By Chuck Wilson
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When I think about baseball, I don't think about the wonders of stats. I think more about the individual oddities, not just Barry Bonds on steroids and the strange ESPN show "Bonds On Bonds." I think of it as Roger Kahn wrote in the seminal "The Boys of Summer." And sometimes, I think of baseball as the perfect quirky non-fiction meets fiction, something out of Paul Quarrington's freak-filled "Home Game." I wonder what could go into a killer change up beyond a good eye and a good arm. I wonder about mindsetif a player lost in poker on Bodog.com before the bat is thrown angrily after a strike out. I think about the influences of the catcalls of fans, about streaks and complexities, and little things that no one but semi-obsessed baseball fans thing about.
And so, when I first checked out MLB 2K6 for the Xbox 360, I was initially pleasantly surprised. As I strode to bat as Derek Jeter against the Chicago White Sox, I began to hear the intricate sounds of the stadium. Beyond dullish but stalwart announcers Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, there was the tinny blandness of the stadium announcer. There was a boy yelling at Jeter and there was the layered hum of the crowd. Amazingly, the minds at 2K Sports had come up with a way of presenting these screams and huzzahs that make them seem three dimensional. In other words, the sounds seemed to come from all around me on my cheesy stereo speakers within my non-HDTV. I'd never heard sound so full and hearty in a game, and it freaked me out.
I really was ready to love MLB 2K6. They've put a lot of work into this game and they've even added the somewhat specious "World League" as an extra (which is not as good as, say, the Negro Leagues that were added to All Star Baseball 2004). Still, the ability to play as the Cuban team is a delightful extra.
But as I tried to get Jeter to hit a ball using the right controller stick as a bat, I missed. And then I missed again. And then I struck out. Here's the reason. There are too many attempts at innovation in 2K6. After nearly a half hour, I still couldn't get the swing of things to get a big hit. After 45 minutes, I got one double: totally frustrating. The controller stick is supposed to act like the real swing of a bat. But it's just too hard to make it work smoothly and accurately beyond Rookie Mode. (Full disclosure: to a lesser extent, I had this problem with EA's Fight Night Round 3, but in that boxing game the controller options let you use a combination of buttons and the stick).
In MLB 2K6, I had no such problems with trying to pitch. In fact, the game rewards you with momentum boosts when you are on roll and pitching strike outs. That's a real thrill. But great baseball isn't all about pitching. It's about defense. Unfortunately, strange things happen when fielding, too. In the first game I played, I threw a pitch from first to second in effort to get a Chicago player out. But JeterJetermissed the ball, which unpleasantly rolled out toward right field. Then, the game had graver problems along the way: it froze my 360, and I had to reboot. Additionally, the faces of the players don't look real enough. Mind you, this is the Xbox 360 version of the game. It costs $10 more that the regular game. For $60 on a next generation platform, you expect near photorealism.
One thing is clear: MLB 2K6 should not have been released without far more intensive and careful beta testing. Since the maker of this game bought all the Major League Baseball rights, Electronic Arts can't use real players' names anymore in its game. And the Sony game, MLB 06: The Show, is tight and solid, but not that intriguing. Hopefully, 2K Sports will get things right next year. Sadly, this year, there's no baseball sim that hits the ball out of the park. Mighty Casey has struck out.Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.
In a last great orgasm before an E3-enforced detumescence, a plethora of games have been released that are like powerful little super-sperm. Play these suckers and you'll be screaming in ecstasy. So turn up the volume: you don't want the neighbors to hear your rapture. Truth be told, I can't recall a late March/early April period in which so many good and occasionally great games were foisted upon the market. This week, a trio of good-to-great games jump the bones.
The long-awaited and long-delayed Kingdom Hearts II has finally landed. With synchronicity that often isn't seen between Hollywood and game makers, Disney has teamed up with the RPG magicians Square-Enix, the people who make the Final Fantasy series. They've lent everyone from Mickey Mouse to Johnny Depp as crusty Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean to unleash a really thoughtful and deep adventure story. It makes the delay completely worth the wait.
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