At its best, 2K Sports’ “The Bigs 2” plays like a lightning-fast, heavily muscled version of America’s pastime. Huge, brutish men smash tape-measure home runs and leap 20 feet in the air to take them away. With a press of the “turbo” button, average fielders can impersonate Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series, sprinting into an open outfield space to make an impossible catch. Line drives nearly take pitchers’ heads off and plays at the plate result in frenzied, button-mashing showdowns between baserunner and catcher, with the loser typically suffering some sort of bone-jarring injury.
Even though its trappings would make any baseball purist or critic of the steroid era cringe, “The Bigs 2” (rated E, $40 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii; $20 on PlayStation Portable, DS or PS2) might be the best hardball game 2K’s put out since signing its exclusive licensing agreement with Major League Baseball before the 2006 season. The game is free of most of the bugs that have plagued each spring’s flagship release, and the five-inning format and simple-to-grasp controls and interface will appeal to a broader audience than the usual core of sports-game diehards.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t try to have it both ways. The Become a Legend mode, essentially the heart of the game, has you trying to win enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., not by tediously simulating your way through a career’s worth of games, but by starting out as an established star rehabbing from an injury. You’ll play the final four years of his career before trying to win over Hall of Fame voters by literally besting baseball’s legends on the field of play.
It’s a cool conceit. The player you create will take the field alongside a team of aspiring not-quite-good-enoughs like Ron Santo, Edgar Martinez, Bobby Grich and Jack Morris with the aim of besting guys like Ted Williams, Tom Seaver, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers.
In its ugliest moments, though, Become a Legend mode plays like a synthesis of the movie “Groundhog Day” and the “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer promises a dying kid that the New York Yankees’ Paul O’Neill will hit two home runs in a game. Many of the mode’s important games require your created player to meet some target, such as stealing three bases or getting four hits. (Remember, these are five-inning contests.) This means you’ll often find yourself playing the same game ad nauseum, hitting “restart” every time your created player grounds out or gets thrown out trying to steal third.
Consequently, how much you enjoy “The Bigs 2” will depend on what type of gamer you are. If you, like me, enjoy gritting your way through a punishing challenge for the false sense of accomplishment you feel when it’s over, 2K’s arcade-style game is right up your alley. If, however, you’re the sort who gets discouraged after a few failures and moves onto the next game, “The Bigs 2” is not for you.
Of course, there’s more to “The Bigs” than Become a Legend. Season mode has you gunning for some of baseball’s one-year and one-game feats, such as hitting 73 home runs in a season or driving in 12 runs in a game. Home Run Derby turns you loose on Tokyo, Las Vegas or New York and lets you hit moon shots that shower the town with neon. And online play will come down to which player can pull off the most great catches, strikeouts and amazing hits to fill the game’s Big Play meter the fastest. The meter, present in all online and offline game modes, allows you to do crazy things such as come to the plate with two outs and the bases empty and hit a grand slam after connecting on four quick pitches.