Major League Baseball 2k11 ReviewCalvin Kemph
Playing Major League Baseball 2K11 feels reminiscent of days spent taking in a game at the local Minor League Ballpark. It delivers a sufficient level of baseball that are fun while they last, but much of what is on show comes across as equally unambitious. It remains a series that has always dreamed of playing in the big leagues one day and continues taking the necessary steps towards achieving that goal. The problem is in the series' batting average. Out of all the times 2K have stepped up to the plate, they've yet to release the Definitive Simulation Baseball Experience, despite continuing to issue iterative refinements.
After last year's game introduced completely revamped batting and pitching controls, the series showed signs of life for the first time in years, with a well-devised marketing plan banking on the precision of the pitching. These dramatic plate battles remain the focal point of MLB 2K11, receiving further tightening, alongside other less noticeable fixes.
The biggest problem with MLB 2K11 isn't that there's anything inherently wrong with it, but that it's sinking back into complacency. There have been fixes to several important areas, such as the abysmal fielding from last year's game, which is now more-or-less automated and merely functional in its own inoffensive way. There's a pretty jarring disconnect between the highly detailed pitching mechanics compared to the lack of depth found in playing the field and the same goes for running bases after a round up to bat. This is partially the fault of poor AI, who still has strange path-finding problems at inopportune moments.
Playing with Human Intelligence makes things worse, sullying the game's best feature. As the gesture-based batting and pitching are also reliant upon precision timing, the amount of lag found online will lead to plenty of unnecessary strikeouts and over/under thrown pitches. It's all a bit frustrating, as simulation baseball is a big draw for a modern sports game, but it's nearly unmanageable here, dropping out completely at the 9th Inning during a number of games.
A popular feature, My Player makes its return in MLB 2K11. While rising from the amateurs to the big leagues is a sexy proposition on paper, this becomes a lengthy grind of character stats at best, and a microcosm of the increasingly individual-focused nature of baseball, at worse. It defeats so much of the camaraderie and importance of the team working as a whole, and glorifies the sport's occasional obsession with specific athletes being at the center of a team's success. Play well and your team wins; play poorly and it's a tough day at the ballpark, oh well.
This isn't anything new, but it can be weirdly off-putting being placed into this weirdly specific rhythm of scenarios where we know exactly what will happen. If we're included in a play, we know our shortstop (for example) will be getting the ball. There's very little guesswork there, as the ball will always go to his left, right, or overhead, and we're usually told which direction to anticipate as the batter readies at the plate. Rinse and repeat several hundred times over the course of his career and you can see how it'd sour some of this experience. The batting goes over slightly better and the inclusion of goals before each time up to bat (such as running in teammates on base) goes a ways towards connecting your individual actions in the context of a game you'll otherwise be simulating through.
Franchise remains a significant draw, and the notable inclusion of injuries generated in real-time provide simulation fans with an added layer of micro-management on top of what's been established in prior iterations. I think there's a lot for die hard baseball fans in this mode, also, as it's a lot more fun playing as an established team who's players all hit lights out than being limited to an unskilled rookie.
There's this consistent problem with 2K games which remains unfixed: the menus are a mess. It's difficult to find the information you're looking for and the game does little to explain many of the systems, in-depth stat tracking for the league, and slew of other features present. It's a shame, because much of the information is useful, but it's all tucked away under so many menus and sub-menus. The impression it gives is that each feature was simply tacked on from a checklist, rather than each aspect contributing to any overarching cohesive whole..
MLB 2K11 is about as small an iteration as a developer could get away with, without branding something a remake or a patch. While there's nothing worse about this year's game than MLB 2K10, many of the improvements are trivial, so incremental that they add little meaningful value. The biggest difference between the games is in the title and as such MLB 2K11's a difficult thing to recommend. If you're only on 360, it's the only option and even then.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.