Friday, February 27, 2009

MLB 2k9: On-the-Field Impressions

Note: I was running short on time, so I have not spell-checked this post.

I've now put in roughly six games of MLB 2k9. These are largely played on all default slider settings. After one game I upped the difficulty from Pro to All-Star because hitting on Pro is ridiculously easy. (I have no problem with that. Pro is the second lowest difficulty level after all.)

First thing's first. In my first two games MLB 2k9 crashed during an inning transition. I have to emphasize that *both* of these games were played with the "Hurry Up Baseball" option enabled. Both crashes came about the same way.

In Game 1, I went to my pen in the 8th. When my reliever came in there was no pitch selection menu. It was just gone. I could still throw pitches, but I couldn't see the key to tell me what pitches the pitcher had available or what right-stick motion I needed to use them. I muddled through and when I got out of the inning the screen went black (which it normally does for a second on half inning switches) and never came back.

In the second game it was a similar deal. I lost Verlander to injury in the 2nd. No problem. All was well with selecting his replacement. When I went to my pen (I have pitcher warmups turned off, for the record) in the 6th, however, it was the same thing. No pitch selection screen for the reliever. I muddle through without it. Inning changes and the screen goes black. I gave it 15 minutes to come back around and nothing.

For the next four games I've turned Hurry Up Baseball off and I've completed all four, having gone to my pen multiple times, and not had a problem. This is a bummer to me, because I *really* like the Hurry Up Baseball option. It cuts out all the between pitches and between innings junk that make games take forever. (I don't mind the between inning transition so much as all the noise that goes on between pitches.) So, *if* it is the Hurry Up option being enabled that's messing with the game's stability that's a bummer for me, but better than having the crash come about with the setting disabled too.

As for the rest of the game. If you're a fan of 2k8 or if you think you could've liked it last year had it not been for some of the knucklehead issues with it had, then you should be happy with this one. The feel of the game is very similar, but a lot -not all, but a lot- of the sloppiness of last season is gone. If you hated 2k8, you're probably not gonna like this one any better.

In general it plays a solid game of baseball. Whether you like it or not will depend on where your hot button issues are (and how good the sliders end up being, I suppose). Hit variety seems consistent with last year (which is good). The stuttering of last year is gone as well. However, I still think the fielding is weak. And I don't like the balance of balls and strikes.

With regards to fielding, when I'm trying to field the ball the game feels like it's slowing down, like I'm having the players run through molasses. Since the ball slows down too, it doesn't affect the play, but it's kind of annoying to me. (It'll be interesting to see of others are bothered by this or if it's somehow all in my head.) And because of how momentum is done, if you so much as twitch the controller in the wrong direction you are going to be very hard up to make a play on the ball. The AI is putting up monster hit numbers on me right now largely because I keep hyperactively flipping the control stick in the wrong direction and taking myself out of the play. Very frustrating.

The batter pitcher matchup is much the same as last year, except that when pitching it doesn't appear that quality of the pitch motion (on the right stick) really matters. Last year if you weren't precise with the right stick motion it affected pitch quality, which I thought was a good thing. (I don't think it can be brought back, but perhaps I missed the option.)

As for hitting, while there are some new control options, the feel is the same as last year unless you opt for Zone Hitting. First of all Zone Hitting is not zone hitting. It's cursor hitting. If you like cursor hitting, you'll probably like this. I don't. I tried it for three innings and I cannot simultaneously try to judge balls from strikes and move that dam bat cursor to where the ball is going. I hate it. Also, on All Star it remains very easy to make contact with the ball. (Note I do mean make contact and not necessarily get hits.) In my just completed 4-game series against Toronto (I was Detroit), I did not hit well the first two games and did hit well in the second two. That could be Toronto's pitching or it could be that once you're used to it, non-cursor contact is just too easy.  We'll see how it goes from here.

Balls and strikes, at default setting, are straight out of last year's playbook. Which, in my book, is not good. Pitches really don't miss their mark. I mean a 12-6 curve always goes below the target you select, but since it always does that, it's just a matter of adjusting your pitcher's aim to compensate. Likewise, the AI pitcher rarely *RARELY* lets himself fall behind the in count. I'm not the poster child for plate patience, but I really worked hard to not swing at first and second pitches that weren't what I was looking for and I was constantly down 0-2 in the count. In all the games I've played I have walked just one time and have yet to issue a walk. If you need a strike you can get one. End of story. (Well, barring slider fixes.)

I do think AI hitters are much improved this year. They will swing at the occasional pitch out of the zone. They'll take the occasional strike. It's very nice. I can't say for sure that I've ever struck a batter out looking - that bares watching, but beyond that there's good variety in terms of when the AI hitters take or swing.

Now, there is one issue I've seen that just makes me crazy: close calls at the plate. When you're trying to throw a runner out at the plate, it's just crazy. This is not the sort of issue one generally looks for, but I've been using replay a lot to look at these plays and it just makes no sense. So far I've seen three things happen (a couple of them multiple times):

1. The runner is going to beat the throw to the plate. The throw is coming in off-line, so that the catcher has to move away from the plate and the runner to get to it. The runner slides feet first way off to the side of the plate, right at the poorly positioned catcher. If the runner were on target he would touch home easily. Instead his feet and legs miss the plate entirely, and by the time he gets around to swiping his hand on the plate, the catcher has gotten the throw and tagged him out. This is not a fluke. I've seen it happen twice already.

2. The throw to the plate is only a little off, but the catcher can just reach for it and still block the plate. The runner goes feet first right at home plate in this scenario. Hit feet go straight over the plate (if they're somehow not touching it, it's impossible to tell), the catcher swipes at the runner and the runner is called out when he is *clearly* safe. I've seen this happen twice as well.

3. The ball is thrown on the money from the field. It beats the runner there, the tag is made and the runner is inexplicably called safe. I've seen this happen once.

I'd call it just another knucklehead rarity, but I've seen the home plate scenario unfold five times in six games where the ball and runner get there close enough for there to be a play and have the result just be wrong every single time. That's not a minor issue. It's an out when there should be run scored or a run scored when there should be in an out. I have three saved replays of this. (Does anyone know if I can export them to my PC somehow? I haven't checked.)

There's also still some fielding wonkiness that comes up in every game. I had a ball hit to my RF. He was sitting right there to make the catch and just let the ball conk off his head. He then proceeded to snag the ball in the air, off his head, and make the out. Nice physics. Weird play. It's like if you're not lined up perfectly with an animation sometimes the game doesn't know what to do with itself and just lets the ball go by. I've seen it happen on multiple balls where the ball just goes right by a guy who is just left or right of being centered on it. It's the kind of thing that's annoying, but if you're careful not to be off-center, it really shouldn't happy very often. (Emphasis on shouldn't. I need to play more and see how much of it is me and how much is the game being a pain in the ass.)

That's it for now. I need to pick up my kids from daycare. I'll be playing the game a bunch this weekend and I'll try to get some more impressions up if I can make the time.