MLB 2k7: Don't Believe The Anti-Hype
Some fine print: I do agree with the The Video Game Critic most of the time. Sure, maybe I might differ on some fine points; an A game for me might be a B+ for him, or vice versa.
It is a rare event indeed when I disagree with The Critic by more than one letter grade.
But it does happen. For example, I think that Ninja Gaiden is an undisputed NES classic, despite the whole "can't climb walls thing" that some people hate. He gave it a C+. I'd give it an A.
Yet even THAT example doesn't approach the wide gulf between our grades for 2k Sport's latest next gen baseball offering, MLB 2k7 for the Xbox 360.
He gave it a D+. I'd give it a B+-.
Why the heck would we be so far apart? What gives?
I'll do my best to explain why I think MLB 2k7 is a solid baseball game, and then do my best to guess why The Critic doesn't like it. Hopefully, you can then judge for yourselves which "camp" you fall in.
Essentially, sports games began their life as "action" games. Baseball games, in particular, were just dressed up versions of Pong. The physics of the ball movement were simple, and batting was a simple game of timing. Changing speed was the only mechanism a pitcher could use to strike out a batter (certain real life pitchers have actual success by only changing speeds, interestingly, so I suppose this isn't totally unrealistic).
As videogames grew and matured, however, the "action sports game" became more realistic: real players, statistics, stadiums, season modes, etc. Eventually, however, the genre of sports games grew so much as to become something totally different than an action game. They became the very first "sandbox" games, games that weren't so much about white knuckled action (though the best ones could still give you that) but about playing as the manager/coach, general manager, owner, and even commissioner of one's own sports league.
Most sports gamers (at this point, these gamers are a totally different classification: there are plenty of gamers who only play sports games, and own consoles for that purpose only) happily accepted the sandbox model. The sandbox model caters to hardcore fans of a given sport: Madden freaks design their own plays, and know exactly what a "pulling guard" is. Basketball people know the high post pick n' roll. Hockey fans know the subtlety of the neutral zone trap. Baseball fans want to bring the fielders in, make a suicide squeeze, and double steal.
MLB 2k7 is a sandbox sports game, designed for baseball people. I am a baseball person (actually, I am a sports person in general, though hockey has been irritating me lately and boxing is in the doldrums). I love the sport. I don't mind the long games... to a point (some players and pitchers take their waggling to absurd extremes, such as Nomar Garciaparra with his glove waggle). I dig the strategy and I appreciate a tightly played, well pitched 2-0 game as much as a 14-8 slugfest.
That said, many of The Critic's points don't seem to line up with my experience. It took me about a half hour to learn the controls, which I generally liked. The thumbstick bat control allows me to hit to all fields as well as control the power of my swing. The pitching mechanism also enables me to nibble on the corners and control the amount of break on my curveballs. It's fun to try to get your power throwing starter through a complete game by taking risks and throwing easy to hit pitches to the weaker hitters in a lineup.
I know I've become the "I didn't find the controls hard!" guy on these forums, so I suppose I should take into account the fact that I just seem to "get" difficult controls. Yet I'm not so sure the controls here should be that hard for anyone. And you can also select a "classic" mode where you simply hit a button to swing. Almost every element of the game is customize-able in this way.
The graphics are near photorealistic, and at times resemble a "Fight Night Round 3" level of realism. Uniforms flap in the air, and players generally have realistic looking faces. The unique pitching motions and batting stances (such as Gary Sheffield's menacing wiggle of the bat and Pedro's "falling off the mound" delivery) are carefully replicated. The only negative in terms of presentation is that the visual engine doesn't always handle shadows well; you'll see the occasional ugly "jaggy" filled shadow (seems to happen in afternoon games from time to time). All in all though, MLB 2k7 makes Sony's "The Show" look like a last gen PS2 game (The Show might be a better game for all I know, but graphically there is no question who wins this round).
My only gripes are related to a number of "broken" features. Clearly not able to finish the game up in time (probably due to totally rebuilding their engine), there are numerous features that look like they should be in the game, but are not. Your minor league teams are in the game, but players on those rosters do not seem to improve or post any stats at all. It would have been nice to see who's tearing it up for me in AAA Toledo or AA Erie as I ponder callups. The game promises the ability to load your Xbox custom music list in the game (which is badly needed, as the licenses tracks are largely crap), but you can only play your music list via the "mini dashboard," which of course makes it no different than any other game. It would have been nice to see a "World Baseball Classic" function as well.
If a sports game is going to go the sports sandbox route, it should do it full on. I would have gladly waited a few more months for these other features to get implemented, and as such, this makes it fall short of an A for me. Yet this is still a tremendous effort, and I'm excited by the future of the MLB 2k series on the Xbox 360. The Critic will have to wait for "The Bigs" to get the sort of baseball experience he wants, but the rest of us can enjoy an excellent game of baseball right now.