Major League Baseball 2K9 Review

Michael Finney

Another year, another baseball season which means another baseball game. So far this year we have seen two 40+ year old pitchers sign with teams (one of them new), arguably the best baseball player in the game today admitting to taking steroids, and the integrity of the game has been challenged. Fortunately for us gamers, we don’t have to deal with any of the drama and only get the genuine parts of baseball. 2K has been known to put out quality sports game and being the only true baseball sim in the sports genre, it has much to prove.

I am going to begin by saying that the player models 2K have used to reflect their real-life counterparts are absolutely stunning. We are talking some of the best I have ever seen in a sports game. John Lackey’s huge chin and head are present, as is Derek Jeter’s smug smirk that he always seems to have on his face. The graphics are hands-down the best part of this game. Movements by the players seem natural and they act how they would normally act. Diving for balls when appropriate, bare-handing the ball for a bunt to try to throw the runner out; it really is all here. It doesn't stop at these details either, for example, when bare-handing the ball, the chance to commit an error is increased, just how it should be. Trying to rush a throw? Your accuracy takes a hit to try to get extra speed into that throw. Even fielding has been improved as the marker in which the ball is heading to after a pop fly depends on the fielding skill of that particular player.

Not seen here: Manny Ramirez still jogging to first base.

Pitching and hitting take some getting used to, especially pitching. The "tutorial" directions are vague and explain things very matter-of-factly as if you will know exactly what to do after reading. Trial and error seem to be the most effective means of perfecting pitching and hitting; and stealing bases is an art form, just as it is in a real baseball game. Timing is everything in baseball and MLB 2K9 takes this to a whole other level by having every level of game based on button/joystick timing. Get the timing wrong while pitching and you'll pitch a meatball right down the pipe. Swing too soon? 2K9 tells you on-screen how soon. However, get the timing right and you soon become a master at every facet of the game.

Total Pitch Control is back from 2K8 and more confusing than ever. Using the right control stick trying to mimic the throwing patterns that match to a particular pitch is a chore and you end up miss-throwing a pitch most of the time. However, 2K9 does give you the option to switch back to the “Classic” throwing type of pressing, holding, releasing, and tapping again. I found this to be much more reliable and actively looked for it when I gave up on TPC. Precision Throw Control is back as well. Once again, the right control stick dictates what base to throw it to and how accurate you want your throw. I discarded this as well in favor of what I am used to. "A" for home, "B" for first base, etc. It just seems as though they intentionally made it more difficult to pitch as well as hit to authenticate the game. Unfortunately it just ends up turning the game lopsided in favor of the AI. The Swing Stick has been modified for the better and you can now chose to hit the ball in the air or hit a groundball. The best part about the improved Swing Stick is that you can aim where you want to hit the ball, with a simple flick of your control stick. No longer do you have to sit and wait to spray it to right field (for right handed batters). This feature gives you much more control over how you want to hit it and to what field.

Posing for the camera or making a great catch ... you decide.

With 2K’s other 09 sports offerings, it gives you the option to constantly update the rosters automatically, MLB 2K9 is no different, allowing you to always have the most up to date rosters. The different game modes are what you would expect from a sports title. Franchise mode is still available with minor upgrades to satisfy gamers with customization up the wazoo. You can take your one team through the years or pick all 30 if you so choose. The Home Run Derby is another basic offering that gives you a few cheap thrills but nothing much in the way of groundbreaking excitement. Ever wanted to start a season right in the playoffs? 2K9 offers this option to dive right on in. While not very many modes are offered, what they do give you will keep you busy until the off-season.

The card feature is back from 2K8 and better than ever. To get cards to fill not only your "dream team" but the album as well you have to fulfill certain objects. You are given two options on which you can do (typically if you are either playing against or with the player) to gain access to the player’s card. The catch is you can only be playing on the “Pro” difficulty or higher. No easy pickings to try to fill you album up with star players and whilst being nothing more than an add-on, it does give a little flavor to a decent game.

2K seems to have adopted this idea of a "Team 2K" and inserted it into every sports title they put out. Gamers are given ten weeks to gain entry into this elite club by playing and winning as much as they possibly can. The best player at the end of the ten weeks wins and gets a prize. Lobbies are MIA once again and beyond frustrating. The online offerings are basic with ranked and unranked exhibitions being the main course. A Home Run Derby as well as "Card Battles" are also available for your multiplayer enjoyment.

This is what 161 million dollars will get you.

Achievements have gone in a different direction for 2K Sports. Gone are the days where you have do "X" amount of things with a certain character. They have latched onto the idea of accomplishing a certain feat "X" amount of times. In MLB’s case, you have strikeouts, hitting homeruns, stealing a certain amount of bases, and hitting milestones in a single game. To be honest, I like the list. It shouldn’t take you an incredible amount of time to amass a decent amount of points and you should enjoy doing so.

MLB 2K9 is the only true baseball simulation we are going to get. While EA decided to monopolize essentially every single other sport out there, 2K snatched up the rights to Major League Baseball. Being the only baseball title on the market, you can do one of the two things. Make a crappy game that people might buy simply because it is the only thing out there, or make a quality game that people will enjoy and want to keep coming back for more. While I will say that MLB 2K9 favors somewhat towards the latter, it is by no means a perfect game. The crummy pitching scheme leaves me wanting something more simple and user friendly. Fielding like your shoes are filled with sand is never fun either. However, a deep Franchise mode and constant roster updates will keep you coming back for more.

2K Beats brings some fairly good and catchy music titles into the mix. The announcers are a huge upgrade over last season. Random comments on the weather and the managers keep me interested instead of annoyed. Not wanting to lower the announcing volume to 0 automatically gives this title a good score. Hearing that age old crack of the bat and the slap of the mitt after a pitch always brings a smile to my face.

Stadiums that are gorgeous and match their real-life counterparts are just a piece of what makes this game so visually stunning. Realistic player models and real batting stances to match really sets this game apart. They don’t look like they have been shined with window cleaner either. They simply look like ball-players.

Playing in a swamp is never fun (unless your name is “Swamp Thing.”). So why would I want to do it when I trying to catch a ball on the run? A confusing pitching control scheme doesn’t help this score either. Simplicity would be for the better in MLB 2K9’s case.

I have always said that I hate the menu screens for 2K’s games and my stance has not changed ... I still hate them but I have learned to tolerate them. The number of game modes are a little thin but the ones you do get are deep (except for the HR derby).

A good list as far as I’m concerned. You should get most of them within through a Franchise’s playthrough. Should be an easy 700-800 points and keep the ravenous achievements mongers away for a bit.

Nothing groundbreaking in the latest installment of the MLB 2K series that would set this apart from any other sports title. You will get your money’s worth with the Franchise mode and the constant free roster updates. MLB 2K9 is good enough to make it to the majors, but not quite worthy of an all-star title that we were hoping for.

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