Posted by Neil Paine on March 30, 2011
Graphics: Ballpark-wise, I think 2K11 stands up very well to The Show, but overall I have to give the visual nod to MLB 11. Its player faces and body types are much more accurate-looking, the animations are smoother, and The Show has none of the occasional framerate hiccups you'll find in 2K11. I like how both games offer progressive lighting effects -- i.e., the shadows in the park change as the game goes on -- though I think MLB 11 pulls this off a bit better than 2K11. One positive about 2K11 is that its in-game colors are much more vibrant, while The Show generally features more muted visuals, but that doesn't make up for MLB 11's overall advantages. The Show wins the graphical category.
Presentation: In-game, 2K11 offers a slightly superior presentation with bells & whistles like the integration of Inside Edge scouting reports and a neat win probability graph in the pause menu. The Show is more traditional, trying to mimic an actual TV broadcast, so its presentation is solid but largely unspectacular, aside from a decent array of situational player cutscenes. On the front end, 2K Sports games typically have a counterintuitive menu system and MLB 2K11 is no different, using the same setup we've seen from the company's sports games for the past few years. MLB 11's frontend is much better, with simpler navigation and a cool dynamic ballpark feature that displays your favorite team's park in the background (or shuffles through all parks if you don't pick a favorite). So who wins on balance depends on whether you enjoy a flashy in-game presentation or not, and for the record I like 2K11 here.
Sound: I have to give 2K11 a big edge here. The in-game commentary by Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk is impressive as always, replicating the chatter of a real baseball broadcast as well as any game I've ever played. All sports games will have some repetition in their commentary from time to time, but 2K11 mostly does a great job of having the 3 guys in the booth sound like they're having a real conversation about the game. The Show's crew of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, & Eric Karros, on the other hand, lacks any such enthusiasm or chemistry: sure, they get the job done, but you would never confuse their commentary with that of an actual game. Crowd-wise, The Show is a little better -- the fans have more awareness about the on-field action -- and in the menus, the music is typical sports game fare (though credit goes to both games for including older artists like the Edgar Winter group and Joan Jett). All in all, MLB 2K11 has a leg up in the sound department.
Gameplay: At a certain level, this is all that matters, and MLB 11 has the advantage (though it is not as wide as in the past). The big change this year was the addition of analog batting, pitching, and fielding controls to The Show, matching what 2K was offering the past few years. And as with any first-year feature, there are issues, especially when hitting.
Both games now have you push the right thumbstick forward to swing the bat, which I am generally not a fan of, and 2K11 executes this better because they only make you time the stick's pullback on power swings -- The Show forces you to do this on every swing, making it very difficult to time this mechanism correctly while maintaining plate discipline, especially on all-star difficulty and above. The irony is that the batter-pitcher matchup is more nuanced in The Show, so the new controls unnecessarily complicate what had been a very good thing in past versions of the game. On the other hand, 2K11's only big batting flaw is its camera angle, which needs a lot of tweaking before finding a view where you can reliably discern balls from strikes.
Pitching-wise, MLB 11's new analog controls are a more pleasant addition -- think of them as a hybrid between MLB 2K11's pure gesture-based scheme and the traditional meter-based action The Show used to employ. Among analog systems, I prefer 2K11's approach (wherein you mimic the pitch's arm action using the right stick), but MLB 11's scheme offers its own unique challenges if you stay with it through the learning curve. And, fortunately, you can also enable the control settings from MLB 10 if you dislike the changes. Right now, I mix the pitching between analog and meter, but bat exclusively with the old zone-based setting, getting back to the core of The Show's great batter-pitcher duels without the needless complication of new controls.
In the field, The Show makes a good representation of baseball when catching the ball, while 2K11's throwing controls are far superior. Overall, though, fielding is made difficult in 2K11 by a bad set of camera angles which makes every infield reaction an adventure. The same goes for baserunning -- 2K11 simply doesn't have a nice, high angle of the field like The Show does, and it impacts gameplay. Ironically, the game that gets its default camera angles right (MLB 11) offers a nearly endless combination of custom camera tweaks, while the game with bad angles (2K11) has little in the way of camera customization.
It's easy to get caught up in the minutia of control schemes, but looking at the big-picture, MLB 11 gives a better, more realistic on-field representation of baseball. 2K11 is getting better, and The Show didn't do itself any favors with the new batting controls, but MLB 11 wins this category on the strength of a better core batter-pitcher interface, more realistic physics, better camera angles, and a more nuanced feel for the game. I will say that 2K11 shows flashes of the type of greatness MVP Baseball offered circa 2005, so the potential is there for a truly outstanding game, but for now MLB 11 is still the on-field champ.
Replay Value: A slight edge in secondary game modes has to go to MLB 11 as well. Each game offers similar features, including franchise, HR derby, and "build your own major leaguer" modes (2K11 calls it "My Player"; MLB 11's is named "Road to the Show"), but the Show generally pulls these off with slightly more polish -- not that either game's franchise mode will ever be confused with Out of the Park or Baseball Mogul. In 2K11's favor, they offer a more exciting way to interact with the actual major leagues in real time, thanks to MLB Today (which allows you to play scheduled matchups on the same day) and the ability for franchise-mode player ratings to change based on real-life performance (the extent of The Show's work in this department is the typical weekly live roster update). But in terms of replay value independent of gameplay, I'd give a very small edge to MLB 11: The Show.
The Last Word: I like what MLB 2K11 is building, and I like that console baseball games have a real race this year instead of a runaway victory for The Show. MLB 2K has certainly improved far more than The Show over the past few years, and in some ways MLB 11 was barely an improvement over last year's edition (even considering the control-scheme changes). But while the gap has been narrowed, MLB 11 still separates itself with better graphics, gameplay, and generally a more polished game. If you have an Xbox, rejoice that your system has a baseball game worth playing again -- but if you have a PS3, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Show.