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The release of MLB 2K11 has come and gone.  This being the first month of the real MLB season, I wanted to share some quick thoughts on the game.

As usual, 2K has released a game with top notch presentation and "you are at the stadium" authenticity and feel.  You simply cannot beat 2K for presentation.  The crack of the bat, the stadium view, the between innings animation and interaction between players... you name it, its there.  Sound is also top notch.  Its not that different from previous iterations of the franchise, but it still remains great.

One new feature this year is stadium camera specific pitching views.  What does that mean? Well, basically you can have the behind-the-pitcher camera placed in an exactly authentic positon that mimics the TV camera's placement of a given stadium broadcast crew. Sounds weird, I know, but it really works, and really gives an air of authenticity to each stadium.   Of course, this kind of thing can only be done with a game like baseball (and only in the pitching realm) to be feasable, but it really adds something to the suspension of reality.

Now we come to player graphics.  This is a hard call.  The authentic looks of the players are a mixed bag.  Some lesser known players look like generic mannequins, while stars have had serious attention to detail paid to them.  I wouldn't mind the "generic" look over the average player, were it not for the more "general" guys looking terribly "last gen" in many respects.  (I hope that explains it well enough).

Gameplay wise, I'll be honest- the game plays almost identically to MLB 2K10 as it pertains to pitching and hitting.  That's a good thing, because those were the strong points of last years' game that didn't really need changed.  Where we do come to a big problem area is fielding.

(And, stop me if you are sick of hearing "MLB2K and Poor Fielding" in the same sentence.)

2K, according to their pre release info and press chatter, recognized that fielding remained a huge weak-point of their franchise.  2K did make some changes to the way fielding is handled, such as the throw meter, which make sense.  However, their solution to the fielding issues focused on differentiating average to poor fielders from gold-glovers.  I get that...however, it didn't address the core issue that fielding- being the process of moving a fielder to the ball in the hopes of catching it or stopping a grounder- is still a mess.

Essentially, what 2K did to address "fielding" was make a shadow on the field showing where the balll could land (obviously we are talking pop-ups here).  The size of that "shadow zone" is depenedent on the fielder you are controlling.  In the case of a Derek Jeter, it is a small circle showing you exactly where to stand to make a catch.   Okay, I get that.

However, for the average fielder, the ball-land zone is huge, making most fly balls an adventure for non-stars.  So it makes even serviceable fielders play like guys who would struggle in Little League.  This is no "fix" to poor fielding control from last year, and if anything, merely adds MORE frustration.   To make matters worse, players are still at the mercy of animations when fielding.  While "stars" get an AI controlled "Jump" towards the catch zones (or grounder path), you'll struggle with average fielders to get them out of their "ready" position and actually get into the "Running" animation to get to the ball.  It makes it feel even MORE broken.  Again, this was not the fix we had hoped for.   Other animation issues hurt you too.  You could be in the right fielding spot for a liner, yet the given fielders glove simply won't animate to the catch zone to make the catch.  I had one such instance here the ball almost hit my fielder in the face because his glove didn't animate into the catch.  Instead, it went right over his shoulder and past his ear for an extra base hit for what should have been an easy out.  Granted, these problems aren't "all the time", but I'd say 2-3 hits per game (at least) are caused not by lack of positioning or stick work, but rather because of bad animation towards the catch point, and a simply broken fielding control scheme.  2K seems to have added NEW problems with fielding instead of fixing old ones.

But is the game fun?

Yes.  I have enjoyed my time with MLB 2K11.  The series HAS come a long way from its dismal relealses of the past 5 years.  However, the fielding problems persist, and if anything are more amplified.  That really hurts a game that could have been a "10", and sadly drags it down to the 6 or 7 range. (Lets face it, fielding is kind of a big thing!).  Other issues persist too, such as a disturbing lack of run-support if you play a starting pitcher in "Be a Pro".  (A problem that remains from last year)..but that gripe is way more nitpicky than the fielding woes that simply should not be there after this many iterations of the game. (For God's sake 2K, just copy MLB The Show's fielding, or even MVP 05's fielding and be done with it!)

But if you can see past the fielding (or adjust to the frustration of it), there's considerable fun to be had.

...even with my Pirates.

 

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