ROSTER UPGRADE?: So what’s with Randy Johnson in pinstripes?
In this age of exclusive licenses, the annual iteration of each major sports video-game franchise can often be described as “$50 for a roster upgrade.” The PlayStation 2 version of MLB 2K7, which carries an exclusive third-party MLB and MLBPA license, bucks the trend in two ways: it costs only $30, and the rosters have been out of date since mid January. Randy Johnson is still a Yankee, for crying out loud.
2K7 feels as if it had been rushed to shelves. The gameplay doesn’t work that well most of the time, notably in the field, where, it seems, fielders who aren’t user-controlled are unable to catch fly balls. If an AI-controlled player finds himself in the wide halo indicating a pop-up’s expected landing point, the ball will usually bounce off his head if you don’t switch to controlling him. That’s not just counterintuitive, it’s idiotic.
The presentation is similarly awful. 2K Sports would do well to heed the advice of the popular baseball blog and fire Joe Morgan. Jon Miller and Jeannie Zelasko, too. Replace them with the sounds of the stadium. Few who play baseball video games need Morgan to point out that pitchers “throw the high hard one to try and get the hitter to chase.” We know that already; that’s why we selected a high fastball with two strikes. We don’t need to hear Paul Konerko’s résumé each time he comes to bat. We especially don’t need to hear these tautological clichés at every opportunity. I did laugh out loud when I heard Angels utilityman Chone Figgins referred to as a “feared hitter,” so the broadcast team deserves credit for that much.
The game touts its use of “real scouting reports” — you can even purchase these in season mode to get a competitive advantage and exploit your opponents’ weaknesses. Although this wrinkle is interesting, it also makes the player rankings somewhat befuddling. If you’re consulting with scouts, why not also ask their input on who’s actually, you know, good at baseball? And the game seems to reflect the past more than the present: does anyone really think Todd Helton rates a 100, Jason Varitek a 96, and Shea Hillenbrand a 93 in the year 2007? Here’s a radical idea: hook up with some of the eggheads who project baseball for a living (like Baseball Prospectus or Diamond Mind) and get them to rate players based on what they might still be capable of rather than what they’ve done already.
If you’re just looking to play baseball, MLB 2K7 isn’t completely without merit. The “hit stick” is a solid idea, even if the game scolds you like a schoolmarm after each poorly executed swing. By making the right analog stick a bat, the designers have at least attempted to turn video-game hitting into something other than blindly “power swinging” at everything close to the strike zone. But the swing stick was introduced in 2006; nothing in the 2K7 edition comes close to matching that level of creativity. If the justification for leaving sports games largely unchanged from year to year is that they sell well no matter what, then why not take a chance on some radical ideas? With a few more weeks at the drawing board and some outside-the-box thinking, this could have been a great game. Instead, it’s just $30 for a marginal roster upgrade.