Well, it’s that time of year again. Baseball fans everywhere await the start of the regular season, and hope springs eternal in Spring Training as teams begin to assemble their best lineups in hopes of a World Series appearance come November. It also means the release of the new baseball games, and with that, we have our subject for today’s review; MLB 2K13 for XBOX 360 ($59.99, by 2KSports).
It’s never a good sign when the gaming community has no information on what games are in the pipeline. Even more so when it’s a sports title and the game isn’t even announced until less than two months prior to its launch. Yet that’s exactly what happened with this title. To say that this game is a re-hash of 2K12 with a slightly glossier veneer would be to give it too much credit, but before I go that route, let’s get into the details.
The format and navigation will seem very familiar to those players who played 2K12. It will also feel very familiar to those who played 2K11, and probably those who played 2K10 as well. Having been a fan of the series sport for most of my life, I’ve played almost all iterations of baseball games on this console, and many of its predecessors, going way back to 2K7 on this platform and far beyond (Anyone remember Bases Loaded?). Since Xbox has gone to a single baseball product for the past several years, I’m the sort of baseball geek that will play that season’s title regardless of quality of play.
It seems to me like that is 2KSports target audience, as the effort and quality of this product has fallen off the proverbial development cliff. The Good: This is actually a hard sell. The product is literally a page by page copy of last year’s model, which was only a negligible update of the previous product. The changes are really hard to find, with the exceptions of the player photos the audio tracks that are part of the experience this time around. A slight variation in textures in the menus is about as much as you get in this area.
Having said that, though, this format and layout work fairly well. With massive sports titles by EA taking a more contemporary approach to menus and navigation with music and effects, this is much less “Rock Star” and much more “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. The problem with that thought line however, is that while it definitely isn’t broken, it definitely feels like we’re stuck in the mud with this.
The Bad: One of the things I’ve never liked about these games is their lineup management. Players are automatically assigned a defensive position, and it can’t be changed for real life players in the game. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but here’s where this gets to be a pain. I’m a huge Angels fan. The Angels have a variety of players who play multiple positions, and aren’t really considered players of a particular position. Take Mark Trumbo; a monster with the bat, and former first baseman. He was on the books as a third baseman last year, an experiment that lasted about 8 games, and platooned in the corner outfield spots the rest of the way. In this year’s game, he’s listed as a Right Fielder. Not a big deal, we can put him into whatever positions we want each game manually. The problem, however, is if I sim a game or two in the course of a season, the lineups get mismanaged because of his default positional assignment. It becomes a constant battle of changing lineups throughout a season because the game constantly adjusts lineups based on player’s hard-coded positions. A total pain and one easily rectified by giving players the ability to change in-game player’s positions.
Ok, here’s where this game really sort of works, and the “if it ain’t broke…” machine powers through. The Good: Pitching. I absolutely love the “Total Control” pitching controls, and this is the one area that I’m glad they’ve kept since its inception in 2K11. It really makes you have to work at throwing the right pitch, and prevents that autopilot controls thing that many sports game suffer from. You know the one, the particular swing to hit it over the fence 90% of the time, or the bread and butter run play in Madden that you can get 6-8 yards on every time you run it? This pitching mechanism makes every pitch different, and it works really well.
This also requires that I mention the annual contest for throwing a perfect game. 2KSports annual “Perfect Game Challenge” this year takes the form of a “Final Four” tournament, pitting the 4 players with the best “perfect game score” (based on a variety of metrics like strength of opponent, overall difficulty, etc) in a winner takes all tournament for $250K. I’m sure it makes for a lot of mid game resets when you lose the perfect game on a bloop single against the other team’s plucky short-stop, and last year over 1,000 perfect games were “entered” into the contest as potential finalists. It’s fun, but what happened to the $1 Million prize?
I also think MLB 2K13 is slightly smoother and faster than 2K12, and the game seems to flow nicely. It’s not any sort of improvement in the features or controls, it’s just that it seems more efficient, in a way, than last year. The Bad: I’ve never been a fan of the pitch recognition options in this game. It might just be me, but I can’t see walks being a real factor in anyone’s offensive game because with breaking balls, it seems like you really just have to guess as to what pitch is coming next. You get the pitch type indicator one most pitches, as a function of the players “eye” rating, and that works at times, but I really don’t see how you can work a walk without it really just being luck. Could be me, but it’s definitely less than great. The game (still) features the My Player feature, allowing people to take the role of a minor league ball player attempting to rise the ranks to the Show. It works, and could have been improved upon from its inception in 2K11, but it’s basically exactly the same. After a few games, I find the process gets really repetitive, and doesn’t offer much in the way of challenge. Ok idea, poorly implemented. The rest of the game works the same as it always has. Season mode, playoff mode, franchise mode, the homerun derby. Everything looks and feels exactly the same as it has for years because, wait for it, everything is the same as it has been for years.
All in all, the game is probably a B-. Is it awful? Hardly. As a self-professed Baseball nerd, this game will be my everyday driver for the 2013 season.
Is it great? Hardly. In 2010, this game was “pretty good”. Three years later, it’s the same game with roster moves and a slightly improved physics, and I’m being nice when I say slightly. Given the expiring exclusivity to the MLB franchise that 2KSports has, I’m hopeful that the reins will be taken by another development team and given a complete refresh from the ground up with next year’s baseball title.
The problem is that this all becomes a sort of self- fulfilling prophecy. A mediocre game with no market push and development behind it means that it probably won’t sell very well. Do this a few years in a row and you destroy a marketplace for a particular sports title pretty quickly. Which came first, the crumby product or the crumby market? We’ll never really know, but it definitely doesn’t bode well for baseball enthusiasts that also happen to be Xbox enthusiasts, especially when a PSP/PS3 title like The Show is universally regarded as THE baseball game for baseball fans.
My wife, a non-baseball nerd, non-game player, really sort of nailed it.
Shannon (wife): I thought you just bought the new baseball
Scott: I did. This is it.
Shannon: It looks exactly like the old game.
Scott: You’re not wrong….
Shannon: $60 bucks for exactly the same game?
That about sums it up.
Suggestions: I think at this point the game's become "Oh yeah, we make
the Xbox baseball game, too", but there's little to no push
behind it from an operational stand point.
It's sad, because while the baseball market isn't the FIFA
or Madden market, there are lots of die hard baseball fans
out there that want a quality product, and I think a quality
product would push the casual fans back into playing the
New batting mechanism, new POV, better outfield controls, a
new announcer dialogue, heck, even keep the announcers but
re-script the whole thing so I'm not listening to the
literally the same calls about specific players three years
Why do build me up, 2KSports, just to let me down?