Visual Concepts is about as consistent a developer as there is out there in terms of maintaining a solid level of quality within its genre of specialty. Its notable sports outings outdate the 2K label now utilized for many of Take-Two's franchises, bringing back fond memories of the beatings VC put on EA back in the Dreamcast days when Sega was publishing the games.
Unfortunately, the cleats have been on the other foot recently when it comes to our national pastime. Though unchallenged - thanks to a third-party exclusivity agreement - on the PC, Xbox 360, and Wii, the Major League Baseball 2K series has been the bridesmaid on the PlayStation 3 to Sony's own MLB: The Show franchise.
Animation is impressive, though not perfect, across the board.
A second-place team can take two approaches to trying to topple the defending champion the following season: it can make a big addition through a trade or free agency or it can hope another year of internal development closes the gap. Visual Concepts chose the latter approach with Major League Baseball 2K11. Instead of adding major new features, 2K's latest outing hit the weight room and stayed late for some extra BP.
The My Player mode has been streamlined in terms of the player's ability to progress throughout his career. This serves to lessen any frustration people may have had in prior years if their trip to the bigs wasn't on quite the trajectory they would have preferred.
Winter ball also clearly helped Visual Concepts to hone MLB 2K11's visuals. Animation is impressive, though not perfect, across the board, whether it's movement in the stands behind home plate or a smooth 5-4-3 double play from Wright to Emaus to Davis. There are still some hiccups from time to time, but the improvement from the 2K10 offering is notable.
The aural pleasure carried over from prior years completes the ambiance of the game. The broadcast team of Gary Thorne (of NHL fame prior to ESPN dropping that ball, er, puck), Steve Phillips (he can't trade away the Mets' future while he's doing a video game!), and John Kruk does a great job with both the play-by-play and color commentary. Particularly pleasing is how the story being woven wraps around a pitch. A thought will be started by one announcer and followed up by another after the result of the pitch. It really has been that long since Sega's Sports Talk Baseball was first publicly playable at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago - 19 years to be exact.
As with any team, there are holes that just couldn't be filled during the off-season, despite the general manager's best efforts. AI is questionable. A relatively minor but nonetheless head scratching example was a runner going from second to home on a gapper. The throw had not entered the infield, but the runner not only slid into home but slide wide and then reached back for the plate. All the while the catcher stood there. He was probably wondering if any mustard was needed for that hot dog. He was in good company.
Finally, with The Show signing 2K's analog-based control scheme, MLB 2K11 went from having an advantage in this area to a deficit, due to lack of options. Unlike with Sony's offering, Visual Concepts doesn't offer the choice of traditional versus analog controls. For players who may be behind the curve a bit in that area, this might be a tough adjustment to be forced into making.
Visual Concepts has come through once again for 2K with a solid, playoff-caliber baseball offering in Major League Baseball 2K11. It's a no-brainer on any of the platforms where it's the only show in town. However, on the PlayStation 3 it's still only a Wild Card, as the division crown stays in Sony's San Diego studio in 2011.