The Bigs 2 ReviewBy Andrew Pfister - Posted Jul 07, 2009
When a sport considers a 75% failure rate to be acceptable, finding those rare moments of excitement either takes a deep appreciation of the game. The Bigs 2 combines all of these into a version of baseball that's more palatable to the unfortunate souls who are unable to appreciate a good pitcher's duel, double switches, or BABIP. So what do they have to show for two full seasons of development time? The offense is just as good as ever. As for the defense? Well, let us review…
- New "wheelhouse" feature improves pitcher/batter showdown
- Better graphics and lighting
- Full season mode keeps you invested
- Defense frustrating due to confluence of factors
- "Become a Legend" challenges too dependent on luck
- "Big Slam" offensive onslaught is overkill
When a sport considers a 75% failure rate to be acceptable, finding those rare moments of excitement either takes a deep appreciation of the game, watching a highlight package afterwards, or drastically reinterpreting its rules. The Bigs 2 combines all of these into a version of baseball that's more palatable to the unfortunate souls who are unable to appreciate a good pitcher's duel, double switches, or BABIP. Two years ago 2K introduced the series as an action-packed alternative to their MLB2K and Sony's The Show simulators, with great success. So what do they have to show for two full seasons of development time? The offense is just as good as ever. As for the defense? Well, let us review…
"Baseball is ninety percent mental; the other half is physical."
The Bigs was primarily successful because it properly used the #1 hallmark of arcade sports games: speed. With games limited to 5 innings of turbo-fueled pitching, hitting, running and fielding, there was both zero downtime and something to always be thinking about. But it wasn't speed alone, it was using speed without sacrificing the principal element of the sport: the strategic face-off between the batter and the pitcher. The Bigs 2 keeps this largely intact; a pitcher's 5-star fastball can mow down a weak contact hitter, but if that hitter guesses right and sits on a sweeping curve, he can just as easily knock it into the gap. Just like the sim games, it's all about changing pitch speed and eye level, and there's little that's more satisfying in this game than making a Legendary power hitter swing and miss at a 68 MPH changeup. (Or conversely, having your pitcher belt an RBI double into right.)
The best new enhancement of this is the addition of the Wheelhouse -- the area of the strike zone where the hitter can do the most damage. The tendency for the pitcher might be to stay away from this danger zone, but if you throw a strike in this area, you'll make it shrink for the next pitch and get a bonus turbo boost -- and just like the first game, the strategic use of turbo can make all the difference, so the incentive is there. What's great about the Wheelhouse is that it encourages you to really go after the big hitters -- some of whom have Wheelhouses that take up almost the entire strike zone. And for the hitters, guessing right on a Wheelhouse pitch almost guarantees you'll get on base -- or send it out of the park.
Everything about pitching and hitting feels just right: swing a little late on a slider away, and you'll slap it on the ground to second base; hit the meter perfect and your two-seamer will bite the corner of the zone. Even when Big Blast is activated, you still need to make contact, and it can be countered by the pitcher's Big Heat turbo-charged pitches.
The only offensive addition that feels out of place is the Big Slam ability. When activated, the batting team will send four guys to the plate in rapid succession, and each of them gets one pitch to either hit a single or a home run. It's not a guaranteed outcome -- the A.I. can and will strike out during the sequence -- but because the pitcher only gets to pick his pitch once, it takes too much control out of the player's hands and leads to those improbable "B.S." moments all too common in arcade sports games. Big Blasts can be game-changing enough without being overkill.
"We made too many wrong mistakes."
While everything is mostly hunky-dory on the mound and at the plate, an extravaganza of errors can occur when a ball's hit into play. While an aggressive approach works for pitching and batting, defense is a game of patience and nervous hesitation, thanks to the new additions that were ostensibly supposed to make fielding more exciting, and some legacy problems from the first game.
For starters, the quick camera cuts that make offense so electric really hurt defenders, because they provide very little reaction time for nearly every ball that isn't hit directly at someone. It’s especially frustrating in the outfield, where a good jump is necessary to chase down fly balls. An initial break in the wrong direction gives you little hope of recovering in time, and this can happen for multiple reasons. Your thumb might still be leaning on the stick from selecting your pitch location and on contact it sends the fielder the wrong way. Or on a ball hit into the gap, the game can sometimes automatically pick the fielder in the worst position to make the catch or play a carom off the wall -- by the time you get it sorted out and everyone moving the right way…sorry, it's a double.
Other problems start to compound -- fielders still have an annoying habit of taking four or five extra steps before changing direction. Wasting turbo to catch up with a ball because of a bad jump might get you there in time…or you might inexplicably run through the ball without making the catch. The new "Legendary" catch mechanic -- a family of timing-based button press maneuvers -- require split-second identification and reaction time (if you're not instantly pounding the A button during a runner/catcher showdown at home, forget about it). Basically, the game doesn't have enough invisible guides and cues to keep your defense on track -- and all it would take to fix most of the problems are subtle changes to timing, camera angles, and animations.
All that said, the defensive deficiencies are more noticeable when playing against the A.I. -- it's hard to see fairness when the opposing team converts far more Legendary opportunities than you. Against a human opponent, the playing field is leveled and it's easier to focus on the fun of knocking doubles and triples around the park. Manual baserunning can still get messy if you're not paying attention, as players have no problems coming to a full stop near a base, and it's easy to forget to push the A button to slide…turning a sure double into a boneheaded out. It's usually best to stick with the "advance/retreat all" bumpers.
"It ain't over till it's over."
One of the most requested features for the sequel was a Season Mode, and Blue Castle Games made sure to include it in The Bigs 2, alongside the returning Become a Legend ("Rookie Challenge" from the first game) career mode. What's nice about having a full season is that it keeps you attached to the game -- if you're looking for more than a quick session -- and because the games go so quickly (with the ability to sim through parts of the schedule), it's a good alternative to the authentically slow 162 games of MLB2K or The Show. Another clever way to mix things up is with the Pick-Up mode, which forces you to pick teams from a pool of pre-selected players as if on a playground. Home Run Pinball is back with co-op and competitive scoring, and a handful of mini-games will do their best to train you on the new button-happy and previously-maligned fielding mechanics. (The servers weren't populated enough to do a thorough online test as of press time -- if we notice anything drastic, we'll update this review).
The Bigs 2 is certainly a fun distillation of baseball that gets most of the basics right without bogging you down in statistics and advanced National League lineup strategy. But just like signing Milton Bradley to a long-term contract, you're going to have to learn to deal with defensive adventures, and to put up with the bad in order to get the good.