MLB 2K7: Hands-onShawn Drotar

Posted on February 23rd, 2007 in Gaming, Xbox 360, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

As regular readers of this site are aware, I write a weekly column for that focuses primarily on sports titles. In order to provide gamers with helpful pointers and strategies for any given game, it requires much more than just reading the manual - it requires hours upon hours of time with the game, learning its nuances and becoming familiar with each and every one of it’s features. Much like a film critic, one becomes accustomed to certain styles of direction and game design, and certain designers in particular, making it easier to get to the heart of a game as one gains experience in analyzing them.

After foregoing sleep and healthy food in order to keep playing the final version of MLB 2K7 this week, it’s obvious that Ben Brinkman is one of those designers - one of the rare ones that can save a product from mediocrity with an unwavering focus on his goal - in this case, sharing his love of baseball in all it’s nuanced glory.

I’ve met Brinkman personally on a few occasions - most recently in Burnaby, British Columbia, when he was the lead designer for EA Sports’ excellent MVP Baseball series, which arose like a phoenix from the ashes of the doomed Triple Play Baseball series. After 2K Sports acquired the Major League Baseball license, Brinkman jumped ship and joined the 2K Sports team, filling the same role for 2K’s MLB 2K series. Last year’s iteration, MLB 2K6, was all but a disaster; a buggy mess whose even bigger sin was that it played a poor game of baseball. Enter Brinkman, and exit last year’s debacle.

MLB 2K7 might be as improved a product in a single year as I’ve seen in the sports genre in a very long time.

While this isn’t a “review” in any way, I’ll touch upon the good and the bad that I’ve seen lately, in an effort to help you get ready when baseball season starts on the Xbox 360 this Feb. 26th, and you can expect more details at soon.
First and foremost, the gameplay is much improved. At the plate, no longer does it seem that hits randomly fly around the park; your swing timing and the pitch’s location play a bigger role then ever before. Dare I say it? It feels almost MVP-like. The “Swing Stick” right-analog functionality is improved, though you’ll still have to decide to swing a bit sooner than you would if you were using the Classic controls (and you can select either in the game’s options); where a press of the A button triggers a swing. This may dissuade certain users from sticking with it. The “Swing Stick” feels rewarding, however, and while the learning curve is rather steep, I prefer to play with it - if only due to the increased interactivity and challenge that it provides. When you rip a double into the gap with the “Swing Stick”, you feel like you’ve earned it - and that’s a good thing.

The “Batter’s Eye” is a wonderful way to simulate a batter’s real thought process while at the plate. Instead of using “zones” to swing into, you’ll maneuver your “Batter’s Eye” into place - a semi-transparent white circle that’s larger or smaller depending on the hitter’s relative skill. If the pitch is coming into that area, the hitter will “see” it, and your timing and power will improve. But if not, there’s no penalty other than having to read the pitch more quickly. This is akin to real life, where hitters look up-and-in, for example, but can still cover the plate even if it wasn’t where they expected it. Moreover, the “Swing Stick” allows for defensive swings - a quick flick upwards, if timed correctly, fouls the pitch off Wade Boggs-style, keeping you alive at the plate.

From the batter’s perspective, the battle of wits between hitter and pitcher is well-represented. Fortunately, it’s even better on the mound.

The “Payoff Pitching” mechanic works much better, due to a better interface and more responsive controls. Your catcher will call for every pitch, though you can throw what you want at any time, of course. It seems as though the catcher’s skill comes into play here, as well. The Tigers’ All-Star Ivan Rodriguez calls a better game than say, rookie Chris Iannetta of the Rockies, and you’ll notice that you’ll question “Pudge’s” decision-making much less while playing the game. The pitching mechanic itself makes it easy to distinguish the different skills of your pitchers by feel alone. You can softly paint the corners with the Mets’ Tom Glavine, while his teammate Oliver Perez can be much more difficult to use consistently. Most importantly, MLB 2K7 forces you to think like a pitcher. Someone like Glavine isn’t going to toss his best heater very often; instead, you’re better using his off-speed pitches to baffle hitters with movement and location, saving your strength and stamina for the big guns in the opposing lineup. The game’s fatigue system is spot-on; throw as hard as you can on every pitch, and your starter will be lucky to go five innings. The wise pitcher conserves his energy and uses his entire repertoire accordingly.

Fielding is simple enough, keeping with the traditional face-buttons-for-bases scheme and right-stick-to-dive interface. It’s nothing special, but it generally gets the job done. The game can be set to auto-switch your defensive players when chasing certain balls, but I’d strongly recommend against using it, as it switches instantly without alerting you, usually making things worse instead of better. Outfielders still seem to have noticeably stronger arms than they should, but it’s not so bad that you’ll be gunning down players at the plate with rag-armed Juan Pierre like last year’s game. The main concern with fielding is the camera angle - as there’s only one, and it’s somewhat dynamic, meaning that you may occasionally run right by a rolling ball in the more-distant outfield; turning a single into a triple and raising your blood pressure in the process.

The game’s presentation is simply lights-out. While the game’s announcing is somewhere between adequate and good, the game’s sounds are spectacular - especially with a good surround sound setup (hearing the umpire call out the count behind you when hitting is a treat).

A myriad of cut-scenes highlight big moments in the game, recalling previous at-bats or great defensive plays, and there are a wide variety of creative statistical overlays displayed at appropriate moments to keep things fresh and exciting. Sometimes, these come after 1-to-2 second “Loading” messages in the middle of the screen; a distraction to be sure, but usually forgivable after enjoying the replays of your first-sacker’s two bleacher-rattling blasts from earlier in the contest. The player models are first-rate, with many individual players instantly recognizable. A clever “hand-written” lineup-card manager’s menu (accessed with the left bumper button) adds both flavor and functionality to the mix. Animations are solid throughout and sometimes jaw-dropping. At one point, I fielded a ball with my first baseman and then took it to the bag myself instead of tossing it to the ready-and-waiting pitcher covering it. I ended up plowing into the pitcher, getting the out, but knocking my hurler over in a painful animation that was made even more painful after realizing that he injured his knee in the collision and was out for the game.

On the whole, MLB 2K7 is becoming more entertaining with every game instead of less, usually the hallmark of a good game. While certain parts of the game can’t be judged at this stage (online play and leagues, for example), and I haven’t had time to delve deeply into the Franchise mode, the on-field game play is undoubtedly engrossing, and at this stage, I’d have to think that MLB 2K7 may have come from the low minors to nabbing a seat in a major-league dugout in only one year - an impressive achievement that bodes well for the future of this series.

Sometimes, a new skipper can make all the difference.

17 Responses to 'MLB 2K7: Hands-on'

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  1. GIGGAS2 said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Wow, Shawn. You have definitely gotten me riled up for this game!

  2. Scott said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Excellent work Shawn, I’m actually looking forward to the game now.

  3. Kestrel said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks, very nice article. I had no idea that the catcher in 2k7 would play a big roll in a calling of a game. Definetly very helpful.

  4. Brando said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Great write-up on your impressions, Shawn, you really covered a lot of ground. It’s nice to see that the exclusive MLB license won’t leave 360 owners with a terrible baseball game.

  5. Shane said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I have never read anything of yours before this Hands On.

    I was already excited about this game, but you know how the web is good at breeding questions, I was starting to wonder about the game.

    Your article sold me so well, I had to read some of your other reviews just to make sure it wasn’t me just wanting this game to be good.

    After seeing the quality of your other writings, I will definitely look to see what you think of a game before any other critic.

  6. Pete, Chicago said,

    on February 23rd, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Yo, nice impressions. i will bookmark your site, it’s nice. hopefully the baserunning is much better in this game.

  7. Nick said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 7:53 am

    Baseball season opens Tuesday

  8. jdros13 said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Hmm…just went from rent to buy from your impressions. Thanks!

  9. Patrick said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Is this coming out for regular XBox. Does this have manager Mode. Thank You Please reply.

  10. Europe said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    IS IT REGION FREE? I cant believe there is no German release.. is it region free or not please

  11. Bad Kermit said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Great review, Shawn. You assuaged many of my fears about the game.

  12. Shawn Drotar said,

    on February 24th, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    For those interested, I’m involved in a discussion thread at Operation Sports, where I’m trying to keep up with further questions:

  13. SkyboxerOS said,

    on February 25th, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    Great write up Shawn. I was on the fence with this one but I’ll pick it up for sure now. I’ll have the best of both worlds with 2K7 and The Show 07.

  14. Big B in Tennessee said,

    on February 26th, 2007 at 3:03 am

    Nice read man. I can’t wait to play this game myself, and your article makes me want it more. Sounds Like us 360 users FINALLY have a Baseball game. (Please Don’t Freeze…)

  15. on March 22nd, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    chasing i cars sports chasing cars

  16. on June 14th, 2007 at 3:20 am

    This one makes sence “One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesstion everything - and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.”

  17. on September 3rd, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Do you know how to get another instuction manual for MLB 2k7 game for PS2

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