Major League Baseball 2K9ESRB:
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Players: 1-2 (Online 2 Players)
Playstation Network Compatible
Online Broadband Required
Required Hard Disk Space: 5536 MB
HDTV: 720p, 1080p, 1080i
When ‘The Bigs’ arrived on the scene in 2007, 2K Sports really knocked one out of the park as gamers praised the game for its fun and arcadish approach to America’s favorite past time. Although it didn’t receive the highest of praises from reviewers, the game had highly addictive and entertaining elements. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for 2K Sports MLB franchise. The franchise has come under hard times often overshadowed by Sony’s MLB: The Show series. So needless to say, like Travis Hafner from the Cleveland Indians, I was looking for a rebound year from 2K Sports beloved 2K baseball franchise. Did we get it? Let’s find out shall we.
Visually, Major League Baseball 2K9 (referred i is a pretty good looking game. That being said, it did have a couple of issues. For starters, the players are hard to recognize as their faces do not look much like their real-life counterparts. For instance, if it wasn’t for Soriano’s trademark swing, which the game mimics to perfection, I would have not recognized him. When compared to Sony’s The Show franchise, 2K’s game takes a backseat as The Show features players a little more life-like in the facial region. Where MLB 2K9 has Sony’s game beat however is with 2K’s "Signature Style". This feature mimics what a player does in real life and it is a feature the franchise has had for a couple of years now. If you are a fan of the game some of these signature animations add a nice a touch and are quite well done. From Ryan Howard’s pre-swing swagger where he points the bat towards the outfield to Nomar Garciapara adjusting his batting gloves, all the signature mannerisms are very effective and give you the feeling you are in or at an MLB game. Sometimes the players do not move or react in the field as they should; but bottom line the player’s animations at the plate are nothing but stunning.
As far as the stadiums are concerned, 2K9 delivers in this area as well. All of the stadiums are done to perfection. In fact if anything it makes you want to see more of the stadium and surrounding areas. If there is any negative in this area it is that some of the inside stadium shots seem a little too generic at times. Again, it is not a deal breaker, just something that you may notice after a full season with your favorite team. That being said, the game has a more realistic feel this time around. For instance, I noticed ball boys this year and foul balls actually caused people in the crowds to jump out of their seats trying to catch the ball. Additionally, stadiums will have unique fan signatures such as Atlanta Brave fans who can be seen and heard doing the Tomahawk Chop. It is the little things the developers included which really creates a terrific atmosphere.
The lighting in Major League Baseball 2K9 is also worth mentioning. For instance during the first part of the game against the Cardinals I could not see the ball very well each time I was up to bat. Much of this had to do with the time of day and the delivery of the pitcher. However, a couple of innings later when the sun had set and the stadium lights lit up the field, I found myself able to see the ball somewhat easier and I was making much more contact with the pitches.
On the downside, the game does have some heavy duty clipping issues. Often players run right through other players. You will notice this mostly when a player is on base as he tends to cut right through a defender. Also the game does suffer from some occasional slowdown. Often outfielders would be running in ‘slow-mo’ towards the ball. They are not major issues but it does take a bit out of the whole experience. It is something I figured would be non-existent given that the series has been around for such a long time now.
As far as the sound is concerned, MLB 2K9 is solid. From the soundtrack to Gary Thorne’s commentating, 2K9 does a wonderful job at creating an authentic baseball atmosphere. The soundtrack is a bit better than advertised as it is nice to see some legendary artists such as Ted Nugent and Judas Priest on the set list. So many developers rely on some no-names to fill up their track list but not this game. It is not my all-time favourite 2K set list but it very good nonetheless.
As indicated above Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips do a fabulous job on the commentary. I prefer the tandem of John Miller and Joe Morgan from previous 2K games however I do enjoy listening to Gary’s voice. Sure, some of the comments are repetitive but name me a sports game that doesn't have this problem. It was only after the 10th game or so that I got a little tired of some of the player descriptions that were used for my franchise team. Other in-game baseball sound effects are well done too. The crowd chatter is nice and the overall sounds of the game are bang-on. It truly feels like a baseball game and to that end the sound in MLB 2K9 is effective.
As I suggested at the onset, the last few years for the 2K MLB franchise has been rough to say the least. Last year I had issues with the cumbersome controls and just didn’t have as much fun as I should have had. This year, under the guidance of a new development team, MLB 2K9 is a little more player friendly and some of the fun has been restored in a series which has seemingly gone a little sideways in recent years. While the game has taken some steps in the right direction, some issues do hold this game back from being considered the MLB game to have this spring.
First I will start out with what I really liked about the game – the controls. I was dreading having to review the game as I anticipated similar controls to that of 2K8. Fortunately, the controls are much more user friendly this year and casual baseball gamers can now really enjoy the game. Pitching has been simplified from last year to a 2-step pitching style using the right analog stick. The release timing mechanisms from last year are gone. Instead a clear menu appears with directions on how to throw fastballs, curveballs, etc. It makes for a far more enjoyable and less frustrating experience. Veteran gamers may not like the simplified approach, however most will surely enjoy the more forgiving controls presented in MLB 2K9. Hitting on is equally more user friendly this time around. It wasn’t long into the first game that I was getting base hits on a regular basis. While this may not stay true to a baseball sim-game, it certainly makes for a far more enjoyable ride. The batting controls this time around give batters the ability to influence hits with timing and aim. In other words, I saw more variety in terms of the different hits. Spray shots, pulls, line drives and long bombs are the name of the game in 2K9. Many will argue the pitcher and hitting has been “dumbed-down” this year, but one quick adjustment of the Batting Power sliders can fix games which can become home run derbys.
On the downside, the defence appears to be very similar to last year and the mysterious player slow down can be a frustrating experience. Often fly balls turn into gong shows as your fielder painfully trots over the ball as though they are caught in some kind of slow motion time trance. The same can occur with middle infielders as they chase down what should be routine ground balls. Perhaps an update can rectify the glitch, but at press time such an update was non-existent. The AI often makes spectacular plays but when the roles are reversed and when you get to take the field it is a whole new story. Perhaps, over time I will be making spectacular diving grabs as well but after 15 games I still was unable to pull any off.
While much of the defensive mechanisms feel the same, there have been some nice additions. You now have the ability to cancel a throw and hold the ball. Additionally you can pump fake which is critical during a run down. Users can also attempt quick throws which ‘zings’ the ball out of your hands quicker but also increases the chance of an error.
While the baserunning controls have been simplified this year; stealing bags and controlling more than one player on the base pads can get tricky. Often I wanted my player to advance to third and hold at first; however inevitably the runner on first would run towards second and the player heading towards third would start to return to second as I try to prevent my player on first from advancing. Clear as mud? Perhaps it is likely my inability to master the controls, however there has got to be an easier system than what is already in place. It should not be so difficult to have a runner hold-up at first while you advance a player from second to third, yet repeatedly I had issues.
One thing that really impressed me with the game was the ‘Living Rosters’. Once you log into the PSN network while in the game active roster updates will be uploaded which guarantees your game is current. I was amazed when I saw Matt Holiday in an A’s uniform and the recently signed Bobby Abreu in an Angel’s uniform. It is very cool to say the least.
All your traditional modes are back again, so I won’t spend too much time re-hashing all the games modes. I spent the majority of my time in franchise mode, where you pick a team and work your way through a full 162 game season, or an abbreviated one if you want. The mode is not as deep as say Sony’s “Road to the Show” mode; however all the stats and features any die hard baseball gamer could ever want are present in the game. Far too often I find baseball games to be the deepest games on the market. MLB 2K9 manages to have a nice balance of stats and simplicity.
One of the major drawbacks with the MLB 2K9 is the amount of bugs and glitches. From home runs that get recorded as singles, to getting caught in a never ending run down, the glitches and bugs are numerous. Makes you wonder if they would have held the game back, and perhaps released it closer to the All-Star break, would we see so many issues as there are almost too many to list and at times it can get discouraging. But alas we get a game which can unfortunately come across as rushed and somewhat unfinished. These bugs do take away some of the polish and overall experience, and I wish they did not exist. I hope that in next years version that these are gone, as there won’t be any excuse for such.
The multiplayer component of the game is once again decent. Admittedly I did not spend a lot of time online; however the time I did play had some lag and it was sure a humbling experience. There are many great players in the online realm of MLB 2K9. The online modes include your typical exhibition game, a Home Run Derby and 30-team leagues. The leagues give the game some life and will be a huge draw for many true baseball fans.
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