In all of sports, we like to talk about great rivalries, but the thing is that most of them tend to be rather one-sided for extensive lengths of time. The Yankees usually dominate the Red Sox, the Patriots beat up on the Colts for the first half of the decade before the roles reverse, and Lakers/Celtics doesn't mean much when one team has arguably the best player in the game and the other a collection of aging ballers who have trouble getting up and down the court. Such is the case with Major League Baseball 2K10 and MLB: The Show, where the latter franchise has absolutely owned the top spot for the past few years. While MLB 2K10 takes some steps toward making the matchup more competitive, it still falls well short of the competition.
There are two major revisions to this year's edition of the 2K franchise, the first being the all-new My Player mode. This familiar setting of "create a player, lead him to hall of fame career," is meant to go up against the competition's Road to the Show mode, and it does a fair, but not spectacular, job at it. My Player feeds on an RPG-like experience system, where smart actions on the field translate into skill points that you can use to boost attributes. Crank out a base hit, and you'll earn 25 points to apply to your hitting statistics; strike out a batter, and you receive 25 pitching points; etc. For the most part, it's a very intuitive system that allows for steady advancement and provides a means to spread points around so you aren't improving some stats to the detriment of others, but rather truly developing a well-rounded player.
Since this is a freshman outing, there are a lot of flaws with this system, and they rear their ugly head early on. First off, the only way to score any baserunning points is to steal bags, score runs or successfully pull off the hit-and-run when called. Unfortunately, your created player doesn't have the starting speed to get anywhere near stealing, runs are just as much under the control of your AI teammates as they are your player (you may manage a base hit, but they've got to knock you in), and the hit-and-run is a fairly random call so you never really know when it's coming. Thus, you may complete every other goal your team has set for you to move up to the majors, but your character is continually held back because he isn't fast enough. We all know how critical speed is when it comes to being a successful ball player, just as Prince Fielder or David Ortiz. The issue is also present — albeit to a lesser extent — with hitting. You need to get hits to improve your stats, but you need good stats to get hits. Even on the default difficulty, your player will struggle with putting the ball in play, as most of your hits will either be pathetic dribblers or line drives that are magically snagged by infielders. Even the pitchers seem to have superhuman reflexes and will steal many a hit, thus stunting your career growth.
My Player also struggles to balance player progression with the need to make you feel you've earned your place in the big leagues. It's possible for pitchers to jump from AA to The Show in five games, and position players can also skip AAA entirely merely by managing to hit all their advancement goals for a single game. While MLB: The Show has always tended to defer rewards for too long, MLB 2K10 goes totally in the opposite direction, giving you a starting role you didn't even truly earn. Ultimately, the whole mode provides the same impression: a lot of good ideas with sloppy execution. The foundation is there for a solid career mode, but several adjustments need to be made to make it truly stand out.
The other major overhaul to MLB 2K10 is the increased focus on pitchers versus hitters, a mechanic that makes the battles at the plate more intense than ever. The game's gesture-based hitting and pitching are back, with special sweeps of the right analog stick being necessary in order to throw the perfect slider or sinker. On the hitting side, in addition to the traditional contact and power swings, this year's game also includes a defensive swing that allows batters to foul off close balls and try to work the pitcher into making a mistake. Unfortunately, the defensive swing mechanic feels incredibly odd (you have to flick the control stick left or right), and you'll see better results just swinging at borderline pitches with the regular old contact swing. It's one of those things that will surely be enjoyed by a few purists here and there, but the majority of the game's audience will likely ignore the mechanic entirely and not feel any worse for it.
It seems as though all the effort to create My Player and tweak the pitcher/batter mechanics left time for little else, as MLB 2K10 is plagued with the same weak gameplay and blasé graphics that have made this title the eternal ugly stepsister in the rivalry. Fielders exhibit some stupid, stupid AI bugs, throwing the ball to the wrong base or forgetting what they were doing and allowing easy hits and runs. On top of that, fielders often levitate to bases rather than run, some batters appear in the box without a bat, and most character models look genuinely boring. While these cutbacks have managed to improve the lag and frame-rate hiccups that crippled last year's outing, they have set back the franchise's visuals by a few years.
The one bright spot in the presentation comes from the announce team, which does a terrific job of providing in-depth analysis and insightful commentary. The three-man booth will talk intelligently about player tendencies, trends and statistics, league information and provide all sorts of other relevant info. It's too bad that My Player fast-forwards from one of your character's moments to the next because it cuts off the fine chatter.
Major League Baseball 2K10 makes big strides simply by being playable, which is something that couldn't always be said of last year's outing. Also, the addition of My Player is truly welcome, even if it does need some close attention before it can be considered a great mode. On the other hand, the title still suffers from a lot of bugs and some subpar gameplay mechanics, all of which must be addressed if this series is ever going to present a credible challenge to the current leader of the pack, Sony's MLB: The Show. This year's game completes a successful rebuilding year, but whether it's primed for a playoff run or merely a .500 season is yet to be seen.
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