MLB 2K6 First Look

We're first to the plate in our exclusive hands-on look at the Xbox 360 version of 2K Sports' upcoming baseball sim.

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Just for a moment, forget all the Barry Bonds drama; tear yourself away from the in-depth exposés on Bonds' training habits; the did-he-or-didn't-he; the very thought of someone injecting themselves with cattle growth hormones. All of it. Clear your mind of the controversy with the biggest name in the game and let's talk about something that's a bit more pleasant, namely the Xbox 360 version of Major League Baseball 2K6. We got an exclusive hands-on look at the game after traveling up to the 2K Sports offices in San Rafael, California, yesterday to get an idea for how the first next-generation baseball game is shaping up.

MLB 2K6 will be the only hardball game on the Xbox 360 this season.
MLB 2K6 will be the only hardball game on the Xbox 360 this season.

Since the Xbox 360 launched late last year, the 2K Sports lineup of games has been notable for including the same modes and features that are found in the old-gen versions of the same game. That looks to be the case here with MLB 2K6 for the 360, a game that is bringing all of the different modes you can play on the Xbox and PS2. Everything that's new about this year's MLB game can be found in 2K6 for the 360, including, most prominently, the Inside Edge scouting services, updated pitching and batting controls, and the overhauled VIP system.

The Inside Edge system provides the player with thorough scouting reports on any player or team found in the game--and these reports aren't just good reading material. When facing a scouted player or team, you will see immediate tangible benefits on the field. When pitching against a scouted batter, for example, your catcher might suggest pitches based on the batter's tendencies, or your defensive players will shift according to where the player likes to put the ball in play. Conversely, when facing a scouted pitcher, you'll get dynamic pitch statistics that show you percentiles on how often that pitcher throws certain pitches in his arsenal in any given situation. The downside to all this primo information is that it's going to cost you. For exhibition matches, you'll have a store of scouting points to spend (and better players will cost more to scout); in franchise mode, scouting costs come out of your overall budget. Sure, you can break the bank on scouting every team in the big leagues--just don't come crying to us when the only player you can afford to sign is John Rocker.

When it comes to control, pitching and batting in MLB 2K6 for the 360 controls exactly like in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game. For pitching, last year's K-Zone pitching has been replaced as the default method with a more streamlined approach that uses an expanding and contracting halo around the ball; the bigger the halo, the more action you'll put on the ball during the pitch (and the easier it will be to miss your mark). Beyond the mechanics, one interesting twist in pitching is the ability to choose between pinpoint and breakpoint placement. Pinpoint placement means you can choose exactly where the ball lands in the catcher's glove. Breakpoint placement (this year's default) is a more realistic take on the action from the mound--and has you choosing where the ball will break, but not necessarily where it will end up. Using this method, you'll need to know the motion of your pitcher's slider, curve, or forkball and take that into consideration when choosing your spot.

The game will arrive with all modes intact, and better graphics to boot.
The game will arrive with all modes intact, and better graphics to boot.

In the batter's box, MLB 2K6 makes use of the right analog stick. You now use the right analog to initiate your backstep (by pulling back on the stick) and your actual swing (by pushing forward). There's delicate timing involved here; start your backstep or swing the bat too early or too late, and you're likely going to whiff the ball completely. The game gives you plenty of feedback, however, so you'll always know what you did wrong as you head back to the bench. There's also the hitter's eye feature that lets you place an icon where you think the ball will cross the plate--guess correctly, and you're likely to make even better contact with the ball than you normally would.

The VIP system, which we've written about extensively in previous previews of the game, will also be present and accounted for in the 360 version. Essentially a profile system on steroids (sorry, Mr. Bonds), the VIP system will keep track of practically everything you do in the game to give you the most comprehensive view of your (or your opponents') playing habits ever seen in a sports game. Everything from bull pen usage to steal attempts is recorded in the VIP profile, as well as many, many things in between. At the very least, it's going to be an effective way of scouting opponents in your 2K6 Xbox Live league.

Along with these pillars of gameplay, 2K6 for the 360 will also feature your standard game modes, such as exhibition, season, franchise, and GM modes, manager showdown (essentially a coach mode), the home run derby, and the World Baseball Classic--basically, enough to keep baseball fans busy well into the regular season and beyond. So what's different about MLB 2K6 for the 360?

The biggest improvements to the next-generation 2K6 are obviously the graphics. Player models are remarkably clean, even if they aren't as drop-dead stunning as those in NBA 2K6 for the 360. Improved cloth physics are visible as players run down fly balls or dive into second base on a steal attempt. When players hit the ground during a dive, they'll come up with location-specific dirt or grass stains on their uniform. MLB 2K6 producers told us that the development team has focused much of the animation work for the 360 version on infield fielding animations.

Take your game online and beat down your friends--just be sure to scout their VIP profile first.
Take your game online and beat down your friends--just be sure to scout their VIP profile first.

As good as the players look, it's the stadiums and environments that really seem to benefit in translation to the next gen. In older versions of the game, every stadium, including day and evening versions, were modeled and lighted as entirely separate entities. With the 360, only one park needs to be modeled, and the lighting effects are generated on the fly. Over the course of an afternoon game at the new and improved Busch Stadium, for example, you'll watch as sunlight glints off the St. Louis Gateway Arch. As the game progresses and the sun dips below the stadium, the lighting effects on the arch will change accordingly. Take a moment to zoom in to the grass or dirt during replays, and you'll notice individual blades of grass, authentic lawn trim patterns, and small chunks of dirt strewn around the bases themselves. Small details, to be sure, but impressive nonetheless.

MLB 2K6 will be dropping for the Xbox 360 in April, a few weeks after the game arrives in stores for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Though the game won't be that much different from its current-gen counterparts, it will have the distinction of being the only baseball game available on the Xbox 360 this season. We'll be bringing you more on the game in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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