Wednesday, May 23, 2012

MLB 2K: The Deathening

Take-Two, too absolutely no one's surprise, didn't mention MLB 2K in their earnings conference call yesterday.

In other words, it's dead.

The third-party license is expiring, the game has been absolute shit for years, and a Do Not Resuscitate order has been issued.

You might be wondering why this matters.

It's an awful game, and it's going away. That's a good thing, right?

The thing is, you have to consider the history. And if you do, it's a sad day.

The MLB 2K series has descendents that go all the way back to the mid-1990s, starting with World Series Baseball on the Genesis. That game was a huge leap beyond what other baseball games were like in that era, so much so that I've always believed it was the spiritual descendant of the legendary Earl Weaver game.

It was developed by Sega.

When the much-maligned Saturn was released, almost nothing went right for it, but World Series Baseball '98 was a landmark achievement. The graphics were incredible for the time, the commentary was tremendous (Gloria will still laugh out loud if I say "It's a HIGH fly ball"), and believe it or not, I played a full 162-game season with my then-beloved Texas Rangers. Remarkably, I lost in the first round of the playoffs to the hated New York Yankees, just like the real-life Rangers did.

WSB had a wonderful sense of pace. The games went quickly, but still had a wonderful atmosphere and plenty of flavor. It was one of the best baseball games ever made.

When the Dreamcast (what a great console) was being developed, and EA snubbed the platform, Sega bought Visual Concepts (which had developed NHL '95 as well as Madden '94 and '94) to develop sports games. I believe that was in 1998.

Visual Concepts then released a series of the best football games ever made, but they also made a few stellar versions of World Series Baseball (in conjunction with Blue Shift). Light years ahead of the competition graphically, they were "real" baseball games, not arcade fluff.

Worthy successors, in other words.

In 2005, Sega sold Visual Concepts (and it's wholly-owned subsidiary, Kush Games) to Take-Two. Take-Two decided to create a new baseball franchise--the MLB 2K series--and Kush became the developer.


To me, Kush was always the gaming developer equivalent of the cat in the nursing home who goes and sits on the bed of the resident who was about to die. Every sports series they were involved with crashed and burned.

MLB 2K was no exception.

After a reasonably promising debut with MLB 2K5 (Metacritic score 81), the march toward mediocrity began. Actually, it wasn't a march--it was a sprint.
MLB 2K6: 66
MLB 2K7: 71
MLB 2K8: 70

Like I said, there was a proud legacy here, one that was being ruined.

Visual Concepts took over development for MLB 2K9, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Except nothing changed.
MLB 2K9: 64
MLB 2K10: 76
MLB 2K11: 69
MLB 2K12: 66

Man, that is just sad.

Worse were the bullshit excuses that VC had every year for releasing late alphas. It was just embarrassing, and for those of us who did know the history, more than a little sad.

Even more painful was to see the NBA 2K series steadily improve each year. How could one dev team for VC so obviously have their shit together while the dudes down the hall were knocking over their spit cups on a daily basis?

Well, it's over now.

At least there's still one excellent baseball series around. MLB The Show has been terrific for years, even though I think at times it lacks the energy of some of the earlier, classic franchises. So while Sega's legacy of excellence has been killed, the legacy of excellent baseball games in general, which stretches back 25 years now, is still intact.

And even though I don't play baseball games anymore, I somehow find that a relief.

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