|System: Xbox 360*, PS3, PC, PS2, Wii, DS, PSP|
|Dev: Visual Concepts|
|Pub: 2K Sports|
|Release: March 6, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Josh Engen
With the Major League Baseball season only a few short weeks away, it's not surprising that the latest incarnation of baseball's longest running video game franchise has landed on retail shelves. The real question is whether or not MLB 2K12 can overcome the franchise's mediocre reputation and deliver the experience that baseball fans have been patiently waiting for.
Many of you might not know that the MLB series has been a notoriously sore thumb for Take-Two Interactive, the parent company behind 2K Sports. In 2010, Strauss Zelnick, the chairman of Take-Two, bad-mouthed the franchise to Reuters and suggested that the developer planned to walk away from the series when their contract expired in 2012. Well, if you know how to operate a calendar, you know that 2012 has arrived, but, in a lot of ways, it seems like another MLB title has not. Sure, MLB 2K12 is technically in my Xbox 360 as I write this, but it's essentially just a slightly more polished version of MLB 2K11, which was a slightly more polished version of MLB 2K10.
Now, I typically don't complain when a developer chooses to spit-shine an annual release rather than reinventing the wheel, but considering the lackluster response that MLB 2K11 received, you'd think that the developer would have dusted off the old drawing board. Instead, they've implemented a series of minor changes, many of which are so subtle that they will probably go undetected by even the most avid players.
The throwing system, for instance, has been given a somewhat minor, but welcome, overhaul. In the past, players were able to perfect a limited number of pitches and consistently use them to strike out opponents, but these days, batters have grown significantly more observant and will catch on to your patterns and preferences. So, unless you want to give up an easy home run, throwing that fourth consecutive fastball is probably a bad idea.
And if 100mph fastballs and increasingly eggheaded batters aren't enough to make the pitcher's job difficult, 2K Sports has also given players more decisions to make from the mound. In MLB 2K12, pitchers need to pay attention to how they cue up their throws and set their feet. Missed steps will result in smaller sweet spots and more errors.
Now, even though most of this year's changes are positive additions to the gameplay, they are the type of things that you would normally expect to see from a strategically released patch rather than an entirely new game. However, if you were a fan of last year's MLB title, then this year's addition will probably tickle your fancy as well. Because, truth be told, MLB 2K12 is the series' best effort so far.
As any little league coach will tell you, fundamentals are the key to a solid baseball game, and it's obvious that the developers at Visual Concepts have been listening to their little league coaches. MLB 2K12 has clearly been refining and re-refining the most basic interface elements and using them as a foundation for their franchise. The controls, for example, are simultaneously esoteric and intuitive. They have a certain flexibility about them that allows newcomers to make incidental contact with a few passing curveballs. But they require an academic approach to truly get a handle on their intricacies. When you first pick up the bat, your only responsibility will be to time your swing with the approaching pitch. But as you grow more aware of the interface, you start to catch on to the subtleties that the MLB 2K12 interface is feeding to you. Soon, you'll be able to differentiate between a fastball and a curveball and predict whether a pitch will land outside of the strike zone.
Pitchers, on the other hand, have significantly less information to go on. For them, the game is more about precision and curtailing human error. Once you've selected your desired pitch from a list of the player's specialties, a characteristic swipe of the analog stick will execute the throw, and, hopefully, deliver it accurately to your catcher's mitt. However, like I said, precision is key. A slight misstep in your analog stick's movement could result in a wild throw and a stolen base—I say this speaking from experience.
Perhaps the most impressive feature from MLB 2K12 is the audio commentary. This year, the game features over 80 hours of unique lines from commentators Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk. The game's engine specifically tailors each line to your ongoing matchup, which means that no two games have the same commentary, and repeated lines are very rarely heard.
The most interesting part, however, is how insightful the commentators actually are. New players will especially appreciate the ongoing dialog because they're force-fed information about how to improve their performance. I was specifically treated to several derogatory remarks about the way I insist upon swinging at every single pitch. Apparently that's not how a major leaguer should play. Screw you, commentators.
Fans of the preceding titles will also be happy to hear that the "Franchise" and "My Player" Modes are back this year, and that they are almost exactly the same as in previous versions. However, these days players are able to tweak their "player type" in the My Player Mode similarly to changes available in NBA 2K12's career mode. This allows you to customize your character's stats to be a slugger or a ground ball pitcher or whatever non-generic rookie player you'd like to be.