With the MLB 2K series, every year looks like the franchise is on the cusp of something great, only to fall a little bit short. Given this is the last year of 2K's exclusive MLB license, there was hope that the team would go all out and create a game that would stand the test of time. What actually happened is the series regressed, adding a couple of new gimmicks while leaving the majority of the game without improvement or upgrade. This may be the closest we've ever come to a sports game that really is nothing more than a roster upgrade with a few new bells and whistles.
Nothing has been truly revitalized in MLB 2K12, but the pitching system has become slightly more complex. Pitches retain their familiar motion-based controls, but this year, 2K has upped the ante so players can't exploit a single pitch or location in the hopes of easy victory. Now AI batters look for pitcher tendencies in both selection and location, and as you overuse certain pitches, their effectiveness drops considerably. You may blow fastballs by the first couple of hitters, but if you continue to rely exclusively on the heat, the other team will dial in pretty quickly and begin punishing you with base hits and worse.
It's actually a clever mechanic that forces players to effectively mix up pitch types and locations and learn how to use their entire repertoire. A balanced approach creates nice results, with batters who are more easily fooled by off-speed throws and balls outside the strike zone. It's a fun new wrinkle for the game; it's just unfortunate everything surrounding it is so mediocre.
Also new this season is a fielding meter that changes the accuracy of your throws based not only on player skill, but also on whether you're throwing on the move or take the time to set your feet. This is another concept that is a great idea, but the game takes most of the fun out of it. In order to maximize your accuracy, the fielder must be able to stop and set his feet, but then as any longtime player knows, the MLB 2K franchise seems to pride itself on overlong animations that leave fielders flailing on all but the most basic ground balls. Often you simply don't have the time to establish your base, which will lead to a lot of wild tosses and basemen being pulled off the bag. It's an element that feels like it could become integral with enough polish, but no one knows if 2K will stick with the concept long enough to make it pay off (if they even keep making baseball games at all).
The only other moderately upgraded aspect of MLB 2K12 is the commentary, as John Kruk, Steve Phillips and Gary Thorne once again prove how great the booth work in a sports game can be. The trio already had a solid stable of conversations and catchphrases from previous games, and this year, they recorded hundreds of new lines. Most of the new stuff focuses on the pitcher-batter matchups and how a particular hurler is faring on the mound, but there's so much solid banter going on that it's easy to feel like you're watching an actual game. I'm not sure how these guys put together such an entertaining, natural-sounding broadcast for every game they call, but their dulcet tones are appreciated every time I start up a game.
Aside from some bug fixes and erased glitches, the rest of the game remains totally untouched, and that is a shame. The engine powering the series has aged poorly, and player faces still look dead-eyed and zombie-like. Sure, the superstars look a bit better than everyone else, but created players and no-names are borderline ugly, and even the "name" players don't look great. Furthermore, fielders still sometimes teleport to snag balls they otherwise should have missed, and players often react to routine fly balls as though they're chasing a line drive that's making a beeline for the outfield wall. If the franchise does return next year, then I pray it's with a new engine.
Also unimproved are the My Player and Franchise modes, which are nothing more than carbon copies of last year's model. My Player claims that now you can assign your created star roles like Speedster and Team Leader, but since skill point distribution is totally left up to the player, such designations are completely worthless. It's as though 2K had an idea for a new mechanic, scrapped it halfway through, and forgot to take out the parts of the game where it was already mentioned. Also be prepared for wonky skill point distribution, baffling manager decisions and laughably inaccurate simulation statistics from the franchise that stands as the king of inscrutable logic.
The game also features an MLB Today Season mode, but it's going to have a hard time catching on. The mode lets you pick your favorite team and then follow its exploits throughout the actual MLB season, complete with injuries, trades, management changes and more. What sounds like a really cool concept is stopped dead in its tracks by the fact that you can only play a single game a day, and only on the days when your real-life counterparts are on the field. I guess you could call this the mode for the super-hardcore, but I foresee very few people grinding their way through a full 162-game season.
If this is truly the way the MLB 2K franchise ends, then it is with a whimper rather than a bang. Regardless of whether they re-up their contract with MLB, compete with other publishers or bow out of the field entirely, MLB 2K12 is one of the most lackluster offerings in years. The new pitching mechanic adds a fun twist, but the rest of the game is unimproved or outright hindered, and the excellent commentary work is nullified by another season of unimpressive visuals. PS3 owners should rightly gravitate toward the MLB: The Show franchise, while Xbox owners may as well sit out this year entirely.
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