For all you hardcore baseball fans that own a 360, today is your lucky day because the only baseball game for Microsoft’s next-gen system is finally being reviewed for Mygamer.com. Sadly though, once you actually play the game you will quickly realize all is not well with MLB 2K6 from 2K Games. It turns out that MLB 2K6 is a microcosm for the real Major League Baseball. Basically it’s okay, and it can still grab your attention at times (i.e. a Bonds or Pujols at bat in real life, or some quick multiplayer fun on the 360), but it feels like the game is past its prime. It’s no longer the nation’s favorite pastime, and 2K6 is the game of choice for next generation Xbox owners by default because as I mentioned earlier, it’s the only baseball game for the system. MLB 2K6 can only come through as a bench warmer in this outing.
Right off the bat (pun intended) the game loses major gameplay points for not having any kind of tutorial whatsoever. For someone like me who hardly plays baseball videogames (save for homerun derby), a tutorial/practice mode is completely essential. There are far too many options in this game to mess around with and tweak for none of them to be explained. You’re thrown into the game. The developers, in essence, tell you to figure it out for yourself. This is a very odd omission for a sports game since new options and settings are always being added to projects in this genre. You’d think that they’d at least have some kind of video to boast about their new improvements, but instead it comes off feeling like developer Take 2 Interactive isn’t that proud of what they’ve done with the title.
Offensive play is hit-or-miss. Batting using the classic control feels a bit off. You probably will have to adjust when you naturally want to swing at the ball seeing as it mostly results in a strike with a message saying you’ve swung too late. So you’ll have to swing earlier which wouldn’t be such a big problem, but this takes precious time away from watching the pitch to determine where the ball will end up when it gets to you. Because you can’t watch the ball as long as you’d like, most gamers (especially new comers) will find themselves swinging at balls outside of the strike zone because they lost that ever important half a second to judge the pitch. To be fair, the “batter’s eye” does help somewhat, but not nearly enough that all would be forgiven. Basically, batter’s eye is a small gray circle that the batter can move around the batter’s box to try to guess/locate where the pitch is aimed. If you guess correctly, you will have a much better chance at making solid contact with the pitch. It’s a nice option, but more time spent tightening up the batting mechanics would have been better spent. You can also use the right analog stick for “swing stick” control. This method seems to be more responsive so you don’t have to swing as early like with the classic control. There is a learning curve so you won’t just be belting out homeruns from the very beginning, though.
As far as base running goes it is what you would expect from a baseball game. You can make your men take larger or smaller leads from the bag. Obviously, you can tell them to steal, or you can play as a man on base and literally take matters into your own hands. There are some issues with base running when you want someone to try to take an extra base. Sometimes they will keep going past the intended base which means they will usually get thrown out. It’s a frustrating problem, but ultimately rather small when compared to 2K6's other issues. There are also headaches on the defensive side of the ball pertaining to fielding. Somehow, it is very easy to run the wrong way when chasing a hit. This is partly because you are not always given control over the fielder you think you should have which can sometimes mean you will run in the wrong direction for a second. This can lead to giving up cheap base hits.
Pitching is the best part of the gameplay. You are given total control over your pitch’s force and timing which determines your overall accuracy. First you will pick where you want to throw the ball, and then a yellow reticule appears that will expand and collapse. The closer you get the reticule to match where you chose to throw the ball, the better pitch you will throw. If you muck it up enough you may even get into a pressure situation in which your nerves get the better of you. These moments make for great, tense gameplay.
Graphics are a major disappointment. They’re pretty much average across the board. Uniforms look far too stiff and plastic-like, and the shirts have bulges in odd places (it looks like the players are all wearing fanny packs under their shirts). The fans all look and act alike (maybe it’s just “twins night” for every game). There can also be frame rate issues. The textures don’t pop as much as you might like, and there are some clipping issues. The players don’t look anything like their real life counterparts, and the animations can be quite strange as well. A fielder can be facing one direction (third base for example) and throw (to first base) across his body without turning at all. Problems like this really make for funky animations and ugly double plays.
On a positive note, the ball parks do look accurate. It’s nice to see the dirt get kicked up in the infield. The fans, while mostly acting the same, will stand up in anticipation of a ball flying into the stands. Sometimes the crowd will lose sight of the ball, and a small group will scurry around trying to find it on the floor until one fan jumps up and holds it in the air. It’s a very nice touch that does add some personality to the title.
The audio department is where MLB 2K6 earns some points back. There are some nice pre-game breakdowns where both teams are talked about and a little history is given. The play-by-play is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. This does not mean it’s perfect, though. You can still hear the little pauses as the CPU tries to stitch together the dialogue. The play calling can also be a play late as well which is ultimately what keeps it from achieving a perfect 10. The name recognition is great, though. It’s very cool to hear your own name called for your created player if you can find it on the name list. This is a great option when sports games use it, which is why I’m always amazed that more franchises don’t make use of the feature more often.
The replay value isn’t very high for casual fans of the sport, and I suspect not even hardcore fans will spend copious amounts of time with the title. MLB 2K6 just doesn’t do enough right to keep you coming back for more. Gamers have brought up the question many times about how developers/publishers would make a game if their’s was the only one on the market. Would they take their foot off the pedal and get a little complacent, or would they keep on trying to push the envelope of realism? Sadly, in the case of MLB 2K6, it seems as though the former is the case. 2K6 doesn’t hit it out of the park this year. Take 2 Interactive only manages to hit a routine double.