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Monday, September 10, 2012

In-Depth Review: Major League Baseball 2K12

It's not the PC baseball title we deserve, but the one we need right now.

Sports gaming on the PC has been more or less universally terrible for the last three to five years. EA Sports all but abandoned PC gamers after Madden 08, NHL 09, and MVP 05. The latest Tiger Woods PGA Tour game is basically an extension of the F2P Tiger Woods Online and has a fantastic score of 43/100 on Metacritic. The only universally-acclaimed titles available for PC today are EA Sports' FIFA series and 2K Sports' NBA2K series, both of which will be releasing 2013 versions in the next 3-4 weeks.

In 2005, Take Two Interactive signed an agreement with the MLB Players Association that gave them exclusive third-party rights to MLB games and effectively shutting out EA Sports. 2K Sports didn't bring a baseball game to the PC until 2009's Major League Baseball 2K9, but since then they've released a followup on PC every year.

2K's latest offering in the series is Major League Baseball 2K12. I've put a ton of time into the game over the past six months, and with baseball's actual pennant races heating up I figured there's no better time than the present to talk about MLB 2K12.

Release Info, System Requirements, and Installation

MLB 2K12 was released on March 6th, 2012 for just about every platform available: PC, all of the current consoles, the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, and even the Playstation 2 for some reason. From that list it should be pretty obvious that the PC version is a console port.

  Minimum Recommended My System
CPU Single-core P4 2.4 GHz
(2.8 GHz for Vista)
Dual-core 3.0 GHz CPU 4.0 GHz i5-2500K
GPU 128 MB DX9.0c 512 MB DX9.0c 1 GB 560 Ti DX11
RAM 512 MB, 1 GB for Vista 2 GB 8 GB
HDD 9.5 GB -- --

The game's installation folder currently weighs in at just under 8 GB, though there is some modding in play with my version of the game which I'll address in a bit.

Graphics and Performance

This game is ridiculously easy to run and the system requirements haven't really changed at all from 2009 to now. Console hardware specs haven't changed at all in that time period either - quite a coincidence. MLB 2K12 is a DX9 title, so everything in the game looks pretty flat and you won't see any crazy tessellation or lighting effects in play to help with realism.

Nothing in the game looks horrifically bad per se, and in reality the game looks pretty good. The major exception to that statement is the game's daytime shadows; even with all of the settings cranked the shadows around a batter are pretty pixelated around the edges. For the most part the rest of the game runs smoothly and doesn't look half bad.

Not the greatest example; I've seen worse.

One aspect of the game that is both an oddity and a welcome addition is the game's benchmarking mode. It's always nice to be able to test out video settings in a controlled benchmarking mode that gives you a constant FPS readout, so the fact that this is included is pretty nice. With that being said, MLB 2K12's minimum system requirements are straight out of 2004. This is definitely one game that definitely doesn't require the latest hardware.

Sounds, Visuals, and Atmosphere

MLB 2K12 does a pretty solid job of drawing you into the game. Players and logos are all authentic and each team has several alternate uniform choices available. Ballparks are for the most part accurate representations of what exists in real life, albeit with generic advertising. Player faces are pretty decent; major stars are almost always immediately recognizable but role players can be hit or miss. Faces in the crowd, on the other hand, are pretty generic and fan models are blocky with sharp edges.

Game announcing is voiced by Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk. Much of the dialogue is carried over from previous versions of the game but there are new quotes peppered in here and there. The play-by-play and color commentary are varied enough that you're not always hearing the same statements, which is pretty essential considering there are 162 games in a single season. You'll inevitably hear repeats the more often you play, but nothing really distracts you from the action. The game's TV broadcast atmosphere is maintained via score recaps and replays between innings and full-screen broadcast graphics throughout.


A controller is almost required to play this game. While it's possible to play with a mouse and keyboard, the game is designed with an analog stick in mind and you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of the game if you're using one. The game's menus in particular are laid out radially and are ideally navigated using a controller.

MLB 2K12 offers both "Clasic" and "Total Control" modes of hitting and pitching. Classic hitting and pitching modes allow you to press a single button to perform each action, while Total Control utilizes the right analog stick. Swinging the bat and throwing a pitch are accomplished by moving the analog stick in a certain pattern.

I've used Total Control for the last four years and found it to be pretty decent. The screenshot above shows the corresponding movements required for each pitch type; straight pitches generally involve up-and-down movements while moving pitches ask you to perform more exotic movements. Batting with this style of control is similar: pull back on the stick and move upwards for a power swing, flick upwards from neutral for a contact swing, or flick the stick sideways for a defensive just-foul-it-off swing. One of the game's improvements from last year is in the interaction between batter and pitcher; if a pitch type is thrown too often or a pitcher stays in one location for too long, the batter will pick up on the tendencies and his chances of success improve.

Whether you use Classic or Total Control is a matter of personal preference, and thankfully the rest of the game's controls are highly customizable as well. I play with a Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2,which is thankfully fully supported in game. The controller's action buttons are conveniently laid out in a diamond pattern, which matches up well to the bases, and I use the shoulder buttons to advance and retreat baserunners. I've grown pretty comfortable with the setup.

Standard Game Modes

MLB 2K12 offers a few extra features in addition to the usual Franchise, Postseason, Home Run Derby, and quick play modes.

"MLB Today" allows you to play today's slate of games with active players and current statistics, factoring in injuries and streaks/slumps. "MLB Today Season" takes that game mode and applies it to an entire season, allowing you to second-guess every terrible decision that your team's deadbeat manager made in real life. To be completely honest I haven't touched either of these game modes; I usually just stick to Franchise mode.

The online mode of the MLB 2K series is notoriously awful, which is unfortunate. A couple of years ago, I attempted to play MLB 2K10 online with a friend who bought the game for less than 5 bucks during a Steam sale. We both had decent internet and both used PCs that were more than capable of running the game, but despite that we were never able to connect to a game together. With something as timing-oriented as hitting or pitching I'm not sure I'd want to mess around with lag anyway.

My Player

"My Player" mode is always a big feature in 2K games and allows you to play an entire career from draft day to retirement. You start out by customizing your player and choosing an MLB franchise to join - unlike some other games you'll control where your guy plays throughout his entire career.

The big "feature" of this year's My Player mode is the ability to give your player a defined role beyond simply choosing his position. I decided to create a "closer" this time around - if you're not familiar with baseball, a closer is a pitcher that enters the game when his team is winning, usually in the 9th inning, and tries to shut the other team down to end the game.

My Player mode plays out like an RPG; your player has ratings from 0-99 in a bunch of different categories and your ultimate goal is to level them up. Your chosen specialization alters your starting point allocation, but as far as I know there's no ability cap. If you put in the time and performed well enough to gain the requisite points I'd imagine you could turn your skinny speedster shortstop with no power into a roided-out Barry Bonds.

I'm not convinced that the leveling up RPG aspects of My Player are a great fit for a statistically-oriented game like baseball. In a traditional RPG the game difficulty picks up as your character levels up and gains experience; those stat boosts and new skills are necessary to advance deeper into the game and defeat increasingly difficult bosses. The problem with this model in MLB 2K12 is that the overall difficulty of the game never changes. You start out at the Double A level of the Minors and you'll face tougher pitchers and hitters each time you get promoted (to Triple A and eventually the Majors for the uninitiated). Success in the game is often more about making the right decision than it is about skill. Getting a hit isn't just about swinging and making contact; it depends on the location of the pitch and the placement of the opposition's fielders

The hardest part of your career is probably the very beginning when you've got terrible ratings. The game becomes easier and easier as you increase your ratings, and once you've been promoted to the Majors and played a couple of seasons you're practically Babe Ruth. Progressing as a position player seems much easier than as a pitcher. While a fielder usually plays every day and bats 3-5 times per game, a starting pitcher only plays every fifth day and a reliever pitches at most 70-80 innings per year. As a result, a pitcher in My Player is going to have significantly fewer opportunities to receive skill points.

MLB 2K12 has stat regression - each player has a "potential" of up to 5 stars (My Player always gives you a 5-star rating) and they'll tend to peak during a certain age range before declining a bit as they age. This information isn't available in-game, but opening up my save file in a roster editor shows that my closer, who has my birth date (I'm 26), will start peaking at age 35 and start declining at age 40. If you're shooting for realism, you might want to make an 18-year-old version of yourself unless you're OK with being an All-Star at age 50.

Balance, Difficulty, and AI

2K Sports gives us four customizable difficulty levels in MLB 2K12: Rookie, Pro, All-Star, and Legend. I played an entire season with the Atlanta Braves on All-Star difficulty, and the results are pretty telling. Here are the standings for the National League East division at season's end:

Team Wins Losses GB Team Rating Team Rank
Braves 143 19 -- 91 T-6
Phillies 90 72 53 95 T-2
Marlins 73 89 70 87 15
Mets 64 98 79 79 T-24
Nationals 59 103 84 86 T-16

It's important to note that I've played MLB 2K9, 2K10, and 2K11 before this, so I'm pretty familiar with the game. With that being said, the game seems a little too easy on the next-to-highest difficulty. The Braves are tied for 6th in overall team rating, T-16th in hitting, and 2nd in pitching out of the 30 teams in the league according to the default in-game rosters (source) - they're a solid team but not the very best. I decided against switching difficulties mid-season in order to see just how well I could do.

Once you get comfortable with a player's swing animation it's pretty easy to put up some gaudy numbers. Case in point:

Brian McCann is the 3rd-best catcher and 65th-highest-rated player overall in MLB 2K12. If you're unfamiliar with baseball, those stats are straight up ridiculous. The last player to hit above .400 was Ted Williams in 1941 and in most years .340 to .370 will be enough to win the batting title. The MLB record for Runs Batted In (RBI) is 191, set in 1930. 74 HR is a record but isn't totally unbelievable until you realize that McCann has never hit more than 24 HR in a single season in real life. Like I said, gaudy numbers.

Pitching also seems to be a little too easy. Here's what I was able to accomplish in a single season with my five starting pitchers:

Pretty amazing. It's even more amazing when you consider that this year, Mike Minor is 8-10 with a 4.58 ERA and Jair Jurrjens is 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA after having spent most of the season in the minors. Ratings-wise in game these guys are both pretty decent, but it's way too easy to make a mediocre pitcher look like Cy Young. I had a game the other day where I threw one ball outside the strikezone in 80 pitches.

Thankfully the game's difficulty sliders are fully adjustable, so if you're up to the challenge you can tinker with everything to try to balance things out. It seems like the game is tuned to be a little too easy to give players some leniency with the control setup; once you master that, your pitches and fielder throws are way too accurate and too easy to pull off.

MLB 2K12's AI doesn't exactly keep the pressure on, which doesn't help the overall difficulty of the game. Baseball is a complex game and I don't envy the guys whose job it was to code the decision engine, but the AI makes some pretty glaring missteps. For example, you'll often see a relief pitcher come up to bat when his team is down a couple of runs in the late stages of the game; 99.9% of the time they'd be pinch hit for in real life. Pitchers are sometimes left in for way too long as well. The following is a stat line from a My Player game - note that the AI makes all of the managerial decisions in My Player and that you're simply along for the ride. Keep in mind that I'm a closer who usually throws one inning per game, two at the most.

The game also makes some quirky decisions with the advancement of baserunners, usually erring on the side of caution far too often. One particular bug that comes up once every couple of games really makes me sad. With a runner on first, the batter hits a sharp, low line drive up the middle of the infield. Instead of having the runner on first freeze, the AI tells the runner (whether he's yours or the other team's runner) to dive back to the bag immediately. The ball usually finds its way into center field and the baserunner is easily thrown out at second base by the outfielder.

Animations in the game are pretty good for the most part and keep everything looking fluid and smooth, but they sometimes get in the way of the action. Infielders often take long pauses between fielding a ground ball and throwing to first, making routine plays look unnecessarily close. There's also no way to interrupt or "hurry up" many of the transition animations in the game. Let's say you steal second base and slide in safely, but the opposing team's catcher throws the ball into center field. Despite pounding on the controller to tell the runner to advance to third, he casually stands up and brushes himself off before finally deciding that he's ready to run again when it's far too late to send him. It's nothing gamebreaking, but instances like these are pretty disappointing when they happen.

"the power mod!" from


Thankfully, some of the game's visual and statistical shortcomings can be fixed via third-party mods. These mods are unsupported and are a total community effort, so you'll obviously want to back up your game folder before swapping files around.

The best site I've found for mods is MVPmods. Gamespy has an article that links to five "must-have" mods for MLB 2K12 that are available for download from the site. Community members have stepped in to adjust uniform colors, update rosters, and create custom faces for players in the game. There are also mods that enhance sky textures and updates for entire stadiums that give each location a more realistic look complete with non-generic advertising.

Default Turner Field

Modded Turner Field

Nothing major, but it's the little things that add authenticity to the game and help to pull you in.

Value, Replayability, and Final Thoughts

MLB 2K12 retails for $29.99. As someone who plans to play several seasons of Franchise mode I feel like I definitely got my money's worth. A typical game takes me about 40 minutes to complete, meaning a complete 162-game season offers around 100 hours of gameplay. It's also possible to shorten the number of innings per game or simulate portions of the season if you'd rather not grind out an entire season.

In-game events are random enough to keep things interesting throughout hundreds of games. Every game is different and offers unique challenges: you might have a shot at hitting for the cycle, completing a perfect game or no-hitter, or gutting out a close game in 12 innings. If you're a baseball fan this should be right up your alley.

The depressing reality is that this may be the last game of the MLB 2K series. The aforementioned exclusivity agreement that Take Two signed with the MLBPA expires this year, and MLB 2K13 didn't make an appearance on 2K Sport's list of titles for next year. Even if another company steps in I feel like we're going to see a gap of a couple of years before another title is available. For that reason alone MLB 2K12 is almost a must-buy; this might be the best thing available for a while.

Unfortunately, it looks like 2K Sports has almost forgotten about us. MLB 2K12 didn't see an update on consoles until early June, and the PC patch is still missing in action. A patch for the PC is supposedly still in the works but I'm sure the development team has been severely scaled back.

MLB 2K12 isn't without its flaws and offers only minor updates and additions to last year's game. It's tough to say whether the game is worth the upgrade if you're deep into 2K11; it's probably a good idea to wait for a sale. With uncertainty about the future of PC baseball looming on the horizon, picking up the latest offering might be the only option.

Score: 3.5 / 5.0


  • The Good: Gameplay is pretty solid, good variety of game modes, community support
  • The So-so: Graphics are decent but not amazing, not much has changed from last year
  • The Bad: Online play, nonexistent support from 2K Sports (quirks and bugs need fixing), possibly the end of the line for MLB2K

Verdict: Buy it, but wait for a sale.


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