Roaring fans, incredible plays, smashing hits…of course we’re talking about baseball, America’s past time. Although the illustrious sport may have fallen to the wayside as far as recent projects are concerned, 2K Sports’ newest title, The Bigs, aims to bring baseball back into the spotlight.
The first thing veteran sports gamers will notice about The Bigs is that it is not your typical sports simulation game. The mechanics are largely unchanged, but innovative systems (such as the addition of a turbo button) make this a whole new ballgame. Also, the create a rookie mode adds new depth to a genre that has been relying too heavily on unchanging franchise modes. Finally, this is NOT your father’s baseball game. Collisions do occur in The Bigs, and when two moving bodies meet each other at high velocity, involuntary wincing often follows. The hits in this game are brutal.
Let’s talk controls for a moment. After the mention of a turbo button, some of you may be thinking “Why the hell did they bring that back? It removes skill from the game!” I’m here to tell you that’s just not true this time ‘round. The turbo meter in The Bigs is masterfully done, and adequately rewards players for making skilled plays. Turbo is not some unending, constantly refilling meter. In The Bigs, players only fill their turbo bar when they complete major plays, or prove that they have a good eye in the batters box or on the mound. Fake out a batter with a nasty changeup? Get a little bonus to your turbo meter. Keep yourself from swinging at that low and away fastball? Fill up your meter just a little bit more. Field that laser straight infield shot and make the double play? Watch as your meter jumps!
These are all scenarios you will experience in every game you play. Turbo can be used at any time for numerous effects, such as increases to running speed, throw or pitch speed, and batting power just to name a few. The turbo meter consists of 5 cells. When turbo is activated, these cells drain depending on how long the button is held. A minimum of 1 cell is always deducted. Players must have at least 1 full cell to engage turbo mode.
Beyond the game’s turbo mode, the controls are very similar to most of the other MLB titles from recent years. Pitches are handled with a charge meter and pitches correspond to unique buttons. Fielding is done with the control stick, and each button is associated with a base to throw to. Batting involves guessing the location of the pitch, and swinging with a power swing or contact swing button. The franchise does differ in one more way, however. When attempting to make that big play, be it a diving or jumping catch, turning a double or triple play, robbing the batter of a homer, or even charging down the third base line against a catcher, players must overcome an additional challenge. As their player attempts to make the play in question, a series of buttons appears on the screen. If the sequence is completed in a timely fashion, the play is made. Failure usually involves dropping the ball, taking a line drive to the face, or being trampled by an angry runner.
A few other unique handling abilities are present in The Bigs. If a team hits well, they can fill a bar which allows a “POWER BLAST” to be activated. When used, this turns the current batter into a home run hitting machine. Any hit will soar into the stratosphere to spark off the foul pole, or break the scoreboard. Either result constitutes a home run. Interesting mechanics also provide an extra challenge to pitchers. Their pitches are listed on screen, accompanied by colored bars. The color and length of the bar indicates how well that pitch has performed during the game. If performance for a particular pitch is sufficiently poor, the pitcher may actually lose access to the pitch if opposing players continue to hit it.
Although The Bigs has done fairly well with its control scheme, I did feel that one aspect was missing. The game designers did not create a “cut-off” button. Thus, if you throw the ball towards a base, but it becomes more strategically sound to stop the ball with another player and redirect the throw, you are out of luck. The ball must reach its base destination before it can be thrown again. This shortcoming will cause most competitive players to field in a more conservative way, as their team cannot react to changes on the field while the ball is in transit.
As for game structure, The Bigs does a phenomenal job of blending the best of two worlds: simulation and arcade sports. The standard Exhibition mode is there, offering more options than the get-to-the-action Play Now! Home Run Derby is also available from the main screen, allowing players to brush up on their batting and compare moonshots. However, Rookie mode is the real gem here. Allowing players to create their own infield avatar to put through spring training and the regular season, Rookie mode offers an almost RPG-esque character creation system. With multiple cosmetic features (including additional unlockable content), and a pool of 5 skills to customize and upgrade, Rookie mode literally puts you in the game, and gives you a shot at The Bigs.
During Rookie mode, players are awarded points to upgrade their rookie as they complete training challenges and play in games. Earning points is a very mixed experience. During training exercises, points are easily attained. During games however, points are much more difficult to pull down. Your Rook’ must be a part of a big play, get multiple hits, and drive home RBIs to get points. It is much more difficult to get the amount of points to upgrade your stats during games unless you have created your player to bat very well, or plays a position that is in a big play hot-seat. With an average game, a rookie can expect to take down 500-1000 points. In contrast, training exercises usually net a few thousand or more points. This lopsided system is occasionally quite aggravating.
The upgradeable stats include power hitting, contact hitting, glove skill, throwing skill, and run speed. Upgrades start at 10000 points for level 1 of 5 in a given stat, and the cost goes up dramatically as each level is reached. If you want a player that learns quickly and gets more points, put your points into batting and choose a position that fields big plays often (shortstop is perfect).
In addition to these game modes, The Bigs also lets you manage rosters, trading players from team to team. Players also get the opportunity to create their own players to populate the league. These allow for a bit more depth for those wanting a more involved baseball experience.
In conclusion, my thoughts on The Bigs are mixed. The system of controls is innovative, reminding me of how enjoyable over-the-top sports games with turbo-enhanced players are. However, the lack of a cut-off button was highly irritating, and made superior playmaking quite difficult. The character development of Rookie mode is interesting and fun, but do not expect a ton from it unless you design your character to be in a position to earn points. The over-the-top plays coupled with an excellent replay mode allow for exciting moments that you can relive and share with others. These same plays, however, may take players out of the game if they prefer more realistic sports games.
I had more fun playing this title than I really expected to. The team at 2K Sports have created a baseball game that readily creates an atmosphere of excitement and will have players screaming into their PSPs. While some baseball basics were forgotten (cut-offs), and other mechanics were slightly unbalanced (gaining character points in games), the game was downright entertaining.