2K Sports MLB The Bigs
07 July 2009
I should start off this impression report on the Bigs 2 with a bit of an admission on my part. I generally can't stand "arcade" portrayals of sports games. They are usually overly simplistic, too offensively focused, and bereft of anything resembling strategy. Quite often, their portrayal of a given sport is nothing but a step backwards in terms of gameplay.
Now that I have that out of the way....
Let me just say how much the Bigs 2 is unlike everything I described above. With my 6+ hours with the Bigs 2, I have to admit that I'm addicted to the game, and thoroughly impressed with so many elements of it. I personally never played the original "The Bigs" from last year, so I'm coming at the series from a fresh perspective, and what I have seen has really caught my eye.
As with most arcade portrayals of a given pro-sport, the action is exhaggerated and furious. We know this and expect it. I have to give some serious kudos to 2K Sports and their graphics and audio presentation of the game. The game's visuals and sounds are loaded with polish. To be honest, the game is beautiful to look at. 2K, as usual, delivers the sensory goods like no other. The stadiums are incredibly accurate, and there's always something to break beyond the outfield wall should you hit a collosal home-run, etc.
But all that aside, what really stands out about The Bigs 2 is the strategy. The designers need some serious credit here. Although the game is everything you'd expect in terms of arcade gameplay, 2K Sports didn't forget the strategy. And there's plenty of it. For instance, take your star pitcher into a game (such as CC Sabathia) and you'll see he has four pitches, and two of them are rated pretty high. Some are actually quite overpowering. But there's a risk-reward with those "go-to pitches". If those pitches get hit enough times by batters, you'll lose the ability to throw that pitch for the entire game (at least from Sabathia himself). So you can't live on "the old pepper" lest you really want to lose that pitch by the second inning. So, by default, you learn quickly to mix up your pitches... just like in real baseball.
(But wait, this is arcade game, right?)
...yeah, but with tons of strategy.
In terms of defense and fielding, you'll notice a big difference between the "haves" and the "have nots". Player ratings make a huge difference. You'll notice a BIG difference in the plays that someone like Derek Jeter can make versus the plays that some utility infielder from the Pirates can make. It manifests itself in "Legendary "arm-strength, "Legendary" glove ability, "Legendary" speed, and making plays with these (or any players) will help fill your "Big Play Meter". That "Big Play Meter" can be used to add "oomph" to at-bats, add a speed burst while tracking down a fly ball, etc. A fully charged meter Big Play Meter will manifest itself into some big-at bats, but if you fully charge the meter and go into "big-slam mode" only to whiff at strike 3... you lose the whole meter and have to start from scratch. The same goes for the "Turbo" meter for pitching (which can add "oomph" to your pitches) You can fill this meter by accumulating strike outs, and especially from throwing pitches in the batter's wheelhouse and daring them to hit your pitches, you'll get more bonus "Turbo" points filling the meter.
If all this sounds very over the top... it kinda is.
Unlike most "Arcade" style sports games, 2K Sports also gave some serious love to defense too. Big-time fielders make big-time plays. Some of them are pretty incredible. Some are simply a case of getting a star fielder in the right place at the right time (such as hitting "A" on the controller button to jump up and rob a HR about to go over the wall). Other times, for a superstar catch, you need to hit a button combination during a quicktime event to snag that screaming liner just above your head. (Note: to allow for this, the game goes into a limited duration still-frame slow motion.) Then there's the players (such as Derek Jeter) with the Legendary arms that throw frozen-ropes to first to get players out, and are especially gifted at making double plays happen with arm-strength. This can also be augmented if you have remaining juice in your turbo meter. So that's the real beauty of this game, you might think of "big offense" when you think of arcade sports, but The Bigs 2 also delivers the big defense too.
Injuries also happen, and usually happen to players who get blindsided with screaming liners to the infield. Pitchers are particularly vulnerable. Injuries often knock off ratings points off of player attributes, and sometimes its a huge hit to several of their ratings. So even injuries in this game have been given a great deal of depth of meaning.
And that's really the strategic beauty of this game. It may be an "arcade" title, but there's tons of strategy underneath. When do you wanna use your turbo and/or big play meters? Do you want to risk your accumulated full "Big-Play" bar on your star player's at bat, and risk all of it on one at bat...especially if the opposing pitcher has also filled up his turbo meter and can throw some blazingly effective pitches your way? Do you risk throwing your highest rated pitch alot, and potentially lose the ability to throw it if that pitch gets hit several times? Do you test a star batter's sweet-spot/wheelhouse because the reward for strikes in that region is more turbo meter? Do you dare an off-speed pitch with a fast player like Johnny Damon on the basepaths, or do you bring some turbo heat with a fastball to the outside zone and a hope for a throw-out?
And that's the thing... this game has so much depth. For some casual players, I can see how it might even be too much depth, so I would encourage them to drop the difficulty. (Default difficulty is no easy time either, trust me. I'm 4-7 in my Yank's season and I've had some practice!)
And speaking of full season play...
The Bigs 2 included full season play in this game. (Apparently it wasn't there last year). There is stat tracking, but it seems to only track player stats of the user controlled team- unless I am missing something in the menus. Not too shabby though. League statistics and standings are still there for every team. You have pitcher rotations, relievers, the whole thing. Generally speaking , the default number of innings per game is 5 innings, but you can change that manually in the settings.
You also can bring up your created player through the "Mexican League" and try to break into the big leagues. There's even boss battles against MLB legends as you try to crawl up the ranks. I haven't done much testing in this area just yet, as I've spent most of my time in Season mode and Home Run Pinball, but I hope to dive into that mode this week.
Which brings me to Home Run Pinball...
What a blast! Basically, you take your favorite power hitter to a pre-set location (such as Time Square, downtown Tokyo, etc.) and a pitcher will throw pitches at you, and you have to aim your swings at various parts of the environment (thereby destroying that environment) for points. Crushing neon signs at Times Square and crushing office buildings in Tokyo with big HR blasts is actually quite a treat, and it also teaches timing/hitting/hit-aiming in the process. (My best score at HR pinball was slightly over 300K, btw) It also allows you to upload your score and see where you sit on the HR Pinball leaderboard.
As I bring these impressions to a close, I have to give 2K Sports credit for delivering such a deep experience to an arcade-themed game. This title has me totally re-thinking my long-standing bias against "arcade sports" titles. There's plenty of addictive fun to be had with The Bigs 2, and a surprising amount of baseball depth. Hopefully, this game gets plenty of post-launch love (such as a downloadable few roster updates, as only opening day rosters seem to be included at present) but that aside, I highly recommend this title to baseball fans. I haven't had this much fun in an arcade style sports game since Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on SNES some 16 years ago. Well done 2K Sports.