Almost since its inception, 2K Sports has been pretty passionate about The Bigs and its comparisons against Midway's older franchise: MLB Slugfest. So when 2K said that The Bigs is nothing like Slugfest, and that it still preserved the fundamentals of baseball, I was a little curious as to how exactly The Bigs play. In a recent phone conference prior to the game's release, representatives from 2K made it a point to illustrate that The Bigs, while exaggerated, is still a baseball game at heart. So how much of that is true? Well, some.
You see, The Bigs sacrifices various facets of depth to increase playability and pace. For instance, you can, quite literally, finish an inning in less than two minutes. If you're pitching, you can strike out all three of your opponents as fast as one minute, and that goes to show you just one aspect of game's arcade presence. But when you sacrifice for the sake of playability and pace, you will increase frustration. The game's A.I. isn't very smart – particularly, the A.I. on your team.
Where as your opponents' team will always make some ridiculous miracle catches and rob out of dozens of homeruns, you'll have a hard time performing the same actions, because controlling your fielders is mostly dependant on you. Unlike sim games where the fielders will perform various tasks without your input, that isn't the case in The Bigs. The A.I. does briefly control your fielders, for instance if a ball is hit directly to them – they'll catch it. Otherwise, if a ball is flying just over your 3rd baseman, it's your responsibility to react lightning fast and attempt to catch it. Believe me, making that catch won't happen – but it will happen when the same occurs to your computer controlled opponent. And because The Bigs is over simplified, it doesn't have features you can tinker with, such as allowing the A.I. more control over the field, and sliders you can slide around.
When, by some stroke of luck, you aren't getting your homeruns robbed by Jackie Chan-leaping outfielders, who literally, jump up to 50 feet in the air, you may find some amusement out of The Bigs. But not nearly enough amusement to warrant $60. 2K Sports has a pretty solid foundation here to work on, as The Bigs' gameplay definitely shows a lot of promise. The simplistic pitching, which is highly reminiscent of the serve mechanics in Virtua Tennis games, works quite well. Likewise, batting gets the job done well and you aren't forced to play a guessing game of where you have to aim your joystick to make contact. If you swing, most of the time, you'll make some sort of contact – the power of contact depends on which button you press.
The game itself plays pretty straightforward, complete with turbos and a special powerful swing (only available with a full turbo meter) that usually results in a homerun. It features the kind of gameplay you'd expect from an arcade game, and the gameplay you'd expect from a regular baseball game. So yes, it is exaggerated baseball, but it isn't over the top baseball.
In terms of game modes, The Bigs only has the bare minimum in addition to some nifty mini-games and the Rookie Challenge mode – which is basically the status quo mode for sports game today. Of course, in Rookie Challenge, you create a custom player, take him up through thick and thin, eventually taking him into the 'bigs' – the majors, in other words.
But beyond that, there are no franchise modes, team management options, or other in-depth modes commonly found in sports games. But again, The Bigs is arcade baseball, after all. Ultimately, when you're playing this online is when you're likely going to have the most fun. Up to four players can go online and play The Bigs, and I've found that online matches are much better, because the playing field is much more level (less field robberies, etc).
Visually, The Bigs is what you'd expect; exaggerated physiques, some explosive eye-candy, and high flying animations. Athletic detail, while good, features more muscular/larger body-types than the real-life counterparts. So a guy like Jose Valentin, who's already considered a big athlete, looks even more muscular than his real-life counterpart. Likewise, a lankier player like Shawn Green is suddenly looking like Superman. And yes, I am a Mets fan.
Anyways, by face, each athlete resembles his real-life counterpart surprisingly well – some more so than others, but such is always the case. 2K Sports did a fantastic job of modeling each player's face, especially considering that this isn't even a sim game. Strangely enough, a lot of the faces look better in The Bigs than they do on 2K's sim effort MLB 2K7. Much of that may be due to the fact that the faces in The Bigs aren't nearly as zombified as MLB 2K7. Lastly, while the crowds are still monotonous to look at, stadium detail is decent, complete with good lighting and great looking grass.
Clearly the one, and perhaps only, thing to look for in a sports game's audio is its commentary. Sim games typically feature play-by-play as well as color-commentary from two different presenters. Where as arcade sports games almost never feature depth in their commentary, aside from some quick intros, a three-second play update, calling a strike or bal, and a few one liners here and there. So when you're playing The Bigs, don't be surprised to find out that the game is pretty quiet in terms of commentary. Beyond that, there isn't much else here; some effects of explosions, the umpire in the background, the music, and the crowd. It's bare bones stuff, but hey…it is an arcade game.
I like The Bigs a bit, but the reality is that it may not be worth the $60 price-tag. You may want to rent it to see if perhaps you feel its worth the cash for you, but I'd personally suggest waiting until its worth a little less. A $40 price-tag would've suited the game much better, and I'd have been able to easily recommend it for some quick arcade gameplay and fun online matches. Ultimately, The Bigs disappoints as it may be a little too shallow, even for an arcade game. A.I. sliders and fielding features are sorely missed, especially because of how inconsistent those two fields are. Likewise, a proper long-term gameplay mode would've been nice. Rookie Challenge is decent, but some extra meat is needed to justify the price-tag. Hopefully the next iteration makes up for the first one's setbacks – there's a lot of potential here.