Fielding has been improved in a few noteworthy ways. A new fielding meter tracks how long you press a button or move the right stick when making throws. It works extremely well for the most part, giving you a good sense of how hard you need to make tosses to nail runners. The meter also nicely reflects fielding skills; the Gold Glove types have huge green sweet spots on the meter that make it easy to fire frozen ropes, while clumsier sorts have green blips that are just about impossible to perfectly nail. This can cause a few problems in My Player, because rookies start with overly harsh fielder ratings that can cause you to push the meter into the red and wind up throwing like Chuck Knoblauch for a good while in AA. Speed in the field has been turned down a couple of notches, and animations have been smoothed out to eliminate the impossibly awkward, Cirque du Soleil-style catches common in MLB 2K10. There are slight hitches to some motions, but everything still looks more realistic than it did last year, from snagging routine fly balls to runners plowing into second basemen to stave off double plays.
It turns out the Pirates are still in the majors.
Game results and stats are carried forward in MLB 2K11 in the same realistic manner that they were handled in MLB 2K10. Numbers appear accurate across the board, with innings rolling out in authentic ways and free of the crazy offensive explosions that made the 2K baseball series less than credible in its earlier years. Dynamic player ratings based on performances in the real major leagues have been added to the mix this time around. Now, if someone goes on a hot streak in the real world, his ratings go up in the game. If someone gets cold in the real world, his ratings drop in the game. Stats are tracked and then adjusted after every month of real big-league action. This is a good way to keep things current as MLB goes through its 2011 season, of course, but the impact on gameplay should be pretty negligible for most players. Dynamic ratings should allow MLB 2K11 to accurately represent surprise phenoms and surprise busts this season by bumping ratings on the fly instead of waiting for a roster patch or next year's game. But unless you happen to have one of these players on your fave squad in the game, it's hard to see this frill making much difference to anybody, aside from diehard MLB Today fans who want their games to play out just like they do on TV.
Presentation values have been bumped up in a few ways, especially when it comes to visuals. As already noted, animations have been adjusted so that plays in the field are more realistic. Lighting and shadow effects are more lifelike now, giving a boost to player and stadium models that at times looked flat in previous editions of the game. Player faces still appear pretty lumpy, however. Creating a player results in a face out of a funhouse mirror. The 360 version looks better than the PS3 version, just as it was last year. Where the 360 visuals are smooth, the PS3 graphics are more conspicuously jaggy. Still, the differences between the two platforms are not as pronounced as they were a year ago. Audio is also quite good. Atmospheric stadium effects are more amped up and better wrap around you with a good surround-sound setup. The broadcast trio of Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk continues to sound natural in the booth, though their particular brand of analysis won't always appeal to the modern stat-loving crowd. Much of the soundtrack repeats the general themes from the past couple of years in that most of the tunes have an indie rock flavor with the odd bit of classic rock sprinkled in. Nothing here is offensive to the ear, although more variety would be nice, and tracks like Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" sit uncomfortably alongside the likes of Five Finger Death Punch's nu-metal "Hard to See."
Hit the dirt!
As much as MLB 2K11 is an undeniably better game than its predecessor, there isn't anything here that makes the game an absolute must-buy for those who have last year's model at home already. All of the many subtle improvements make for a more authentic experience on the diamond, but this is more of a roster patch with some nifty gameplay tweaks than a full-blown sequel. After the great leap forward in last year's game, mostly treading water this time around comes as a bit of a disappointment.