There are some things that are irrevocably tied to the return of spring: birds singing, flowers blooming, and baseball. Terrence Mann, the character played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams said “…The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” Each spring the game returns to the ball diamonds, backyards, back alleys and living rooms of America like clockwork. And while nothing can replace the feel of the bat in your hands as you make contact with a hanging curve, or the smell of your glove when you put it on to head into the field, for those days when you don’t have someone to “have a catch” with, the folks over at 2K Sports have been kind enough to grace us with their annual installment of the very successful Major League Baseball franchise, Major League Baseball 2K7.
Now it it’s fourth year as a franchise, the MLB 2K series has come quite a long way since the original release as ESPN Major League Baseball. Glitchy and full of roster issues, the original incarnation was less than impressive. The following year, after the release of an improved MLB 2K5, 2K Sports signed an exclusive agreement with MLB and the MLBPA that runs through 2012 prohibiting EA and other 3rd party developers from creating MLB licensed games. Thankfully, the exclusivity didn’t dampen innovation as MLB 2K6 was chock full of new features and upgrades. MLB 2K7 continues that trend, primarily in the upgrades in the initial releases for the “next gen” platforms, with this review focusing on the Xbox 360 version.
As with so many games released for the Xbox 360, the most astonishing change between it and the Xbox version is in terms of graphics. From the flyover views of the ballparks, to the near photo resolution of the player models, the graphics come the closest I have ever felt to blurring the lines between playing a game and watching a movie, especially in 1080i resolution. The animation of each action, from the pitchers’ wind up and release to the batters swing, exudes realism. In what 2K Sports refers to as “signature style” movements that are unique to specific players, such as Gary Sheffield’s bat waggle or Nomar Garciaparra’s step-in to the batters box, were captured from video footage and added to the game. According to producer Ben Brinkman this feature isn’t implemented for every player on an MLB roster, but most star players or players with very distinct movements are in the game. After playing nearly 30 games, every player that I could think of as having a unique style of play had unique motions in various parts of the game action.
The next major change was a complete redesign of the interaction between infielders and outfielders. In prior versions of the game, throwing runners out from the outfield was nearly impossible, and you were often lucky to limit them from taking an extra base, because the cutoff man wasn’t always available for you to throw to. In 2K7 using the bumpers allows you to throw to the cutoff man versus the throwing to a base (by pressing the corresponding alphabet button). In addition, if you don’t take the right angle to cut off a ball in the gap with the outfielder you’re controlling, the AI will switch you automatically to an outfielder who is closer to the ball. AI Infielders and outfielders also
Do a much better job of backing up the play in case a ball gets past your human controlled fielder.
The controls are mostly as you would expect from the previous year. Personally, I’m not a fan of the swing stick. To me, it simply doesn’t feel as natural as say the skill stick in NHL 2007. I use the classic controller layout which lets me swing for the fences with the A button instead of trying to time the pullback and release of the right stick with the pitch crossing the plate.
Speaking of swinging for the fences, one of the features carried over from last year is the batters eye, which is how you select which area of the strike zone you’re targeting for the sweet spot of your swing, where hitters make the best contact with the ball. Using this feature in combination with Inside Edge pitching tendencies for the guy on the mound can give you a pretty decent idea on where to look for the next pitch to be headed. It allows you to “look for low and away, but still watch out for in your ear”, another bit of wisdom from Field of Dreams (this time from Shoeless Joe Jackson as portrayed by Ray Liotta). The Inside Edge data has been updated to include the 2006 season, so that the last four seasons of MLB scouting reports for the pitcher or hitter you’re facing are reflected in the guidance provided on screen.
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