MLB 2K6 Updated Hands-On

We get an updated look at the 2K Sports next-gen baseball title, directly from Microsoft's recent press event.

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When you sit down on your couch or living room floor for a session with your favorite game, one of the most important factors to consider is comfort. Microsoft took this tenet to heart with its most recent press event in San Francisco, decking out the club hosting its showcase of Xbox 360 titles not with comfortable chairs, but huge beds adorned with Xbox 360-themed linens and throw pillows. As strange as it felt to be climbing on to what amounted to a mattress while surrounded by industry folks, we were happy to indulge while checking out a recent build of MLB 2K6 for the Xbox 360.

First things first: The build we played tonight was far more stable than the one we played a few weeks back while visiting the 2K Sports' headquarters--graphical glitches that we noticed in the previous build were nowhere to be found here, in the updated version. Beyond some frame rate issues here and there, the game has come a long way since our first look--and still maintains the impressive player models (complete with a bevy of player-specific pitching windups and batting stances) and some truly massive-looking stadiums. Perhaps it was the fancy HDTV screen we were enjoying the game on, but the imposing size of stadiums like Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks) really came through and demonstrated the amount of time the development team has put into making this a game worthy of the next-gen console horsepower. In addition, the crowds looked even better this time around, with fully 3D crowds creating a sense of excitement and motion in the stands. Our favorite touch was when hitting a foul ball into the crowd and watching a number of the crowd members grab for the ball in unison.

Our time with the game was relatively limited, so, after grabbing a fellow GameSpot editor to help us with the demo, we launched directly into the home run derby mode, a quick pick-up-and-play mode that has you trying to best your buddy (or the computer-controlled batter) in a battle of long balls. We quickly chose our respective batters (Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero) and, after being informed by a passing waitress that she despised A-Rod (uhh... Thanks for that?) we launched right into the mode. The pitches come fast and furious in the derby mode, and because there's less delay between pitches, it takes a bit of adjustment to find your stroke, especially using 2K6's new analog swing mechanic.

We've written about the swing stick mechanic in previous previews--to swing the bat you pull back to begin your back-step and push forward (or simply let go) to swing the lumber). In regular games, it takes a few pitches--perhaps even a few at-bats--to really learn your foe's windup routine on the mound and make consistent contact with the ball.

Similarly, the pitching mechanic has its quirks in two-player games as well. When facing an inexperienced opponent, for example, you can get a pretty good idea of how accurate or inaccurate a foe's pitch will be, based on how precise they are with the expanding and contracting halo that determines a pitch's break and power. If the pitcher misses the halo by a country mile, it's a pretty safe bet you can lay off the pitch. Another quirk that caught our eye: the catcher calling for pitches when facing scouted batters. For any batter you've scouted using the game's built-in Inside Edge scouting service, your catcher will suggest pitches for you. While you're welcome to shrug off the pitches, it looks strange when the catcher is calling for a pitch extremely high in the zone--in a real game, the catcher would probably be a bit more sly about his hand position so as not to (quite literally) tip his hand.

MLB 2K6 has the enviable position of being the only baseball game on the Xbox 360 this season and, as such, has a great opportunity to get the sport off to a great start for the next console generation. We'll be bringing you more on the game in the coming weeks, as well as a full review, when it hits store shelves in April.

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