Major League Baseball 2K12 represents a year in baseball that’s about minor polish rather than major innovation. Certain elements of the evolving formula from 2K10 and 2K11 find great success this year, but overall 2012 marks a standard year for a good game of baseball.
The framework first built by 2K10 remainsunder the hood of 2K12, though the new title does make progress. Graphically, the MLB 2K12 experience utilizes higher contrasts, making sunny days brighter and really showcasing the grizzle of your favorite unshaven athlete. The graphical changes don’t reflect an overhaul, but rather a journey towards creating the best representation of America’s pastime. The animations are lifelike, and despite a few camera quirks, the overall stadium experience is a good one. There’s still some pixilation on smaller details, but the grass, bases, and teams stand strong.
While the gameplay engine looks better, the interface throughout the menus feels exactly like last year’s outing. The My Player skill sheets (and creation tools), franchise mode layout, and general lead-in to every game makes one ask, “did I buy last year’s game by mistake?” There are a few subtle tweaks to the gameplay experience, like a change in color to the strike zone just before the pitcher lets the ball fly (especially useful in multiplayer), and the new color system for pitching, but overall MLB 2K12 looks like MLB 2K11 hooked upwith an HDMI cable rather than a component connection (subtly different, but better and crisper).
Change up your throws.
The announcers are the single best element of MLB 2K12. They were splendid last year, but this year’s game has hundreds of new lines related to pitching alone. This new audio complements a smarter pitching system, as the conversation surrounding what the pitcher’s throwing provides astute and interesting observations about what’s working and what’s not. This added layer, compounded with tons of new stats comparing batter and pitcher matchups, and a more complete pitch analysis system, really showcases pitching as MLB 2K12′s better system.
Pitching stands out as an improvement over last year’s game. Whereas your catcher might suggest sending fast ball after fast ball over the plate in 2K11, the batters are smarter this year, and they’ll catch on to your patterns. This recognition factor makes variation the key to a successful inning. Not only will the batter recognize where your third slider of his at-bat is going, he’s probably going to crack a single just to teach you a lesson.
The tendency to switch up pitches also only works against AI opponents. Only the best online players will recognize similar pitches coming into the strike zone and act accordingly. They don’t have the statistical calculations necessary to react to repeated pitches the same way the computer does. Thus, online play can still devolve into throwing the same fast balls over and over again the close an inning. Online games get some slight stuttering from lag, but play out smoothly from start to finish.
Fielding meters get an upgrade this year.
The new system encourages playing better baseball — more realistic baseball — rather than teaching you to game the game by finding a trick that works and performing it over and over again (offline, at least). If you start throwing too many similar pitches, your options are marked by yellow, red, and green coloring — like a traffic light. The shift is easy to read, and the announcers help add complexity to this new wave of pitch analysis. The color system carries into online play, but you’re much less likely to get punished by throwing a red-colored pitch.
Batting is as tough and rewarding as ever. Realistic hits send many balls flying into the sky to harmlessly grace an outfielder’s glove. Fielding gets an upgrade in the form of variable throw meters. If a player’s on his back foot trying to complete a double play, the green zone shrinks maker it a tougher throw. It’s a great system that provides a sense of accomplishment.
Probably another pop fly.
Franchise Mode and My Player Mode return this year, bringing arguably the exact same options as last year. Even though My Player is supposed to be streamlined to truly create an archetype of player (the base stealer, the big hitter), point distribution operates almost exactly the same way, leaving the career of an up-and-comer feeling exactly like last year’s journey. Once drafted, your skill meters suggest what points to bolster your intended path, but the menu system and skill point execution in-game feel the same.
The most interesting mode-addition is MLB Today Season, where players can play games alongside their favorite team, and only alongside their favorite team. This is a limited time only event that challenges a player to elevate their team to stardom with few attempts — less during the playoffs. This level of concrete consequences is a cool addition to the game, though it certainly sets up the game for a “have to buy next year’s” mentality, because the season ends in October and an entire game mode becomes obsolete. You also can’t sim any element of this mode, making every action entirely your fault.
The long walk between innings.
As baseball is a game of subtleties, MLB 2K12 reflects problems in the details. For instance, when Melky Cabrera steps up to the plate to lead off the San Francisco Giant’s batting lineup, his routine reflects broken collision detection. When he taps the bat on the plate, the tip actually taps through the plate. If you pop a foul ball high and into the stands, the crowd reaction camera sometimes finds itself stuck under the bleachers, looking down into an infinite pit and the backside of the fans’ legs — not the action. The crowd also has the unusual tendency to leap for fly balls long after they’ve already disappeared in the stands.