Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: 2K Sports
Release Date: March 3, 2009
Erick Boenisch and Jonathan Rivera from the MLB 2K9 development team took some time this past Friday to introduce their forthcoming Major League Baseball title. As they made clear this year upon the return of Take 2 Interactive's MLB license to sports-gaming veteran Visual Concepts, the title is all about new players. That's not rookie minor league players they're referring to, but baseball and video game enthusiasts alike who've yet to get into a baseball simulation. Excessive complexity has long been the most miserable side effect of improvements in sports gaming, and baseball has arguably been the victim hardest hit by this phenomenon. Especially with fine-grained control of pitching and batting, both avid video gamers and casual players have been, as gameplay producer unequivocally states, "punished" for the most trivial mistakes. Reaching swings and fat meatballs have often ruined a baseball gaming session, which, in today's standard of audio and graphics mimicking big TV presentations, could otherwise have been almost flawless hours of pure fun.
Although it's not a first for a studio to declare they're making their sports titles more accessible to the casual player, as for the glut of overly difficult sports games, lead features designer Boenisch declares, "People don't want to play those types of games these days." Visual Concepts' approach is a fair reaction to the equally fair notion that if we're going to annually spend a lot of money on new editions of our favorite sports games, we certainly have the right to enjoy those games without making the endeavor a second profession.
To that end, the MLB 2K9 team has removed excessively detailed default control of pitching and batting from the game. Deep, and difficult, control does remain in the game to a large degree, but it's no longer part of the default gameplay mechanic, and it's not required to play the game in any mode. A greatly streamlined approach to control has yielded a much easier learning curve for the title, drastically cutting the amount of time gamers are forced to wallow in training. Without a doubt, I've long lamented the need to play a new sports title for as long as several months before feeling fully fit to delve into those amazing franchise and dynasty modes. In this regard, Visual Concepts and other like-minded sports title developers may be saving the genre from themselves: Few gamers want to pay for a lot of features they can't ever fully enjoy using.
Also, in the interest of expanding the genre to new players, MLB 2K9 will be available on the Windows PC platform. Boenisch expressed an interest in that demographic of gamers who don't have the latest consoles but do keep up with powerful gaming PCs. The PC version of the title is a ported version of the Xbox 360 game, with compensation made for customizing the unique modes of control available to PC gamers. Additionally, since this is a first outing for the series on the PC, online play is not a feature of this year's game, but Boenisch and Rivera are confident that the exceptionally low $19.99 price for the PC iteration more than makes up for the growing pains of adding a platform to the MLB 2K9 fold.
As new developers taking over, or taking back, the MLB license, the team used the opportunity to scratch what was in the game and start over, carrying forward only those elements of the series that they felt were clearly worthwhile. For the HD console games, they've amped up all the specs on the visual presentation, including a fully contemporary TV-like presentation — the default pitching camera is the same pitching camera ESPN uses in their broadcasts — bumped up the video to a rock-steady 60 FPS, and addressed deficiencies in online performance, making what you see on your TV display as close as possible to what's happening online while maintaining fluid animations and a smooth frame rate.
The popular franchise mode is deeper than ever, and a major focus of this year's title. Joining the franchise mode is a new progression system, with players progressing based on performance in actual franchise play rather than upon what Boenisch calls "some arbitrary [career] potential rating." There's also a new element in the franchise mode that factors in player ambitions. Formerly, the highest bid for a player won his contract, but now the franchise AI takes into account what the player might want out of his team beyond a paycheck. It's a far more realistic approach to building a baseball franchise.
The create/edit player interface is all new this year, too, with customization options as detailed as deciding the finish of a player's bat. Roster, created players and the like will be available to share with the MLB 2K9 community via the popular 2K Share system. Also improved this year is the Topps trading card system, revised to include far more reasonable challenges for unlocking cards. Additionally, gamers will now be able to unlock cards playing both defensively and offensively — meaning a player's card can be unlocked not only when you're playing as that player, but also when you're playing against him.
It's not often that the annual edition of a big leagues sports license can be called "all new," but this year, that's exactly what MLB 2K9 will be. From the more accessible in-game control and play mechanic, to an entirely redesigned franchise mode, to a hundred small refinements, MLB 2K9 looks to establish long-lasting dominance in the baseball gaming market.
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