Video Game Review: ‘Major League Baseball 2K9’ Hits Hard But Pops Up to the Warning Track

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HollywoodChicago.com Video Game Rating: 3.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Playing 2K Sports’ “Major League Baseball 2K9” reminds me of spending an average season as a diehard fan of the Chicago Cubs. It starts with so much promise and there’s a lot to love through the bulk of the year. There are a few wins here and there and some really good times, but, at the end of the season, you’re usually left crying in your beer, wondering what the hell just happened.

Like every Cubs fan who embraces the spring with the annual mantra “this will be the year,” let’s start with the positive. And there’s a lot of positive with “2K9.”

Major League Baseball 2K9
Major League Baseball 2K9
Photo credit: 2K Sports

First and foremost, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports’ game looks amazing. The player-specific animations are gorgeous, and it’s easily the best-looking baseball game I’ve ever played. The crowd detail is particularly remarkable with very clearly defined people in the stands instead of the typical blur. And I adored the little touches of detail in the crowd like the empty seats early in the season at a Detroit-Toronto game north of the border.

Major League Baseball 2K9
Major League Baseball 2K9
Photo credit: 2K Sports

The hitting and pitching gameplay is wonderfully easy to use, but difficult to master. Pitches are thrown using the analog sticks. A player lines up a pitch with the left stick, and the pitch is determined by two movements of the right stick and their timing. For example, if you want to throw a fastball, you pull in one direction on the right stick, wait for a green circle to expand to the right point (but not beyond), and then flick the stick in the other direction.

Batting works in a similar fashion, with the player lining up the “Batter’s Eye” with the left stick and then swinging away with the right. After the pitch, movement of the left stick can make the difference between a pop-up, line drive, or ground ball.

For the right player, home runs are a remarkably easy combination of pushing up with the left stick and down and up with the right. I know chicks dig the long ball, but hard-hitting players can way too easily knock one out of the park. Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera are currently averaging over a HR a game in my Tigers franchise. (I know. I’m a masochist.)

Fielding can be accomplished using the right stick or the classic face button system where the four buttons represent each plate. Running is easy to use, although stealing will take some time to master.

As you get adjusted to the hitting and batting gameplay, it’s easy to fall in love with “Major League Baseball 2K9.” The stadiums are gorgeous. The announcers - Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips - are much better than average. And the presentation really looks like a television broadcast complete with “Pepsi Clutch Players of the Game” and State Farm advertising in the outfield.

“Major League Baseball 2K9” also imports the awesome “Living Rosters” feature from “NBA,” keeping players and teams updated throughout the year. With quickplay, franchise mode, home run derby, winnable trading cards in the game, trophies, and more, there’s a lot to explore and a lot to adore in “2K9”.

So, where does “Major League Baseball 2K9” make its errors? It’s in the little things. And, as any manager or player will tell you, the little things can lose a game.

First, the glitches. As well designed as they are in a game this visually accomplished, you still will see players run through other players (especially around second base). It never affected the gameplay in any of the dozen or so games I played first inning to last, but it’s a graphical disappointment, especially when everything else looks so incredible.

There are also some drastic statistical glitches. Each player has a box with stats and trivia underneath them when they come to the plate. Starting a season with the Detroit Tigers, I was informed that Gary Sheffield finished first in runs in the American League last year. With 52 runs? Really?

And the in-game stats are similarly wonky. I started a post-season to try and avenge the sweep of the Cubs in last year’s playoffs and, when I reached game three, most of my starting lineup still had a .000 average, despite ten-plus hits in the first two games. That’s an unacceptable glitch.

Statistical glitches are one thing, but when there are design errors that affect the game, it can be massively frustrating. Granted, outfielders run through fly balls all the time, but the worst gameplay glitch of them all has to be at first base, where the player catching the ball far-too-regularly comes off the bag. With the camera not close enough to tell that you’re off the bag, bang-bang throws from third to first too often end up with a first baseman standing just enough off base for your opponent to be safe.

In general, errors that are outside of your control are prevalent to a disturbing degree. The Tigers committed six in one game in the aforementioned franchise. Six! I know it’s the Tigers, but come on. And it’s not a player experience thing. Playing better teams result in fewer or no errors.

And that leads to the main overall, frustrating problem - disparity in teams and players. All-star pitchers are fun, but good luck getting out of a game with a team’s three, four, or five pitcher. The star players are too good and those that are not household names are too bad. For example, in that Detroit-Toronto series, Gary Sheffield hit for the cycle and Magglio Ordonez landed 11 RBI in one game.

Major League Baseball 2K9
Major League Baseball 2K9
Photo credit: 2K Sports

At the same time, the Tigers’ bullpen could not get through a single inning without giving up a run. Some might say that’s accurate, but it feels like the “2K9” Tigers will have way too difficult a time beating a good team. They may have some problems in the real world too, but the parity in baseball, where any team could pull out a win on any day, doesn’t feel like it’s a part of the game.

And don’t think that this is player error or experience. I played a Red Sox-Devil Rays game (two of the better teams) and had a nail-biting 3-1 game. The next game between the Tigers and Blue Jays was 15-11. In fact, every game played with the Tigers featured 10+ runs scored and given away. It’s simply not believable. It’s a “big teams and big players” set-up that makes it nearly impossible to take one of the smaller teams or players and make them a true winner with your gameplay.

I only had one day of online play, getting in a couple of wins (thank you very much), but it’s lagging a bit on day one, as most games do. Pitching and graphics seem fine, but there’s a serious delay on the swing. In the offline play, you can push the right stick forward when the ball is crossing the plate. Online, you better push midway to the plate. It makes it harder to tell what’s actually going to be in the strike zone.

Hopefully, this will be corrected with time. If it is, the online system looks well-designed with ranked matches, leaderboards, and even a ten-week contest to start off the game.

Call me crazy but, like the diehard (and in-denial) Cubs fan that can’t give up on his team, there’s enough to like about “2K9” to nearly recommend it. The graphics are beautiful. I love the analog stick gameplay. And the presentation will make any baseball fan smile.

If only more of the glitches had been ironed out and that the parity in real-world baseball had made it into the game. As any Cubs fans will tell you, last year is history. This could be the one. But “Major League Baseball 2K9” needs to go back to the minors before it can really win the baseball video game World Series.

‘Major League Baseball 2K9’ was released by 2K sports and developed by Visual Concepts. It is rated E (Everyone). The version reviewed was on the PS3, but the title is also available on the XBox 360, PS2, PSP, Wii and the PC. It was released on March 3rd, 2009.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

mikese's picture

The only thing that would

The only thing that would make this game any more real is if you could buy steroids online and juice your player up just like they do in real life.

Anonymous's picture

Great information about the

Great information about the Baseball because this is my favorite sport I always see the Chicago’s game and I am the first fan.

Anonymous's picture

I like!!

I like the picture you have here. Baseball is my favorite sport. Thanks for sharing the picture!

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