When 2K Sports released their MLB franchise last year for the Xbox 360 it suffered from the common issues that come with jumping to a new generation platform. While the most obvious problem came from the disappointing visuals there were also a host of bugs and glitches that really brought down the overall experience; what a difference a year makes. With the release of Major League Baseball 2K7 2K Sports has crafted a much better product that stands head and shoulders above the best-looking games currently on the system.
The feature set from 2K6 to 2K7 hasn’t changed much, but the overall presentation and problems found in last year’s game have been immensely improved. The folks at 2K Sports have also tightened up the game play making this the definitive version of America’s favorite pastime available on any console this year.
The traditional modes are all present; quick game, franchise, season, GM career, manager challenge, and even a plethora of types of homerun derby variations. You will most likely spend most of your time in franchise mode, which has been greatly upgraded from last year. You can now set ticket prices ala Madden’s owner mode as well as being able to handle all player negotiations from trades to salaries. Most of this will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous EA sports titles, but 2K has really done a great job of streamlining the interface and making it more user-friendly.
As far as the game play itself both the batting and pitching interface will seem like an old friend to fans of the series. Batting can still be handled either by the classic interface of simply pressing a button or you can use the more hands-on approach of using the swing stick. The PS3 version has the option to use the Sixaxis control to swing the bat, and for the most part it works well, but overall the motion swinging tends to have a steep learning curve due to the timing. It is still hard to judge if the pitch will be a ball or a strike and with using the analog stick or Sixaxis to swing it simply complicates the process so most players will likely stick to the classic system.
The pitching interface is pretty much a carbon copy of last year. You still press a button to choose your pitch and then another to determine break and speed. The catcher will also call for specific pitches, and for the most part he is pretty accurate, but you can simply ignore him and pitch your own game.
Fielding has been improved a little, but certain scenarios are still overly complicated. Grounders are still a pain and infield flies are almost a game in and of themselves. Thankfully the outfielding has been vastly improved although there are still a few quirks to deal with. Players will now be able to get to any ball they should be able to catch although getting them in position to catch it is another story.
Also forget about diving as it certainly is not an exact science, it’s more like a round of roulette. Funny enough none of these issues seem to plague the CPU AI as they will dive to catch impossible grounders and even climb walls to steal homeruns like nobody’s business.
The biggest upgrade to this year’s game though is far and away presentation and visuals. From the pre-game to the post-game celebration 2K Sports has done an amazing job of capturing the look and feel of the game of baseball. Before each game you are presented with a quick synopsis by Jeanne Zelasko and Steven Physioc that details today’s event in stunning detail. Then you are greeted to a quick flyover of the incredibly detailed stadiums with an amazing amount of camera angles making you feel like you are truly watching an award-winning broadcast.
Once the game begins it is the small details that will truly impress. Seeing each player up-close reveals the insane amount of detail the developers have put into each character. Just as equally impressive are the small nuances such as jerseys flapping realistically in the wind and the kick-up of dirt as players round the bases. Seeing all of this running in gorgeous 720p on a proper setup is one of the finest sights in recent memory.
The animations are also top-notch down to smallest batting habits of individual players. Watching your favorites step up to the plate with their signature batting gloves and different mannerisms really drives home the authentic feel. This also goes for pitching styles with slow wind-ups and sidearm pitches all custom to each pitcher.
Some of the finer details include pitchers wearing jackets while base running and bat boys running after foul balls only add to the already impressive experience. The interesting thing to note about the visuals is that while the frame rate can dip on the 360, the PS3 version suffers the most. Fielding can become even harder because of quick stutters and pauses caused by frame issues.
The final piece of the visual puzzle is the stadiums. While you can find low-resolution textures here and there and the crowd does have a few repeating animations these are some of the most impressive sports arenas on the market. Small details such as the Texas-shaped pitcher’s mound or the Ivy in Wrigley Field are all represented with stunning accuracy. The crowd noise is also spot on delivering cheers and boos at just the right times. All of this is rounded out by a stadium announcer and of course spot-on commentary by Joe Morgan and Jon Miller.
Outside of the single-player options MLB 2K7 features one of the more robust online components currently available on any console. While you have the standard quick match and ranked match options, 2K also allows you to create tournaments and even leagues online with up to 30 different players. In our play time online we found that lag does play a role here and it can be frustrating especially when trying to bat. The timing on swings is already hard to judge and latency of playing online doesn’t help. It’s also hard to find someone wanting to enjoy a quick game so if you get online expect to play the full nine innings.
With so many options to choose from baseball fans will no doubt find something to love here. While there are a few quirks left over from last year the game is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The visuals, outside of a few frame issues, are absolutely stunning and really add to the overall appeal of the game. If you are in the market for a new baseball game this year you will be hard pressed to find a more robust package. Fantastic online options round out the complete package making this the must own baseball game for the next-generation.