Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Blue Castle Games
Release Date: June 25, 2007
Baseball Hall of Fame member Branch Rickey once called the sport "a game of inches," but in The BIGS, baseball is a game of feet, yards, or perhaps miles, depending on which comparatively large unit of measure you prefer. In an attempt to get the most out of its exclusive third-party Major League Baseball license, 2K Sports has teamed with developer Blue Castle Games to deliver a hardball experience that takes terms like "slow" and "methodical" out of the equation.
Designed as a nonstop highlight reel, nearly everything in The BIGS is super-sized, both literally and figuratively. Both the players and familiar stadium features have been bulked up, with the Incredible Hulk-like players a true oddity in a sports world trying desperately to forget about the "Steroids Era" of years past. But based on what I saw, don't expect a whole lot of "roid rage" — these players are stronger and speedier, but The BIGS isn't looking to destroy the integrity of the game by inserting hollow fistfights and the like.
All 30 Major League stadiums will be included, and though the field dimensions remain unchanged, several aspects of each stadium have been exaggerated. Not only does this add a bit of flash and excitement to the experience, but the enhanced elements will also be interactive. At Shea Stadium in New York, the giant apple emblazoned with the Mets logo is about 20% larger than normal, whereas the scoreboard absolutely towers over the playing field. Batters on both teams can swing toward the various lighted signs, and sharpshooters may be able to take down every glowing letter in the "MLB" display in the outfield.
Creating a "bigger" game required the team at Blue Castle Games to develop a very concise experience, and as such, the average game will take just 20 minutes to complete. It also will take place over a total of just five innings, a change that may scare off baseball purists. But purists don't fall into the key demographic for The BIGS — this is a game for people less interested in nuance than the long ball. That's not to say that it's appealing to the lowest common denominator; rather, it is focused on delivering a fast-paced, accessible experience that doesn't require a deep knowledge of the sport or any previous baseball sim.
Keeping things simple means mapping most of the major functions — batting, pitching, and fielding — to the face buttons instead of opting for the analog schemes of some modern sims. In the PlayStation 3 build on display at Gamers Day a couple of weeks ago, pressing X initiated a contact swing while O brought forth the power. As has been the case with most button-based batting systems in recent years, the left analog stick can be used to "guide" the pitch off of the bat, should the player want to pull the ball or attempt to influence its potential landing spot. Fielding is pretty similar to that of Major League Baseball 2K7, in which each face button represents a base on the playing field, though things such as diving catches are initiated with the X button.
Pitching in The BIGS relies on a hold-and-release meter system with each pitch in a hurler's repertoire mapped to a separate button. Missing the green zone on the tiny vertical meter will result in a poor pitch, and based on my limited sample of the gameplay, every missed pitch seemed to automatically land well outside the strike zone. Here's hoping the final release has a bit more of a grey area between strikes and balls, as meter mastery (or the lack thereof) could make or break the experience.
Should a pitcher consistently throw a particular pitch out of the zone (or continue to give up hits with that pitch), he may lose it for the rest of the game. Gamers griped when their starting pitchers had trouble lasting five innings in MLB 2K7, but inconsistent hurlers may have trouble lasting for more than three in The BIGS. Despite the emphasis on a quick play experience, the developers want players to get into the habit of warming up and substituting closers and middle relievers.
While most of the major activities are button-oriented, base running will revolve almost entirely around the left analog stick. According to Anthony Chau, public relations manager at 2K Sports, the left stick will allow players the ability to control turns around the bases and the extent of one's lead off of the bag. I was not able to see this aspect at work during the Gamers Day demo, so it will be curious to see if there is any disconnect between the various analog and digital schemes within the game.
What really makes The BIGS so ... well, big, is its reliance on a pair of meters to ratchet up the intensity of the experience: the turbo meter and the Big Play meter. Each positive action in the game — throwing a strike, taking a ball, or making a suave defensive play — earns the player turbo. When activated, the turbo casts a light shade of grey over the game screen, and depending on when the turbo is used, it can do very different things at each position.
Batters benefit greatly from the use of turbo, as the opposing pitcher is then forced to throw within the strike zone. Turbo-powered pitchers, on the other hand, gain some extreme movement with their breaking pitches, while fastballs jump into the catcher's mitt with even less hesitation than usual. Fielders can activate the juice to assist with close plays or attempt to rob a home run from a batter.
Points earned for base hits, strikeouts, and the like are added to the Big Play meter over the course of a game, and the meter can then be activated to attempt either a Big Blast or Big Heat maneuver. Connecting with any pitch as a batter results in an automatic home run, while pitchers earn a stunning speed boost on all of their pitches. The computer can also make use of both meters, so be prepared for an epic duel if both the pitcher and batter activate their Big Play meters at the same time.
The BIGS will feature the requisite Exhibition and Home Run Derby modes, as well as online play for up to four players (two per team, assumedly). Rookie Challenge is the name of the career mode in The BIGS, and while not on display at Gamers Day, Chau was able to share some details about the mode. Spanning roughly 20 hours of play, Rookie Challenge chronicles one user-created character's journey through the minor leagues and into the majors, with the ultimate goal to become the World Series MVP. As the player progresses through the mode, he will encounter a series of unique mini-games and be rewarded with several costume elements, such as sunglasses and multicolored bats.
Home Run Pinball is the mode that is likely to raise the most eyebrows, as it matches the bliss of hitting the long ball with the subtle joy of destruction — all within the pinball table-esque environment of Times Square in New York. A pitcher planted between rows of taxis fires off fastballs, and as the batter, your goal is to take down lighted signs and the like to unlock multipliers or a multi-ball bonus sequence. Intrepid batters can even aim for the crystal ball hoisted high atop the city (and dropped every New Year's Eve). As with a real-life pinball table, earning additional balls requires the player to accrue a certain amount of points (50,000 per ball, in this case). However, success will breed contempt, as the pitcher will toss in his nastiest breaking balls and change-ups as the duel continues.
Shipping nearly three months into the Major League Baseball season, The BIGS may have trouble corralling sim junkies, but its release at the advent of summer may help it warm up the next-gen consoles of those looking to knock a few into the outfield (every inning). Between the super-sized players and super-sized gameplay, The BIGS should have no problem living up to its billing, but can it live up to the colossal expectations that come with the exclusive third-party license?
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