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Review: MLB 2k11

Put down the bracket and pick up a controller. Your NCAA bracket hasn’t been worth a damn since the second round. You know, I know it, the American people know it. It’s time to move on and embrace spring, and that means baseball. Most of us have about as much chance to play real ball as we do to slay a real dragon – and that means we turn to the same place to fulfill both fantasies: video games.

Even if you’re a fan of The Show on the PS3, you probably heard that last year’s Major League Baseball 2K10 closed the gap between the two games. If you’re playing on the Xbox 360, you’re hoping this year’s update keeps what worked and made some improvements.

And there are some incremental, yet important, changes for 2K11. One of the most noticeable is in fielding. It was a little awkward in animation last year, but that’s almost completely gone. It’s more fluid and natural than ever before, once the player gets the hang of it. And that caveat is included because it’s a little harder this year. The game doesn’t position fielders for you as it did in the past, so you have to move men to the ball. That’s harder than it sounds after a lifetime of letting the computer put your player underneath a pop fly.

The other aspect of fielding is tougher, too, because throwing the ball on automatic outs isn’t automatic until you get good at it. Arm strength and accuracy seems to affect players more than ever before, so deciding how hard to throw it is a risk/reward scenario more than before. While both of these fielding changes had potential to make the game annoying (No one wants to be stressed out with every grounder to short. Unless you’re a Yankee who thinks Jeter should still play there, in which case you deserve what you get.), these new wrinkles add just the right amount of depth to parts of the game that are not easy unless you’re watching players who make it look easy.

An aspect we’re not as sold on just yet are umpires missing calls on purpose. Well, the umps aren’t doing it on purpose, but balls and strikes will now sometimes be called incorrectly in an effort to simulate the real life struggles of those behind the plate. It’s doesn’t happen terribly often, but it’s there and sometimes at the most inconvenient moments. It’s a nice idea, but we’d prefer to get the call right and would toggle this off if we could.

The biggest gripe about 2K10 was playing online, and we’re happy to report the days of long waits in matchmaking and choppy lag during games are both gone. The swing timing isn’t precisely the same as offline, but it’s very close. It’s close enough that after a little bit of practice we found ourselves subconsciously switching gears to a degree that offline and online felt identical. If you play three games in a row offline, then switch over (or vice versa), you’ll notice a difference. But the bottom line is that it works and is much improved.

For some, the biggest piece of good news is about sliders. It’s not about how well they work, or if there are enough (there are plenty). It’s about being able to tweak the game to play how we like it and still be eligible for achievements. In contrast to last year, that is now the case. Thank the baseball gods.

The rest will be familiar, which means we take the good with the bad. My Player mode is a little deeper in that there are more ways than ever to earn points for your player on the way to the majors. It’s limited like any other Point of View mode in sports games – you only play when your player is involved (which means use a pitcher or catcher). Franchise mode got a little deeper, too, with minor league divisions and more micro management of injuries.

2K10 was vastly improved and stood up to The Show quite well. For 2K11, there are some excellent baby steps building on that platform and, well, we like baby steps when they originate from a solid game like 2K10. The bottom line is that 2K11 is better in the ways we wanted it to be, so it’s a keeper. And let’s not forget the $1 million prize for the first perfect game begins April 1 (click here for contest rules and details). Good luck with that.


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