February 11, 2009
Let's be honest with ourselves here: baseball can be brutally boring sometimes. Those one-run games that seem to last forever. At-bats riddled with foul ball after foul ball. The situations for boredom are endless. On the other hand, there is something majestic about a 400-foot home run and nothing more suspenseful than the possibility of a game-ending strikeout. So, in a sport that can't guarantee excitement, how much hope would a video game focused on pretending to play that sport possibly have?
Maybe I'm not being entirely fair. There is much more to MLB Front Office Manager than pretending to play the actual games, and these sections are where the game can either prove its worth or confuse the hell out of you. The main bulk is played during Career Mode, in which you are the manager of an MLB franchise, making all the decisions. You'll begin by creating your manager. The options for your look are quite limited. You can change the age, which shows well on the avatar, but aside from that, there are only a handful of heads, three body types and a few tacky suits to wear. Once you've nailed your look, you'll choose your background. Here is where things get important. If you were previously a lawyer, you'll be great at negotiations, but weak at things like scouting talent. An ex-scout or ex-player will be better at working with the team and developing talent, but weaker on the business end, and so on.
Your task as a manager begins shortly after the previous season's World Series finishes. From there you need to evaluate your team, and using a budget based on real-world models (the Yankees are still filthy rich, even here), you decide who deserves a contract extension, who would be worth trading for some fresh blood or who just isn't cut out for the bigs and can be let go. You'll get tips through your e-mail along the way to help, but for someone who doesn't follow that much baseball, things will begin to get increasingly confusing from here out. I for instance have no idea if a newcomer from Japan or the old vet would be a better choice. Sure, there are various ratings you can judge from, but I had to wikipedia what "Sabermetrics" even was before I could use them. All these choices will affect your team's performance, and in turn will effect how you progress as a manager. Winning streaks during the season will net you experience to put additional points into various stats. So if you did choose that lawyer in the beginning, you can work on improving his naturally weak eye for talent.
During the season, there will be options for trades and the like, but none of that is any different than what you ran into during the offseason. The only difference now is the excrutiating "playing" of the spring training, regular and post-season games. Most of the time, you'll have only a few choices. At bat, your main choices are hit or bunt. Obviously you'll be hitting more often than not. Pitching, you can either pitch to or walk the batter. Ok, not much of a choice there either. Making your choice will then simulate the entire at-bat, giving you no choice to interrupt and change your decision. If you chose to bunt, you'll be up there the entire time with your bat extended looking like a fool. There are obviously other choices that will pop up depending on the number of outs, runners on base and such, and later in the game you might need to sub in pinch-hitters/runners or bring in a relief pitcher, but these are just more tedious choices that would be better left to the simulator since I had no clue what I was doing.
I suppose tedious is a great description for the majority of this game. The menu systems are terrible and extremely disjointed. E-mails are not linked to any of the menus they might reference, causing you to read an e-mail about a trade, then back out and search the trade menu to see it. The trades themselves could take forever if you don't immediately know all the players involved. I was often offered one player for three of my own, and not knowing who this person being offered was I almost instinctively would think it a bad idea. However, upon backing out of the trade menu and then going to look at my rosters, I saw that at least two of the players were relatively useless. In fact, the amount of knowledge needed to really even play the game is quite large. Even more is needed to be at all effective with it.
On top of the steep learning curve and overall boring nature of the game, the sounds and sights are dismal. 2K sports normally at least gives you some decent tunes in the background of their menus, but not here. Clicking away to what appear to be the bastard child of elvish hymns and elevator music is not at all appealing, but instead somewhat sleep-inducing. Seeing as most of the game is menus, those do alright for themselves, but when "playing" the games, pitching motions are made of about half the frames they should be, causing a bit of a stop-motion effect and the players (though somewhat detailed up close) are relegated to smudges on the field after any hit.
So for such a dull game, we could at least hope for some quick and easy achievements, right? Nope. You'll gain a few playing through the various stages of the off-season (completing the drafts) as well as managing various games. The rest are going to take hours and hours of simulating (or even more hours if you choose to play it all out). You need to win the world series with no less than nine different teams, as well as completing a 30-year career and making numerous trades and Japanese acquisitions. You'd think this was an EA game or something with these awful achievements. An estimated 40+ hours seem to be required for a full completion. Considering I got bored of this after only a handful, I am glad I decided to review this on my wife's gamercard.
There is no menu music aside from the aforementioned bastard child. There isn't any game commentary either. There just isn't anything to speak of anywhere really. I hope you have a radio around when playing this.
The players up close are pretty decent, but the poor pitching/hitting motions and low detail in the overhead field view are killers. The menus definitely could have been punched up a little as well since they are the majority of what you'll be seeing.
Poor menu structure and a deep learning curve are enough to kill any interest for the casual baseball fan, but the only point that could have been exciting (the games themselves) offers too little.
I see where this game was trying to go, but it never got there. There is a specific market for this type of thing and I really don't think it is big enough that 2K should have made the decision to put this game out. They should have put a little more work into a manager mode in their yearly baseball title instead.
Repetitive and unimaginative, the time needed to complete them in my mind won't offset the mind-numbing boredom of the game, and I've played My Horse and Me 2 so I know something about mind-numbing boredom.
The market out there for this type of game is too small to warrant its creation. I think the little success NFL Head Coach from EA got made 2K think this might be a good idea, but the number of choices on the field, the better structure of the off-season and the smaller learning curve made that a much easier game to tolerate. If you're not a die-hard baseball fan with years of knowledge on its rules and practices, you'll more than likely be lost extremely quickly, wondering when it will end.