January 19, 2007 - "Wait till next year." Easily one of the worst phrases any sports fan can utter, those four words are the last attempt to absolve teams of mistakes or lackluster play over a season. The same can be said for some games. While some of the concepts behind Major League Baseball 2K6 were good ideas, their implementation was less than stellar. Whether it was the baserunning issues, fielding problems or visually tame player models, MLB 2K6 seemed more like it was in the minor leagues at times.
What a difference a year makes. Instead of trying to brush off the issues that plagued the previous game with a load of new features, 2K Sports decided to completely overhaul the pre-existing title. Don't think that this is a step backwards at all though, as the core features of the game that worked well have been retained while other aspects are being re-tuned and fixed. 2K Sports stopped by a few days ago, and showed off a number of the improvements to the next gen versions of the franchise, and the attention to detail is definitely noticeable. For instance, the design team wanted to bring little nuances to each player's game, so they decided to implement what they're calling Signature Style for each player.
Everything from a player's batting rituals at the plate to facial expressions have been captured in this year's game, making them seem like their real-life counterparts. Player accessories have also been personalized as well, so if an athlete wears things like baggy pants, wrist bands or a certain type of glove, they'll be properly represented. Player models have also been improved to with accurate physiques for each athlete. No longer are there simply tall or stocky character models; larger players like Bartolo Colon or C.C. Sabathia will actually have guts in the game (maybe now they'll actually hit a treadmill -- although I'm not holding my breath).
There've also been some subtle changes to some of last year's features. The Inside Edge scouting system does make a return to MLB 2K7, although there's now a bit more of a bonus system provided to batters. If a particular pitcher has been scouted before the game, and a batter uses this information to guess where a ball may be going in a particular hot or cold zone, they'll receive additional power on their swing. The controversial sprinting mechanic, which could give some players a superhuman burst of speed as long as you had quick fingers, does make a return in 2K7, although it has been redesigned. Now, the burst has been downgraded to a more realistic and manageable level. As for fielding, players will notice a couple of changes to last year's Pure Motion Physics system. Not only will guys back up positions on some plays, accurately responding with relay and cutoff men, but fielders will smoothly get in position to make the catch, planting and adjusting to make the play. This addresses the stuttering animation issues that hampered throws or dives last year.
Now, while this is the first time that 2K Sports has brought baseball to the PS3, they're still planning on taking advantage of the SIXAXIS controller when you're at the plate. To use the feature, players keep the controller level in front of them, and simply push the controller forward to make contact with the ball. Now, you can push or pull the ball to the left or the right by twisting the controller in those directions. Similarly, you can influence whether you're going to try to pop the ball up or aim for a ground ball by pushing the controller up or down in a 30 degree angle. It seems to take a little getting used to, but once you've got the hang of it, it's a creative use of the motion sensitivity mechanic.
Fans of the 2K series will also pick up on some of the other touches that have been included to make the game seem much more natural or vibrant. For one thing, players will notice pitchers sent out to bullpens to warm up during a game. Umpires will have their own personality, which can affect their tolerance towards a call that a player may want to argue. Some may be willing to take a little jawing, while others will be quick to start tossing players out of the game. You'll notice different camera angles that frame the action from the mound to the plate. In particular, we were impressed by the Dirt Cam and Grass Cam, which presented sharp details of on-field action. This is especially cool when you're watching a replay of baserunning, which has received a facelift. No longer will you see large numbers in the corners of the screen to represent a base. Now, you'll find a runner moving on the screen via a transparent overlay, with bases appearing as he nears them. These technical improvements will be supported with a stronger presence from the commentary crew. Jeanne Zelasko and Steve Physioc will have a much more in-depth presentation before the start of games, and Jon Miller and Joe Morgan will once again anchor the solid play-by-play for each game.
Other features from the previous game, like Franchise mode and GM Career mode, have gotten minor tweaks as well. For instance, Franchise mode has received a visual makeover (which kind of looks like "Franchise for Windows"), with pulldown menus and information broken out in a more visually segmented way. GM Career mode, on the other hand, now has a low level economic system, where players will set ticket prices and handle other promotional aspects of a club. Plus, for those GMs that want to take on competition, online league play will be available for players to test their skills.
We'll have more on MLB 2K7 soon, but for now, check out the latest screens and this exclusive trailer of the game in action.