MLB 2K7 PSP First Look

Visual Concepts is bringing the popular baseball game to the PSP, and we've got a first look.

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Since snapping up the exclusive third-party publishing rights for Major League Baseball in 2005, 2K Sports has begun to branch out its MLB game reach by releasing games on a number of new systems. Last season saw the debut of MLB 2K6 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation Portable, and we'll be seeing the follow-up MLB 2K7 on everything from the PlayStation 3 to the Nintendo DS. We got a chance to play the PSP version of MLB 2K7 today during a visit by the folks from Visual Concepts (the development studio behind the game) to see how it's shaping up before its spring debut.

It's time to take the ball downtown on the PSP--MLB 2K7 is coming to the handheld system.
It's time to take the ball downtown on the PSP--MLB 2K7 is coming to the handheld system.

Last year's debut on the PSP was generally well received, and the VC crew is buildling on that strong start by making some improvements to the gameplay, particularly with regard to the artificial intelligence. Producers told us the AI has been completely rewritten; when asked for examples of the new baseball smarts in the game, producers pointed to better running on the base paths. Players will be smarter about when to go for a steal and when to hang back, for example. AI-controlled leadoff hitters will be more daring, as befits the speedy position. And players at bat will be smarter about picking the right moments to try a squeeze play.

The Inside Edge scouting system introduced in last year's game will be present and accounted for in MLB 2K7 for the PSP, and as you might expect, the statistics behind the Inside Edge numbers have all been updated to reflect real 2006 MLB performances. As before, you'll be able to take advantage of Inside Edge scouting by spending points on scouting batters or pitchers before the game begins. When pitching, your catcher will call for specific pitches when going up against batter you have scouted. When at bat, you'll get constantly updated percentages for each pitch in a hurler's arsenal, based on his real-life pitching tendencies.

The PSP version of MLB 2K7 will have a few PSP-only modes: home run derby career, pennant fever, and the farm. Home run derby career mode is a ladder-based tournament system that pits your three-man team of sluggers against various combinations of baseball's best bats in timed contests to see who can hit the most dingers. You start off in a one-on-one competition against the Cardinals' shortstop David Eckstein (a guy not really known for his power, so you shouldn't have too much trouble). Beat Eck, and you'll be able to add him to your squad for the next round in the tournament if you like. As you progress up the ladder, you'll compete in different match types, including three-on-three derbys where each home run you hit drains the life of your opponent. You can substitute any of your three players in at any time, and the resting players will slowly regain their stamina and power while riding the bench. The goal is to either be the team with the most health at the end of the round or successfully knock all team members on your opponent's team out by draining their health.

Pennant fever mode is a shortened season mode that will transport you back in time to August 1, 2006, the last date of the previous MLB season in which every team in the big leagues was still mathematically "in" the playoff race. Whether you choose the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals or the lowly Kansas City Royals, your team will still be in it in this mode. Once you take control, the game plays much like a typical season mode, where your goal will be to possibly rewrite history and guide your favorite team to play-off success.

The farm is 2K7's clever name for its minor league mode. You can play with the 30 Triple A teams featured in the game, either as a stand-alone mode or use "the farm" as part of your regular franchise mode, which is a great way to get some extra scouting in on young players who you might not otherwise be familiar with. The rosters in the farm mode will have some familiar names in them--if they played any time at all in the big leagues last year, they'll be on the roster in MLB 2K7.

When playing games in minor league parks, the presentation is dialed down to fit the smaller market hosting the game--the commentary of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan isn't found in minor league games, nor are some of the flashier transitions that you come to be used to in the MLB games. And speaking of commentary, producers told us that all of the game-time commentary from the console versions of the game will be featured in the PSP game, minus the pregame introductions by Jeannie Zelasko and Steve Physioc. In addition, much of the crowd chatter has been minimized to make room for the commentary from Joe and Jon.

From a control standpoint, MLB 2K7 seems to play much like the previous PSP game in the series. Batting is still controlled with a combination of the X button (to swing the bat) and the analog stick (you add power by pressing up and can influence the direction of the ball by pressing either left or right with the stick). Pitching is exactly like last year, as well, and you have the option to pitch using the traditional behind-the-pitcher's-back view or the batter's-box view, though producers admitted the batter's viewpoint was their favorite.

Pay attention to your catcher if you've scouted a player. He'll call just the right pitches.
Pay attention to your catcher if you've scouted a player. He'll call just the right pitches.

Graphically, no one is going to be confusing the PSP's MLB 2K7 for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 versions of the game. The players have a nice look and boast a few new animations compared to last year's game, though. Hopefully, we'll see many of the signature style animations from the console versions of the game make their way into the handheld version in the future. That said, some cool camera angles such as the "grass cam" up the presentation ante a bit in what is a solid-looking game.

With a typically deep assortment of game modes, fans will have plenty to do with MLB 2K7 when it's released in March. In addition to the standard modes, the game will include infrastructure and ad hoc online play, as well as ranked matches and downloadable rosters. And, of course, the ability to plays as the Sacramento River Cats or the Albuquerque Isotopes doesn't hurt, either. We're looking forward to seeing more in the future and will be bringing you more on the game soon.

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