Major League Baseball 2K6 First Look

We got a glimpse of 2K Sports' upcoming baseball game while hanging with Derek Jeter.

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There's Derek Jeter tossing balls with his glove hand to a 2K Sports developer who's acting as stand-in second basemen. There's Derek scooping up line drives and firing the ball to the same developer, while a crowd of journalists and camera operators watch the action unfold in the room. The star shortstop for the New York Yankees is on hand at 2K Sports studios to lend his throwing and fielding skills (and indeed his entire body) to the motion-capture artists on staff at 2K. Those moves will find their way into 2K's upcoming baseball game, Major League Baseball 2K6, on which Jeter is also the cover star. We're here not only to watch Jeter get his mo-cap on, but also to get a first look at the game, which is slated for release in March.

MLB 2K6's integrated Inside Edge scouting services say that pitch sucked.
MLB 2K6's integrated Inside Edge scouting services say that pitch sucked.

The baseball video game world has changed since 2K's last effort, ESPN MLB 2K5. Since then, MLB licensing deals have ensured that 2K is the only third-party developer making big league baseball games, while ESPN has thrown in its hat with EA. It's a good news/bad news situation for 2K. On the positive side, it means one less competitor to deal with when it comes to the all-important sales battle. On the downside, the loss of the ESPN license, which bolstered 2K5's presentation to great effect, means that changes are in store for the game this time around.

Of course, change doesn't have to be bad. Indeed, many of the things that are new for MLB 2K6 seem to be very positive, including, most notably, the respected Inside Edge scouting service in the game. For those who aren't familiar with it, Inside Edge is a firm that pays its bills by providing some of the most in-depth and detailed scouting reports on baseball players from all over the globe. Major League Baseball clubs pay big money every year to Inside Edge for the wealth of knowledge and insight it provides to each team in thebigs.

So what does this mean for you in the game? First, you can expect to see more detailed reports for every player found in the game. While this type of inside information will be at your fingertips in 2K6, it won't be free. Just as in the real major leagues, you'll need to set aside a portion of your budget for purchasing scouting reports on teams and players you face throughout the season. Even though MLB team budgets can reach many millions of dollars, you'll still want to make sure you'll allot enough cash for other essentials, such as player salary, training, and staff.

Now, there's reading about a player's tendencies, and then there's seeing it in action on the diamond. During one demo game we watched, we saw Inside Edge scouting put to proper effect. A small window in the lower left-hand portion of the screen indicates not only each pitch in his arsenal, but a percentile number indicating his tendency to throw that pitch. This is the just one example of the kind of information you'll have access to in the game (provided you've spent the money to scout that particular player, that is).

Two new features when on offense--the swing stick and the batter's eye--help to put you more in control when standing in the batter's box. The swing stick puts you in control of your swing with the right analog stick. To begin your backswing, you pull back on the stick and, from there, you have two choices. To hit a line drive, you simply release the stick and let it return to center. To put the ball into the air or swing for the fences you push forward on the stick.

Just like last year, you'll be able to control the runner on the base path.
Just like last year, you'll be able to control the runner on the base path.

The batter's eye feature is essentially a small illuminated circle in the middle of the strike zone that acts as a virtual representation of where the hitter will be focusing on when the ball crosses the plate. By moving the left analog stick, you control the batter's eye circle to make your best guess on where the pitcher will spot the throw. Guess correctly on where a pitch is heading--you did pay attention to the scouting report, right?--and you'll have a greater chance at making good contact with the ball. The size of the batter's eye circle will vary between players based on their ability at the plate and whether or not they are in the midst of a hot streak or a slump.

The improvements aren't meant just for batters in 2K6; pitchers will receive some feature love, as well, namely through the newly introduced payoff pitch meter. Last year's game saw the introduction of the K-Zone pitching meter (a style of video game pitching that was quite a bit different from the MVPs and MLBs of the world). This year, while K-Zone pitching is still available, the new payoff pitch system is designed to give the player a better sense of motion for breaking pitches.

To toss a pitch using the payoff pitch system, you first hold down the proper pitch button. Immediately a circle will expand outward from the spot you are aiming toward, and the longer you hold down the button, the more "effort" you put into that pitch. Once you let go of the pitch, the circle will rapidly shrink toward the original point, and your goal will be to stop it at the exact moment it shrinks down to your original aiming spot. Press the button too early, or wait too long, and the pitch will not hit the spot you aimed for--indeed, it may even go sailing over the catcher's head. Interestingly, your target is initially set by the catcher (presumably using the same smart Inside Edge-driven AI, of course), and you can either choose to throw to the spot he suggests, or shake off his spot and choose one of your own.

Player models are sure to look more realistic than ever in 2K6.
Player models are sure to look more realistic than ever in 2K6.

Other than the control tweaks, one of the biggest chances in 2K6 will be in the presentation. The loss of the ESPN license means things will look different when it comes to in-game graphics and load-screen introductions. While that is a bit of a disappointment, the good news is that ESPN broadcasters Jon Miller and Joe Morgan will be returning to the announcing booth for 2K6. The duo made a stellar pairing in last year's game and we expect that trend to continue this year as well.

MLB 2K6 is currently speeding toward release in March. Since we didn't get a chance to play the game at the recent Jeter mo-cap session (that privilege was reserved for the Yankees' shortstop), we're eager to get our hands on it to see how all these new changes play out. With the game coming out on the GameCube, the Xbox, and the PS2 along with the Xbox 360 and PSP (though details on the latter pair are non-existent at this point), there likely will be plenty more surprises to come for MLB 2K6, so stay tuned.

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