2K Sports' MLB 2K6 left a lot to be desired when it made its first appearance on the Xbox 360 last April. The game didn't take advantage of the system's power, and there were numerous bugs and problems that plagued the gameplay. With another year of development behind it, the series is back for another season on the Xbox 360 and making its first appearance on the PlayStation 3, too. The feature set hasn't changed much, but the presentation is outstanding and has been vastly improved. The gameplay has also been tightened up, and while there are some noticeable quirks, it's a solid game of baseball. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are mostly identical, though the PS3 version includes tilt-control support and a nasty frame rate. All in all, MLB 2K7 is a nice improvement over MLB 2K6 and well worth a look for any baseball fan.
There isn't a whole lot of new content or gameplay modes, but there's still plenty to do in 2K7--and everything is easier to use this year thanks to an improved interface. You can play a quick game, season, franchise, GM career, manager challenge, and even five different types of home run derby. In the franchise mode, you can now set ticket prices, and doing so is much more user friendly thanks to a nifty drop-down menu that runs across the top of the screen, as well as a new layout that displays a large amount of pertinent information in an easy-to-view manner. You can also negotiate contracts, call up players from the minors, sign free agents, keep tabs on your players' moods, make trades, and more. Making trades is a snap thanks to the trade finder, which lets you pick the player you want and then find out what that team wants in return. You can also find out how much interest there is for one of your players without going through the cumbersome process of trial and error.
Overall, franchise mode is good, but there are a number of quirks that will frustrate those looking for a true simulation. The current roster download cuts player salaries to 10 percent of what they're supposed to be, so rather than A-Rod scraping by on his $25-million-a-year salary, he's practically homeless and makes just $2 million. Unless you turn trades completely off, the CPU will make some questionable trades, sometimes trading for players you don't need and other times trading your best players for little in return. There also seems to be an issue with the game setting up odd lineups based on whether there's a left- or right-handed pitcher. Players will end up in odd spots in the order and will sometimes play out of position, too. Finally, injured players will sometimes not return to the team, seemingly content to hang out in Triple-A rather than the bigs.
2K Sports games typically have a full-featured online component, and MLB 2K7 is no different. You can play a quick ranked or unranked match, join or create tournaments, and even participate in and set up your own leagues with up to 30 teams, complete with trades. The one catch is that the game doesn't play all that well online. It's tough enough to figure out if a pitch is going to be a ball or a strike offline and then decide to swing or not swing, but lag makes it almost impossible online. And even if a ball is a strike, trying to time your swing is difficult--again, thanks to lag and people who like to use pitchers that are adept at changing speeds, like Orlando Hernandez. It's also difficult to find anyone who doesn't want to play anything less than nine innings, which stinks if you're not looking to spend 45 minutes or more playing a laggy game of baseball.
On the field, 2K7 plays like a cleaned-up version of last year's game. The pitching interface, which requires you to press a button to determine pitch speed and break, and then another button for accuracy, is mostly the same as it was before. It's not as intuitive as EA's right analog stick mechanic from MVP 07, but it works fine. Your catcher will call a pitch and set up their gloves where they want it, but you're free to shake them off if you'd like. For the most part the catchers call a good game, but they call for a few too many pitches outside the strike zone and occasionally ask for a ball that's right in the hitter's wheelhouse. Even pitchers with high stamina ratings and low pitch counts have a difficult time getting past the seventh and eighth innings. Granted, pitchers these days rarely pitch complete games, but it still happens occasionally, and it would be nice to see here.
When it's your turn to bat you can use the classic timing-based method or pull down and release (or push up for extra power) the right analog stick. The PS3 version also lets you uses the Sixaxis tilt controls to push the controller forward to swing. This works OK, but you don't feel as though you're really swinging and it doesn't add much to the game. Whether it's the fact that pitches come in faster, the camera is zoomed in closer, the difference in timing one player's swing to the next, or a combination of the three, it's extremely difficult to judge whether or not a pitch is going to be a ball or a strike and still properly time your swing. This means you'll probably end up swinging at a lot of bad pitches. The game's pretty forgiving on the easiest difficulty setting, but on the harder levels you'll have a hard time getting by swinging at everything that comes your way. If you do happen to make contact, there's a pretty good chance the ball's leaving the park, because there are a lot of home runs in 2K7. Some games end up feeling more like home run derby than a baseball game, but at least the game's balanced and lets you hit as many taters as the CPU.
Baserunning has been improved this year, and while it's still a tad complicated, it works well once you get the hang of it. Small displays pop up on the side of the screen that correspond to the base's location and an icon appears over each player. All it takes to move them is a press of a shoulder (or trigger) and a face button. One small issue is that when you're playing against another person online the game shows what base your runner is headed to well before they've made the turn, which tells your opponent which base they need to throw to.
Like pitching and hitting, fielding is much like it was last year, with the biggest changes being that players can actually catch and throw the ball like major leaguers. Well, almost like major leaguers. Infield flies are more of an adventure than they should be, because everyone runs toward the ball but nobody really wants to catch it. It can be tough to see ground balls sometimes, and even harder to run toward a base and step on it thanks to players that will step everywhere but on the bag. Playing the outfield is easier this year and the players are fast enough to get to balls they should be able to get to, but unless you line them up perfectly, players will still struggle to make routine catches, often lunging at the last second to make the grab. They're also prone to overrunning balls and running face-first into walls. This occasional ineptitude doesn't seem to affect their CPU counterparts, however, as even the worst outfielders routinely dive for flares and climb walls to bring back home runs like they're Jim Edmonds. Speaking of Jim Edmonds, he's almost superpowered in the outfield and catches nearly any ball that doesn't leave Earth's atmosphere.
As soon as you start your first game and make it through the stadium introduction (which is in need of an update), you'll notice the game's improved presentation. Thanks in no small part to more cinematic camera angles, more camera angles in general, and drastically improved player likenesses, it really feels as though you're watching a real game in high definition. Cameras will zoom in on players as they step into the box, and the level of detail is amazing. What's even more amazing is that the camera will zoom in closer still, revealing even more detail in players' faces. There are plenty of different body types, which means David Eckstein looks pretty scrawny and C.C. Sabathia looks, well, like he ate David Eckstein. It's a true testament to how excellent the players look that they can stand up to such close scrutiny. Pujols, Ichiro, Jeter, Ortiz--they all look fantastic up close. Players don't just look like their real-life counterparts, they move like them, too. Dontrelle Willis has his distinctive pitching motion; Ichiro's practically two steps toward first base by the time he finishes his swing; and Griffey's swing is as smooth as ever. There are plenty of great-looking fielding animations, even if the transition from one to the next is sometimes poor. You'll even notice plenty of amazing little touches as you play more. Pitchers will wear their warm-up jackets when on the base paths, ball boys will chase foul balls, and bullpen pitchers will react to what's going on in the game.
The ballparks are very accurate and nicely detailed, though there are some low-quality textures here and there. There's still plenty to enjoy: the way the sun creeps across the grass; the ivy at Wrigley; the starry sky when you hit a homer in a night game in Houston; and the way the green monster looms over left field in Fenway. The fully polygonal crowds don't look great in close-ups, particularly in the intro sequence, but they look pretty good from most angles.
As good as the graphics and presentation are, there's still room for improvement. Even though you can turn off most of the superfluous animations and replays, the game's pace of play is slow. Sure, you can tap through and skip the remaining stuff, but some sort of fast-play option would have been great. Some of the camera angles during replays are pretty poor and don't show the action very well. The blur effect is overused and quite often looks as if someone rubbed Vaseline over the camera. There are plenty of little nagging issues such as clipping here and there, some odd tears and artifacts from time to time, player jerseys that flap back and forth like they're caught in a hurricane, and the game really could have used some antialiasing. On the Xbox 360 the frame rate isn't great, but outside of some occasional stuttering it's adequate. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the PlayStation 3. It looks mostly identical to the 360 version, but the frame rate is downright poor. The frame rate is most problematic in the field, where it chokes and stutters enough to make fielding difficult. It even gets a little choppy when there's nothing going on other than the batter waving his bat back and forth before the pitch.
Thanks to the announcing duo of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, MLB 2K7 sounds outstanding. Jon and Joe have worked together for quite some time on television, and their comfortable rapport with one another comes across here. Their commentary sounds very natural, and it's timely and accurate, too. The sheer amount of dialogue the pair recorded for the game is impressive; they'll tell stories, analyze plays, toss out some trivia questions, and even have in-depth commentary for rare events, such as no-hitters. Jeanne Zelasko and Steve Physioc provide a TV-style pregame introduction for each game, and though their commentary is sometimes a bit long-winded, they dispense a surprising amount of team-specific information. The crowds and stadium noises sound just fine; you'll hear individual fans yelling, and like in so many other 2K Sports games, there's a pretty realistic-sounding PA announcer as well.
MLB 2K7 is a good game that shows a lot of improvement over its predecessor. The presentation is excellent and really stands out when compared to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game. The gameplay is enjoyable, though there's still plenty of room for improvement. Even the 33 achievements in the Xbox 360 version are better than the five from last year, rewarding you for hitting and pitching prowess, online success, and for reaching secret objectives such as hitting for the cycle. If you're trying to decide between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, the PS3's tilt-control swing mechanic isn't enough to make up for a frame rate that often makes the game difficult to play. The 360 version is the way to go thanks to a better--but not great--frame rate.