New to Major League Baseball 2K6 is its Inside Edge system. Besides incorporating scouting reports and statistical data into player strengths and CPU behavior, the Inside Edge system will actually make hitting and pitching suggestions to you on a pitch-by-pitch basis during the game. When you're on defense, the game will suggest the most effective pitch and location based upon the hitter's past performance in that particular count. When you're on offense, the game will show you how likely a pitcher is to throw each of his pitches, as well as display the three most likely spots where the next pitch will be located. What makes Inside Edge so captivating is that there's still a margin of error involved, meaning that you still have to factor your own hunches and baseball knowledge into each situation.
Pitching uses a meter-based interface, but the indicator is round instead of crescent-shaped.
On the field, you can literally control every aspect of a ballgame. Managerial functions let you make substitutions, warm up pitchers, and visit the mound whenever you like. If the umpire makes a close play or a batter gets beaned, sometimes the game will prompt you to argue the call or charge the mound. Doing so, however, may result in your manager or player being ejected. The fielding and baserunning interfaces are mostly identical to those in other games. Leadoffs and stolen-base attempts can be queued up before the pitch, and you can command a player to make a diving catch or slide into a base just by pulling on the right analog stick. As in previous years, MLB 2K6 is the only baseball game that lets you compel runners and fielders to kick in an extra burst of speed by rapidly tapping the relevant buttons. The risk of injury or fatigue is higher when kicking in the afterburners, though.
There are two hitting interfaces to pick from. The default lets you swing the bat with the right analog stick. You pull back on the stick to take a step and then either let go for a contact swing or push the stick upward for a power swing. Unlike other games that have tried miserably to implement analog batting, MLB 2K6 succeeds because the input is responsive and because you don't have to put effort into a full motion unless you want to swing for the fences. If you don't like the swing-stick interface, you can always switch to the classic button-based interface in the setup menu. Both interfaces let you target your swing to specific spots in the strike zone by aiming a circular batter's-eye indicator, which may appear large or small depending on the hitter's plate discipline in real life. Wisely, the development team eliminated the controversial slam-zone function from the hitting interface in this year's game. Home runs were too easy to hit in MLB 2K5 thanks to slam zone.
MLB 2K6 employs its own take on the meter-style pitching that's all the rage in baseball games these days. Pitches are selected and aimed using the buttons and left analog stick. When you press the button to select a pitch, the targeting cursor grows into a large circle that gets bigger the longer you keep the button held. This indicates how much power or break you've built into the pitch. Letting up on the button locks in the effectiveness and causes the circle to quickly collapse into a crosshair. You then have to tap the button one more time to lock in the accuracy. The smaller the circle is, the more accurate the pitch will be. In practice, it's a highly intuitive system that boils the complex art of pitching down to a couple of quick button presses.
Another welcome change this year is that it's now possible to specify where the catcher sets up for each pitch. While pitching, you can point the right analog stick to position the catcher's glove over any of eight spots around the strike zone. This lets you psych out players by setting up outside for inside pitches and inside for outside pitches. It's also the key to the game's optional payoff-pitch mechanism. In a real baseball game, a pitch made on a two-strike count is called the payoff pitch, because the pitcher's confidence can be shaken or strengthened based on whether the next pitch is a ball, a hit, or a strike. MLB 2K6 simulates this when you choose to position the catcher on a two-strike count. If your pitch lands in the glove without causing the catcher to move, you'll add a couple of points to your pitcher's effectiveness rating. If the catcher has to move to catch the ball, you'll lose a couple of points. Perhaps the implementation is a little bizarre, but the ability to adjust the catcher is still a welcome addition.
In the fielding view, baserunning windows let you keep track of base runners.
Granted, certain aspects of gameplay could be better. The fielders forget to catch the ball once in a while, and they're a bit on the slow side when changing directions. For offline games, you can alleviate both of these to some extent by cranking up the sliders in the tuning menu. For online games, you're pretty much out of luck. Also, foul balls and bloop hits probably should occur more often. On the whole, though, these kinds of nitpicks are the exception, not the rule. MLB 2K6 gets much more right than it does wrong.
Here's hoping that 2K Games will beef up the presentation and atmosphere in next year's installment to match the already rich gameplay and features. Major League Baseball 2K6 is by no means a bad game, but its portrayal of the sport is apathetic compared to other recent console baseball sims.