Final Glimpse: Spring Training is upon us.
With the demise of the MVP franchise back in 2005 (thanks to 2K's revenge ?license buyout? of the MLB license), the 2K Sports brand of baseball is the only game around these days to represent the Major League. The 2K-branded baseball titles have always been well-presented games, to be sure, but the gameplay department has often been lacking in regards to the simulation aspects of baseball. Some people are fond of some of the exaggerated gameplay that could be found in MLB 2K5 and 2K6, but baseball isn't a game that needs that type of flair to succeed. If a development team nails the pitching and batting showdown in a game, then they've already accomplished what they need to do in order to get a player hooked. The people at Kush Games are looking to do just that this year, and they are aiming to make a game that is of the 2K ?pedigree? ? like NHL 2K7, NBA 2K7, and the beloved 2K football games.
In what seems like an obvious concession by 2K that EA had the baseball formula down pat, the people at Kush Games have hired Ben Brinkman, a designer on the MVP baseball series. Brinkman has stated his displeasure with the lack of polish evident in some of the 2K baseball games, and he wants a truer experience on the diamond. Some of the more ?arcade? features present in previous 2K baseball games will be gone, such as the ?Slam Zone,? turbo baserunning, and ridiculous catches in the outfield. The emphasis will now be on improved batter animations and controls, enhanced ?precision? pitching, and more realistic throws and catches on the field. Brinkman mentioned that the eyes of the gaming community are on them (2K Sports/Kush Games), and he would be right, as they are the only game in town. The lukewarm critical and user response to previous games has demonstrated that people prefer finesse to flash and authenticity over accessory ? it seems Brinkman understands this fact quite well.
When at the plate in MLB 2K7, you'll use the left stick to select where you want to aim in the batter's box, and then you'll use the right stick to swing the bat. The right stick can actually function in a variety of ways, and it actually appears to be quite useful for surviving through late-inning showdowns with dominating pitchers. By pulling the right stick downwards and then releasing it, your batter will perform a contact swing; if you follow all the way through and press the stick forward, the batter will perform a power swing. Conversely, clicking in the right stick can perform drag bunts, and a defensive swing can be executed by just tapping the right stick upwards (with no backswing). The defensive swing is actually quite helpful, as batters can stay alive with a cut that will just foul a pitch off or barely put it into play; these sorts of strategies are optimum for pressure situations where contact is essential.
Pitching once again benefits from the Inside Edge scouting system, as well as the ?Payoff Pitch? feature. The Inside Edge scouting once again allows you to survey upcoming batter and pitcher matchups in order to have a better idea of what the opposition likes to try. You can spend various points on scouting certain players, and the knowledge will be tangible on the field as you'll be able to see hot/cold zones as well as pitches that will more effectively get them out of your way. The payoff pitching also returns from last year, and it remains an effective tool for working on specialty pitches. A catcher will call games as before, but if he calls for a payoff pitch and you manage to nail the location and timing, the pitch will improve in your repertoire. Just the same, if you miss the spot, the rating will fall. This is a nice little risk-versus-reward element that has long-term impacts in a season mode or throughout a game.
On the field, you'll see a host of new animations, and many of the characters will accurately throw the ball this year, whereas last year they would execute the same throwing motion if they were near the warning track or in the infield. Additionally, the momentum of the players has been altered so that making adjustments in the outfield isn't as jarring, and the fielders will accelerate and decelerate more accurately than the start-and-stop fielding found in MLB 2K6.
On the whole, the visuals of MLB 2K7 are much improved over last year's effort. Player models look particularly good, especially with all of the accurate hats, accessories and batting stances they now sport. But even aside from those minor touches, the overall look has gone up dramatically. You will now see shadows casting over a player as he steps in at the plate, and the proportion of each player is accurate (whether you're using Ichiro or Frank Thomas), and you'll be able to see a tangible difference in body types. The stadiums themselves are strikingly accurate, and the crowd is now a much more ?animated? set of spectators than in previous iterations. When running around the bases, the ?diamond? display of previous years is not quite the same, as you'll now see a subtle overlay that indicates whose occupying what base ? a much better aesthetic than before. On the whole, the visuals are quite a leap forward, and the quality animations on display for batting, running and fielding help bring this realism home.