steal a base successfully. I either get picked off, caught in a broken pickle, or thrown out by a mile.

The thing that has always irked me the most is when companies make promises or advertise features that don’t work either at all or as advertised. That has happened here with MLB 2K9. Look on the back of the game box. “Inside Edge produces remarkably accurate player tendencies”. I’ve noticed no tendencies other than the one of every batter swinging at practically every strike. On the 2K website you can find the claim “experience a World Series celebration in true championship style” which is something the producers also talked up. The actual celebration, if you want to call it that, is laughable.

In general the flow of the games are good. The commentary is impressively fluid and the real-time presentation keeps things moving along. That is probably the biggest improvement and best achievement for 2K9. The new commentary gives a very fresh feel. It is the first year though and it takes time to build a good commentary library. So there is a lot of repetition and inaccuracies made.

The post-game highlights are also great. Not only is there the end recap which shows highlights but after that you can choose from the Clutch Performer, Top 3 Plays (reminiscent of SportsCenter) and Signature Highlights for each player. The presentation of the highlights is very slick.

Initially I was a big fan of the real-time game presentation. I felt it slowed the pace a little bit and that made the flow feel more like a real baseball game. However the more I’ve played the less I care for it. The awkward player movements are just too much to ignore. I’m also finding myself wanting to skip through things and having to mash the A button several times just to get to the next pitch which is frustrating. Add into that how the stat overlays are inaccurate and at times the information being displayed is pretty amusing to see.

You do get advantages for installing the game to the 360 hard drive. Make sure to check out my analysis here if you haven’t already.

I was very pleased with the online play performance and the addition of the Home Run Derby. Unfortunately the same problems you see offline with 2K9 are present online and the Derby is so incredibly easy that there is no reason it even currently exists. You can read the most extensive analysis of online play available for MLB 2K9 here.

I am disappointed that no where in any pre-release coverage was the severity of the startlingly prominent issues mentioned. 2K embargoed all reviews until after release and now it is obvious they were trying to cover up what they knew was coming.

The first sign of trouble was finding out that 2K had changed stadiums to accommodate more advertising. The ironic thing was later hearing that 2K’s stated goal this year was for “authenticity”. If they were willing sacrifice the integrity of the game to provide additional advertising space in stadiums then why would we believe they were going to treat other areas of the game with the proper respect?

I am still startled at just how sloppy the game turned out and how much 2K has continued to mislead consumers. It is interesting to now see various media sites really hitting them hard with the reviews and even going as far as to call for MLB to strip the license. It’s a shame that Microsoft isn’t working of their own MLB title considering how much prestige The Show is bringing to the PS3.

The Wrap-Up

For several years now sub-par MLB 2K releases have been explained off as having laid the foundation to build from for the future. I actually bought into that to an extent until now. This series will never reach the standards consumers expect and deserve unless it goes through a complete reboot in the mold of Triple Play to MVP.  Unfortunately for us I don’t think that 2K has the desire, resources, or time to invest in doing that.