Review: MLB 2k7 for Xbox 360

Anyone that knows me, will easily tell you how much I love my baseball. Whether is means cheering for the Yankees, playing in the park, or plunking $60 for the latest baseball video game, I simply can't get enough of the sport. Needless to say, when MLB 2k7 hit shelves this week, I was very anxious to get it. My anxiety carried over to my best bud who decided he had to come over and watch me play for the first time.

Popping in the game and starting it up was, admittedly, an occasion that called for a bit of nervousness. I bought and played 2k6, last year, and the game was a bug ridden debacle. Was I going to be unhappy a second time in a row? Would I be swearing at the game in frustration as another bug cost me a game? Thankfully, the answer would be no.

Starting the game up, you're presented with a menu system very similar to that of last year's iteration. It easy to navigate and I was up and playing an exhibition game in no time. Loading screens are almost non-existant as 2k uses the usual pre-game intro by Jeanne Zelasko accompanied by footage outside the stadium to distract the player while the rest of the game loads. Once everything is loaded, you're given a fly around camera shot of the field itself and this is when you first realize the power of the Xbox 360. The textures are incredibly detailed and each member of the crowd is individually rendered (though lacking detail). To polish off the intro, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan discuss key players while the camera gives us shots of those same players warming up on the field. This is when you can really take in the depth of vision effects, as everything in the background blurs as it would on TV.

Graphics aren't everything, though, and it was time to stop drooling and play the darn game. For those of you who played the game last year, the controls will seem very familiar because, well, they are exactly the same. In this case, that's a good thing. Instead of jumbling everything up, 2k spent time refining the responsiveness of the controls. This time around, fielders respond instantly and there never really comes a time where you sit wishing any of the controls were different.

The swing stick is obviously back this year and has an added "protective swing". In this case, if you plan on taking a pitch, but soon realize it will be your last strike, pushing the stick forward without taking your initial step will result in your batter simply trying to make any kind of contact with the ball. Don't expect a home run out of this, but, as in real life, it will either get you one more pitch or it will, at least, save you the embarrassment of going down looking.

Pitching is also the same as last year bringing back the idea of "break point" pitching. The feature will make your breaking pitches (sliders, curve balls, etc) perform their movement at the point where you place the cursor, instead of simply moving and hitting the mitt at the exact position the cursor was located. This makes the the entire pitching model so much more realistic and almost forces you to take the time to learn how each pitch works.

Not everything is all peaches and cream, though. It may be improved, but the audio still does need some work. One of the major complaints last year (there were a lot) focused around the atrocious commentary of Joe Morgan and Jon Miller. While, this year, the duo doesn't do much to inspire a generation of kids to major in Broadcasting, the timing of their delivery is much improved. There's little lag between what happens on the field and what gets spoken by Joe and John and, even more importantly, they make far fewer mistakes than last year. Once they proclaimed my opponent had one out when they actually had two, making me try to rush a double play, but I haven't noticed any other glaring mistakes in their delivery other than that one faux paux.

Besides the commentary, 2k also needs to work on how to capture the sounds of the game. All too often, a routine fly ball sounds like a monster home run off the bat. Before the series lost the MLB license, EA's MVP Baseball was able to really give you that perfect crack of the ball off of the wood of the bat, with the intensity varying with every hit. All too often, in 2k7, you'll find yourself very excited about what turns out to be a mere 200 foot fly ball. It can be annoying only because you'll wind up feeling a bit foolish for prematurely celebrating (especially online).

The online experience has also been improved this year. While the wonderful online league offerings return almost unchanged, the actual game play itself has taken a big step forward. Unlike in 2k6 where default camera angles were changed and the game would often slow to a crawl (in terms of frame rates), the Live experience is excellent in 2k7. The frame rates stay constant and there are very few times where the game needs to pause to resynch the two players. My only note worthy complaint with the online play is the fact that, every now and then, Joe Morgan gives away the location of the upcoming pitch. Thankfully, my exclamations of "What the heck?!" had my Live friend laughing too hard to pay attention and take advantage of the situation. Thanks a lot, Joe.

All in all, MLB 2k7 is a major and much needed improvement in the MLB 2k series. While 2K Sports did have to higher a few guys from the old EA MVP series to get everything in place, the payoff is well worth it. Everything from the presentation to the actual gameplay is improved and easily makes MLB 2k7 one of the best baseball games in console history. Nothing is perfect, but this one gets darn close. 9/10

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