Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Blue Castle Games
Release Date: January 27, 2009
Despite the claims that football is America's game, it can be argued that baseball was the first sport that became America's obsession. Until recently, baseball has been one of the few sports where fans obsess over every possible stat and become fascinated with which minor-league players are moving on to the Major Leagues. Even minute details, such as stipulations of trading rules and the dimensions of every field in the league, become important pieces of information for die-hard fans of the diamond.
As far as video games go, most baseball games that deal with the business of forming a team and managing it have been on the PC. Console players who wanted to do any of this were forced to play through very basic general manager modes of other baseball to get their fix, provided the title even had that mode in the first place. These players now have had their wishes fulfilled thanks to MLB Front Office Manager from 2K Games, a game that focuses solely on the daily activities of an MLB general manager. After playing this game, however, MLB fans might regret wishing for this title's existence.
As alluded to in the title of the game, you play the role of a new general manager in the MLB. After choosing your first team, your mission is to manage every aspect of the team, including adjusting the salaries of your star players, drafting new and upcoming superstars, and trading your players for better deals. Anything you can imagine a general manager doing, you can do it in MLB Front Office Manager. Your actions also dictate areas you can level up in, giving you more opportunities along the way. Build up a winning team for a year, for example, and you can level up in areas that allow you better shots at good rookie prospects or let you to get the most out of a trade with another team. Ultimately, your goal is to not only take your team to the World Series but to also create a baseball dynasty. As an added bonus, you have the ability to manage individual games, giving your players direction about when they should go for a walk, try for the grand slam home run, or simply sacrifice themselves to advance a runner.
One of the biggest flaws of the game is in the presentation. Coming in to the game, one realizes that the majority of the screen is going to be taken up by menus. However, the menus themselves are fairly cumbersome to work with. Almost every major option has a submenu, which has plenty of options buried within. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that it's pretty cumbersome to go back and forth between menus because everything is laid out in one column instead of branching out. Considering the menu flow in other 2K titles, it's surprising to see this menu system be so archaic. Keep in mind, however, that this menu simply covers the left one-third of the screen. The middle section is covered with player images, stats, and other occurrences within the league and your organization. While all of this is fine, the final segment of the screen is covered with nothing. The decision to have wasted screen space is a costly one because it makes the presentation more condensed than it needs to be. In a game where stats are paramount, space is a commodity that shouldn't have been wasted.
The other major gripe with MLB Front Office Manager is in the options, or lack thereof. For starters, the user can't ever seem to do a trade with more than one other team at a time. One would have imagined that three-team trades would be an option here, but that wasn't meant to be. There also doesn't seem to be an option to check out more than your basic stats for rookie players or those you're pulling up from the minor leagues. Finally, the AI for simulating your activities is mindless. As a trial, four different teams on four different occasions were sent to simulate a season. On all four occasions, all of the teams placed dead last in their division, barely winning one-third of their games. With this kind of AI in place, the game essentially forces you to manage every aspect or face the consequences of an AI that can't manage anything on its own.
You don't expect exciting graphics in a game driven by menus, but it still would have been nice to do something that would be compelling to look at as you drive through each menu. For the most part, you get nothing but black space, making you wish that the backgrounds were livelier or had something going on. You get a little reprieve when you decide to manage an actual game, where the fields are nice, and the character models aren't that bad. Things go a bit south, however, when you notice that everyone moves at a hyperactive pace. Even worse, when you finally see your general manager after spending some time building him from scratch, you'll notice that he still has the main problem that the MLB 2K series has had so far: dead eyes. The eyes alone ruin the illusion that you're seeing real people, and this is something that needs to be addressed if the series wants to be viewed in a better light.
The sound in the game is as bare-bones as possible. A majority of the sound effects are from menu confirmations and cancelations, and the music that accompanies the menu management is very low-key and uninspiring. There's nothing wrong with having a purely instrumental soundtrack in a sports game, but nothing that's presented here makes you want to do anything, let alone manage a team with any excitement. When you decide to manage a game, all you get are the sounds of the crowd, thrown pitches, and the crack of the bat. It's understandable that you wouldn't have announcers because you're not watching a TV broadcast, but a little more effort in the sound area in this part of the game would have been welcome.
MLB Front Office Manager was a good opportunity for console gamers to experience the joys and hardships of a standard MLB general manager. Unfortunately, with a very cumbersome menu system and nothing else to make it exciting, the title becomes a boring mess. Coupled with a few things you seemingly can't do in a game squarely focused on the well-being of a baseball organization, and you begin to wonder if this wouldn't have been better off as an addition to the MLB 2K games instead of a standalone product. No matter how much of a baseball fan you are, the best thing you can do is leave this alone and hope that the sequel, if there is one, will be a much better effort.
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