The Bigs 2 Hands-On
More arcade-style baseball action with a pinch of sim.
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You'd think with San Francisco Giant and last year's Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on the mound, I wouldn't worry about throwing some heat at every batter, but The Bigs 2 makes me a little nervous about it. Like the original game, The Bigs 2 punishes you big-time if a batter hits a double, and even more so if it's a triple or home run, by taking away valuable pitch stamina or energy when the opposing team gets a hit. If this happens too many times when using a certain type of pitch, whether it's a fastball or a curveball, then you lose that pitch for the rest of the game, and I really don't want to lose Lincecum's fastball.
But the addition of the new wheelhouse mechanic pushes pitchers to be the aggressor. The wheelhouse essentially indicates where a batter's sweet spot is in the batting box, so if the guy on the plate happens to make contact with a pitch in that area, there's a good chance that he can get a double or a triple out of it. At the same time, it might as well be a target for pitchers because if you happen to throw a strike in the wheelhouse, then you not only get some extra turbo (helpful for speeding up fielders and pitches, and increasing bat strength), but you also reduce the size of the wheelhouse itself. Think of it as an alternative, arcade-style approach to backing a batter off of the plate, or getting him out of his comfort zone so he can't make a solid hit.
Ultimately, you have to decide if the risk of extra hits is worth the reward of turbo when throwing a pitch to the wheelhouse, but if you take that risk then you better make sure that your defense can back it up. Luckily, some teams have the benefit of legendary players (both offensive and defensive) on their rosters, and on defense, these guys can perform some seriously crazy catches. When someone on your team has the chance to make a legendary catch, you usually have to engage in some kind of minigame depending on who is involved and where the catch takes place. For example, if the batter pops one up over the dugout, the catcher has a chance to make the grab on top of it by timing a couple of button presses as prompted onscreen. If you make the catch, then you get a nice, big bonus in your big-hit meter.
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This meter functions much as it did previously in The Bigs, in which points made for spectacular plays fill a bar at the top of the screen; when filled and used, the meter nearly guarantees a home run. However, you may not want to use it so quickly. The big-hit meter also has a second-tier option to fill called big slam, which gives you the chance to set up a grand slam by giving four players a chance to hit the ball in rapid succession. If they all make contact, then a grand slam is basically guaranteed, but it's still possible to miss the ball if the first pitch was a good one. This feature definitely causes some competitive back-and-forth games, but it also seems like it can make them a bit lopsided as well.
Some other features from the previous game have also received upgrades. The rookie challenge is now the Become a Legend mode, which starts with your custom-created player down in the Mexican League due to a prior injury. After completing a few games and challenges in this league, you then make your way back up to Major League Baseball, where you can select the team that you want to play for and tinker with a variety of customization options for your player, ranging from facial hair and overall girth to different sunglasses and bats. In addition to traditional games, Become a Legend features games with specific goals for your player; some of the earliest ones require simple things such as throwing two players out at first base or getting two hits. There are also games in which, if you win, you can choose a player from the other team and bring him onboard. If all of this sounds a little too crazy, The Bigs 2 also has a regular Season mode (with trades), which should please those who thought that a Season feature was needed in the original game.
In fact, in most respects, it looks like 2K has listened to a lot of feedback about The Bigs and has tried to implement suggestions and changes in the sequel. The wheelhouse seems to add some more strategy to the overall experience, and the inclusion of a Season mode should help with its longevity. But we'll have to wait and see how it all comes together when The Bigs 2 ships on July 7.