May 18, 2006

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MLB 2k6 (GC/PS2/XBOX/360)
Visual Concepts)

Sweet jumping Jimminy Christmas I thought I was a nerd. I thought, hey I spend a sizable chunk of my time calculating the increase in hit point healing capacity that my Priest will get dependent on different mixes of armor and magic weapons. Is it worth sacrificing a large mana pool in favor of increased mana regeneration? Are both of those attributes inferior to having a high +heal bonus on my gear? These are commonplace concerns to a dork like me. But MLB2k6 and apparently all sports titles of note put my fetishistic love of stat crunching to shame.

Sports are not my bag. I love the Yankees inversely proportionally to the amount my father-in-law hates them (itís a bonding ritual for us) and try and keep tabs on their performance. I like Hideki Matsui 'cause Iíve seen him make some amazing catches. I have a healthy respect for David Ortiz 'cause he has pulled the Sox out of some serious binds.

For me sports games reached their pinnacle with Ice Hockey for the NES. You had fat guy, medium guy, skinny guy choices of player and the ability to pick your team's color. You hit the button for slap shot until your thumb bled and smiled at the Zamboni; see, perfect. Here I have access to the rosters of every major league team (as well as unlocking historical hall of fame players) and put them through various game modes ranging from exhibition games to home-run derbyís to full seasons of play. I can make managerial decisions on lineup and designated hitters and such. What I canít do is fathom how to hit the frickin ball, supposedly you press the A button, but there is a whole involved hot and cold hitting zone process and various swing follow-throughs that have stymied me. By spending Inside Edge points you gain special insight into the pitching habits of your adversary and can better guess where the ball will fly through a pop-up of statistics. Also by clicking in the thumbstick ó or Swing Stick as they call it ó you can use your Batters eye to suss out the trajectory of pitch. These are interesting controls that better emulate the dynamics of hitting but it's a bit like giving a stick shift to a toddler in my case. Worse still when I do manage to get Jeter and Williams on base, I get embarrassingly double-played by the KC Royals, who despite being ranked 36th in the league are a hojillion times better than me.

The pitching interface is even more byzantine. An overly sensitive aim and set breaking point somehow dictate where your pitch will land and how it subtly changes mid-flight through various breaks and curves. From the mound you can send instructions not only to your pitcher's arm but to the catcher as well, moving both about to perfect the avenue of attack and hopefully confound, pressure or simply smoke a batter down. Fatigue and focus play as much a role in throwing heat as the skill of your pitcher and a well timed visit to the mound can restore some control to a wild arm or put a bit of spring back into a weary elbow.

You can even bean the players. Ahh, that's always fun. I haven't tried to charge the mound.

Nevertheless, MLB2k6 looks wonderful, you have access to every stadium at multiple times of day under various weather conditions. The controls are smooth and although I have the barest control of them, seemingly work to those in the know. 2k6 is the Dave Long of video games, full of knowledge and insight into the game and completely unfathomable to me. Still, I find myself picking up the controller for an inning just to see how the other half plays for a while. B
ó Glenn Given.