Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Bigs 2 comes up small

Above: Dustin Pedroia, looking somehow even less human than usual.

My review of The Bigs 2 is up now at

I am by no means an expert on sports games. The reason I wanted to play The Bigs 2 is that I expected it to be unlike most sports games. And it is, to some degree, but a big part of the reason I didn't like it turned out to be the extent to which it betrayed the game of baseball.

In my life, I've been fortunate to attend a couple of significant baseball games. My favorite memory is game 3 of the 2003 ALDS, the Boston Red Sox against the Oakland Athletics. The Sox had dropped the first two games in Oakland, and were facing elimination at home. After the game went into extra innings, the Red Sox brought in pinch-hitter Trot Nixon, a fan favorite and a lefty who'd been on the bench to start the game. Trot launched the game-winning bomb into the center-field seats. You know what, I could almost feel the shockwave from that blast.

The Bigs 2 does a good job of rendering that type of thing. When a "big blast" home run bursts into flame, streaks across the sky like a comet, smashes into a building, and shatters all the windows, I'd say that's faithful to the spirit of the sport. It's exaggerated and cartoonish, sure, but it captures something true about the way a game-changing home run feels. It takes something real and pushes it to the extreme.

Most of the rest of the game does not do this, usually for less obvious reasons. The fielding animations are just terrible -- there are hardly any of them, and the transition from a fielder's picking up the ball and actually throwing it is cumbersome. Fielding at all is bizarrely difficult, because your fielders stop running well before you have a chance to tell where the ball is in relation to them. These fielders are actually slower than their real-life counterparts.

As for the mini-games that mark every dramatic catch, they're not only insanely difficult (for you, not for the computer), but they bear no resemblance to what the player onscreen is actually doing. It's as though another game entirely parachuted in for just those sequences.

Batting is a little weird too. I understand that the pace needs to be quicker than in a faithful sim. Yet I can't really understand why The Bigs 2 punishes you for taking a pitch. If you see a pitch coming that's not in your batter's wheelhouse, you'd think the smart move would be take the strike. But doing so fills up the other team's turbo meter, so you have to just flail away at every throw. That's stupid. In all the time I spent with this game -- which, I'll grant you, was not a lifetime, because I disliked it so much -- I never once saw a batter walk.

I mentioned this in the review, but perhaps not strongly enough: I hate, hate, hate the way this game portrays the players. To a man, they are depicted as mean, joyless, roided-up idiots. When the art isn't inadvertently comic (Jonathan Papelbon's head looks like Charlie Brown's), it's just frightening (Joe Mauer does not, in real life, walk around looking like he's spoiling for a fight). I'm only half-joking in the review when I say they should have made J.D. Drew into a literal robot. A great way to make a cartoon-like baseball game that still showed love and respect for the sport would have been to try to represent the players' personalities in an outlandish way.

But that's not what The Bigs 2 is about. It's about turning baseball into just another violent, stupid, adolescent power trip.

(Did I just do the thing where the blog post is more interesting than the published review?)

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