Any baseball manager will tell you that, for all the stats and sabermetrics, you still have to go out between the white lines and play the game. That, for every 5-tool superstar like Troy Tulowitzki, there are scrappy gamers like Nick Punto who contribute in less tangible ways. Such is the life of 2K Sports’ frumpy also-ran baseball series, MLB 2K, which has long-since been abandoned by gamers for Sony’s stick-swingin’ sim, MLB: The Show. But while The Show may possess every tool in the proverbial shed, and despite 2K’s lame duck exclusivity deal with MLB drawing to a close, MLB 2K11 somehow finds a way to deliver a fun, albeit arcady baseball experience.
As with last year’s entry, 2K11’s big strengths are the pitching and hitting systems, which mimic your onscreen athlete’s actions. When pitching, you choose your pitch and location, and then perform a two-step motion with the right analog stick. Some pitches, like a four-seam fastball, are straightforward, with an easy back-then-forward motion, while others like a curveball require more complex movement to accurately perform. There’s a good variation of pitch types, which keeps pitching fun throughout the grind of a full, 9-inning game.
The hitting system hasn’t changed since 2K9, and for good reason. It’s easily the better batting interface of the two current games available, and just might be the most comfortable I’ve ever used. Everything, from the depth perception of the ball to the pitcher tipping his pitch on a bad delivery, feels right, and the exaggerated, bat-shattering sound of squaring a ball up further-accentuates the feeling of success.
One aspect of 2K’s arcady nature that succeeds is My Player mode, which debuted in 2K10 and remains intact in this year’s game. In what is essentially Sony’s Road to the Show mode, My Player boils down to creating a top prospect and guiding him from the minors to the Hall of Fame, all while playing exclusively from his point of view. What sets 2K’s version apart is the manner in which you rise to the top. Road to the Show is more comprehensive, forcing you to constantly work on all assets of your game, or they’ll degrade over time. In 2K11, you take on more of a Bryce Harper, “golden boy” role, with dramatic clutch moments occurring late in games and skills that don’t decline until late in your career. While it’s not as realistic, My Player sacrifices a WoW-style minor league grind for instant gratification and a quick rise to the bigs.
While The Show is praised for its gorgeous visuals, 2K remains the ugly duckling, occasionally looking decent when the lighting is right on an all-star’s recognizable mug. At its worst, 2K11 is laughable, with grossly oversized versions of players like Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds and shots of pitchers gasping like a fish out of water. What’s worse, the same three or four stock faces are used in lieu of less recognizable athlete’s faces, making for some pretty comical situations in which multiple players appear in a game with the same generic face.
In terms of game modes and overall additions, MLB 2K11 might as well be a palette-swap of 2K10. Other than some roster bug fixes and updates to Brian Wilson’s beard, there’s no real incentive for anyone other than PS3-less baseball purists to re-up with 2K Sports’ baseball franchise this year. However, if you can stomach the less-than-stellar visuals and John Kruk constantly saying “ath-a-lete,” then there is some fun baseball to be had in MLB 2K11.