There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer tries to go without Duff beer for a month. To stop himself going crazy, he heads to see a game of baseball. He’s the only one not drinking:
Announcer: ...the windup and a 2-2 pitch. Oh, no, wait a minute, the batter is calling for time. Looks like he’s going to get himself a new bat. And now there's a beach ball on the field, and the balls boys are discussing which one of them’s going to go get it.
Homer: I never realized how boring this game is.
Even in its home country then, baseball has a reputation for being a bit dull. This might make you wonder why 2K Sports has decided to release a baseball game in the UK. Until of course, you play The Bigs 2 and realise it is to baseball what CSI is to routine policework.
It’s got some guys with bats in it, and you do have to hit a ball but that’s really where the similarities end. The Bigs 2 is loud, shiny and has more turbo buttons than Speed Racer’s car. What’s more, it’s brilliant, and when you factor in the sub £20 price, it’s the must buy console game of the summer.
The Bigs 2 allows you to create your own baseballing badass, but it also features real player likenesses from MLB teams
All of this is of course, somewhat contentious. American readers (yo, dudes) who know anything about baseball will possibly be fulminating about the fact that you can’t actually set a baseball on fire by hitting it, you can’t leap 20 foot in the air to catch said flaming baseball, and you certainly can’t wound the guy on third base by shoulder-charging them in the real game. (Yes, all of these are routine moves in The Bigs 2.)
British readers (alright, chaps) will be somewhat sceptical of my claim that a baseball game is worth a look, even to gamers who have zero interest in the sport.
So, let’s deal with the realism thing first. In fairness to The Bigs 2, it’s more realistic than CSI. It does feature licensed MLB teams, player and stadia likenesses from the real world and if you want to, you can chop and change the line-up you send out to bat. The fundamental rules of baseball are present and correct, too – it’s not a conceptual horror such as FIFA Street – so you do still need to bat and figure out the best strategy for guiding your runners around the diamond.
Right: Baseball is a contact sport, at least in the world of The Bigs 2
If you’re in bat, there’s a variety of different shots you can employ, and when you’re pitching, it’s far from just a push-button affair: you’ve got a series of pitching styles you can use, but each is limited in use, so you need to vary how you employ them so as not to use up all your strong pitches. You’re in full control when fielding, too. The game will autoselect a fielder who’s near the ball, but you need to make sure you get to it, catch it and get it to the right base in order to catch the opposition out. You play the game, not the other way round.
As to why you should care if you’re not bothered about the actual sport: as with a good beat ‘em up, The Bigs 2 takes a physical and mental competition and compresses it into something that’s strategic yet pacy. As already mentioned, you need to chose how to deploy your pitches – do you save the best ones for the strongest batters, or use them to blitz out the opposition’s weaker players?
To add more depth, the more you pitch to the batter’s ‘wheelhouse’ – the area where he’s strongest – the more you’ll top up your turbo meter. Like star power in Guitar Hero, the turbo is great for getting you out of trouble as it restores pitches lost from over-use, or can help you blast a home run, or make a catch you’d never normally reach.
When you’re batting, you’ve got a variety of different swings to use, and as soon as you’ve made your hit, you’re in control of your players on the bases, and need to decide if you’re going to make them run or be cautious and stay. Various moves get you points which fill up the ‘big blast’ meter – yes, a second turbo meter effectively – which you can deploy for an instant home run or some staggeringly aggressive pitching.