A Great All Around Baseball Experience
Reviews of sports games often times talk about the game modes and features that allow you to get more out of the simple sport that you are playing, and although I will touch on these things in my reviews of sports games, I think it is much more valuable to evaluate the gameplay and how it compares or reflects the real sport and also how it is as a fun and competitive game.
As someone who has played every Madden for around ten years or so but either returned, traded, or sold the last five games within the first two or three weeks because of how horrible they have gotten, and as someone who dabbled with NBA Live and NBA 2K until playing NBA 2K exclusively around 2009 when the it became so much better than Live that EA decided to eventually change the name and then cancel it at the last moment in 2010, you might be surprised to know that MLB 2K12 is the first baseball game I have bought since the NES back when baseball games were, in my opinion, at the top of their game. I may not be an expert on what baseball games have been or should be, so hopefully if you have not played a baseball game recently you will know what to expect after reading this.
The game modes you have come to expect from a 2K sports game are here just as they have been in previous years including Franchise and My Player, as well as the famous Perfect Game Challenge that has become a unique and interesting way for the company to generate sales without coming off as shady or cheap, but also incentivizing players to play the game in a certain way without the use of the achievement or trophy system. The Perfect Game Challenge, for those that do not know, is essentially a race to be the first one to pitch a perfect game (a game in which you record no walks, hits, or errors that allow a man to get on base) in order to win a million dollars. Having tried pitching a perfect game myself, I can tell you that it is not an easy task. Even my personal friend who has achieved the number one spot on the online leaderboards for both MLB 2K11 and 2K12 has yet to successfully pitch a perfect game within even the first week of release. Although the chances of anyone actually winning the million dollar prize is extremely slim, the Perfect Game Challenge represents the breadth of different ways this game turns the basic baseball experience into something unique enough to keep you playing for a long time.
As I said earlier, the game modes are all well and great, but if the actual baseball that you are playing in those modes turns out to be dull, boring, or broken, than the amount of variety in modes means nothing. Though I cannot speak to the comparison between this game and the PS3 exclusive MLB The Show, I can tell you that MLB 2K12 represents actual baseball better than any of the NBA or NFL games represent their respective sports to date, and it even rivals something like EA's extremely successful FIFA franchise which I consider to be the best of the best in sports games these days. In order to get the baseball experience correctly into video game for there are four things that need to be done close to perfectly: hitting, pitching, fielding, and umping.
First I'll focus on the pitching. Getting the action of pitching to translate to the actions taken on a controller seems like an almost impossible task, but 2K12 does this amazingly. A type of pitch is first selected with a button, and then aimed with the left stick. The pitch is then executed by motioning with the right stick in a way that makes you feel like you are truly throwing the pitch even though what you are actually doing is nothing like actually pitching a baseball. The timing is specific and hard to perfect, and the skill involved in pitching is rewarding but not frustrating. Any mistake I made when pitching felt like it was my fault for not executing how I should have. I am not an expert on theories or reasons for when and why one should pitch a certain pitch in real baseball, but after playing for a while I felt as though I was learning when it was a good idea to throw a strike or a ball, and even when I should throw a fastball or something tricky like a curveball. This part of baseball seems to be translated almost perfectly. That unique mental dance and flow between pitcher and hitter that die-hard baseball fans and players understand is here to be experienced. Even the wearing out of a pitcher over the course of a game, or the nerves getting to your guy on the mound after he gives up a few runs or hits in a row makes the entire pitching experience feel a little more like real life.
Hitting and pitching need to work together simultaneously to provide a realistic experience that is not skewed in the favor of one or the other, and MLB 2K12 does this almost as well as you can. Hitting is fairly simply. Watch the pitch come in, decide if it is a pitch you want to hit, and then swing contact by pushing the right stick forward, or power by moving it back and then forward. On the surface that is pretty much it, and in reality there is not too much more to it than that, but hitting is by no means easy. In fact, I would say that hitting is the one the part of the game that takes the most work to get good at. When I started playing online I was getting beat pretty badly, but some of my losses came when my opponent only scored a run or two. This is because, like in real baseball, hitting is really damn hard. The pitch comes in so fast that is almost impossible to tell whether it is a hittable pitch when first starting out. This was really frustrating at first and it took some time to get used to, but my eyes eventually adjusted and learned how to accurately judge each pitch, and, like I said about learning when to throw certain pitches, I also learned when certain pitches would be thrown to me and how to play little "mind games" with the pitcher. Eventually, I would have games where I scored upwards of ten runs and really started enjoying myself a how lot more.
How the game is called by the umpires is a vital part to the of the game as well. No matter the view you decide to take when pitching or hitting, (I prefer the same behind the plate view for pitching and hitting instead of the default behind the pitcher view for pitching) a strike zone for that specific hitter will be shown. This strikes zone is made of two boxes, one just slightly bigger than the other and the space in between representing what I would call the "questionable/judgement call" zone. When pitches land inside this small zone, the umpires decide whether or not to call them balls or strikes. When I first heard about this from a friend I was completely against it and thought it was ridiculous that even in a video game you will have to deal with shitty umpires, but it actually works out nicely and doesn't make you feel like you are getting robbed, at least not too often. If you are pitching mostly balls, the chances of a call going your way if the pitch is questionable is going to go down because the umpire is not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, if you are pitching a lot of close balls and strikes, the chances of you getting an close call is greater. There are some times that this is not true of course, but the number of calls that side with each player usually works itself out to about even over the course of the game.
Although most of the parts of MLB 2K12 are excellent, the fielding is one of those that can be great in spots, and disappointing in others. When the fielding works it's great. Movement of the players looks fantastic when they are diving for ground balls or turning double plays, and there is nothing more satisfying than diving for a ball in the outfield and catching it just before it falls to the earth. Problems arise when these semi-scripted movements do not work out like intended. For instance, there is a glitch (mainly when playing online that seems like a hiccup in the connection to the other player) that happens right after hitting a ground ball where the infielders do not react in time and the ball rolls right past their legs. This can get really frustrating, especially when it is a ball they should always field properly and it allows your opponent to score a run. There is also a basic scripting error that seems to happen on occasion when a batter swings on a third strike that hits the dirt. Naturally, the catcher picks up the ball and throws it to first base, but sometimes the catcher will clap his hand and glove together, like players do when they have a lot of time to throw the ball, and take such a long amount of time standing there with the ball that the runner will be safe at first. These odd glitches along with a weird steal exploit that lets your opponent get an automatic base hit from time to time, as well as the sometimes seemingly arbitrary player selection after the ball is hit that makes you start running in the opposite direction that the ball is hit, can make the fielding aspect of the game slightly annoying when things don't turn out your way.
Even with the minor problems with fielding, MLB 2K12 still gets almost every aspect of baseball translated perfectly, even down to the play by play and color commentators that seem to have the most unique and varying dialogue that I have ever heard in a sports game. It was extremely rare to hear a repeat in dialogue, and it was usually because I had stuck with playing as the same team for a while. Most commentating during sports games are laughable at best, but with MLB 2K12 I never really noticed the commentators ironically because they were actually giving me good, interesting information that made me feel even more immersed in the baseball experience.
There is barely anything negative I can say about MLB 2K12 as a complete package other than the occasional fielding glitch, and maybe the flawed leaderboard ranking system, and as a complete baseball experience there is no reason not to check out this game if you are into baseball. And maybe even if you're not.