Being the generous person that I am, and certainly not because I’m a giant nerd, I picked up MLB 2K9 for the Xbox 360 at a midnight release (I was slightly less nerdy than the guys buying Halo Wars) so I could give you my impressions. I apologize for the length of this post, but it’s a bit of a stream-of-consciousness post that I put up as I was playing the game. I think it’ll give you the best idea of what my general initial impressions of the game are. Away we go.

The first thing I noticed as I was installing the game to my 360’s hard drive is that the manual absolutely sucks. I don’t know if this is becoming a trend in video games, but the manual tells you what buttons to push, and that’s about it. I guess it’s not that big a deal, since reading is for sissies.

Once the game is installed, I start it up. I’m greeted first by Gary Thorne (thank God Joe Morgan and Jon Miller are done with the series) by a very unassuming menu showing a picture of Tim Lincecum following through on a pitch. The options? Press “Start.” Will do. As I do, Len’s Steal My Sunshine fires up. I’m going to have a stern talking-to with Kasper.

The game asks me if I want to enable Living Rosters, which is a constant downloadable update to “keep players and their attributes completely authentic to where and how they are playing in the real MLB season…without deleting your created players or teams.” I enable the rosters. I like my rosters like I like my women. Living. After enabling the Living Rosters, I get an immediate roster update. There was, however, no patch as of 12:30 a.m., although the developer has said that a patch will be available today to fix a few issues.

The menu takes you right to a “Play Now” game with the Rays vs. Phillies, which was the demo of the game. No thanks. I’ve had enough of that matchup. Instead, I hit the right thumbstick to use the main menu.

First things first. I have to do what I always do when I first get an MLB game: load up Cardinals at Cubs, put Zambrano on the mound, and bean Pujols in the dick. Wrigley looks pretty sweet, despite the absurd State Farm billboard added to the left of the scoreboard. Schumaker lines out to Fontenot on the first pitch. Gary Thorne just said defensively the Cubs are “very confident” with Ryan Theriot out there. I am “very confident” you’re not a Muppet, Gary. Sure enough, Ludwick bounces a grounder just past Theriot for a base hit, and Pujols comes up. I missed his dick, but I got him pretty good with a 2-seamer to the hip. Okay, that’s enough of that. I’m going to back out and screw around with the rest of the game. Just kidding. I beaned Ankiel in the elbow. NOW I’m done. For what it’s worth, Zambrano was shaken after the second beaning, with the pitching cursor jumping around and the bases loaded. Nifty.

One thing that is immediately annoying is that the fucking organ, which has been in the game since MLB 2K6, is back. However, soundtracks are customizable, and the walkup music isn’t always organ music, so it’s not as noticeable as it was in years past.

After backing out of the game, I check out the roster. Bako is on it. Damnit. He is the worst player on the team at a 67 overall rating. Gathright is a 70, Miles and Hoffpauir are 69s. Hee hee. I scroll over to the pitchers, and have to take it back. Neal Cotts is the worst player on the team with a 66 OVR. Chad Fox (seriously?) is a 67, and poor Chad Gaudin is a 69. Garrett Olson is still on the team, yet so is Heilman. Oops. I try to move Olson to the Mariners, but that’s going to put their team over their roster limit, so I need to make other adjustments, and I just don’t want to screw around with that right now.

I scan around the rest of the menu, and enter the heading labeled “Features.” Underneath that header, the “MLB Living Roster” has the latest player news. Carlos Marmol is on there, as they report that he’s trying to hold off Kevin Gregg for the closer role. Kyle Farnsworth is also trying to hold off Gregg as “biggest meathead to don a Cubs uniform. In other news, “Schumaker starts taking balls at 2B.” Hee hee!

Moving on to the rest of the “Features,” I see that there are already rosters and sliders online which you can download from 2K Share. I download the top-rated roster. Let’s see if they have Olson on the Mariners. The roster is pretty quick to download, less than 30 seconds. Olson is still a Cub. IDIOT. You can search for certain shared items by user name or by keyword. Three sets of sliders already being shared, but I’m going to start on All-Star difficulty and adjust from there. I don’t know what the hell “Player DNA” is, but I can assure you I don’t want to download it unless I have Windex around to clean it up.

Another feature is the trailer for The Bigs 2. The first iteration of that game was silly and fun. The second looks like more of the same, though Roberto Clemente, Ozzie Smith, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, and Wade Boggs looked like they were in the game. Either 2K incorporated classic rosters, or they just have horribly out-of-date ones.

All right. Enough dicking around. It’s franchise time, as I set up a new one. I have the option to control all 30 MLB teams if I want to, but I’ll just go with the Cubs and Twins for now. It’s kind of cool that they show you a team profile for each team with team ratings, “Key Players” (Soriano, Aramis, Zambrano), budget, and payroll.

I have the option to let the CPU manage the Iowa Cubs (pitching rotation, injuries, etc.), and I’m going to do so. Only AAA is playable this year, which is fine with me since I don’t think I played a single minor league game in 2K8. If you’re really into playing with the Daytona Cubs, though, you might be pissed off that they’re not included this year. Sorry.

The main franchise screen is a screen with shows top news headlines, yet the Muskbox is suspiciously absent. The top story is that Vladimir Guerrero is close to joining the 400 HR club, and that Randy Johnson is close to 300 wins. The one Cub-related headline? “Will this finally be the Cubs’ year?” God damnit. Clicking the “link” for the Cubs story takes me to the team summary page.

Just so you know, since there is nowhere else I can think to put this, there is NO Spring Training mode. Oh, well.

At the bottom of the page is a scoreboard showing that days’ games, which you can scroll sideways to show scores from previous dates. Once you get used to the buttons, it’s a pretty simple system to use.

I move on to screwing around with Franchise settings. I’m putting “Action Replays” to “Often.” I’m also turning off the ball trail, but I’m leaving on the strike zone. I’m a hacker of a hitter in video game baseball, so I need all the help I can get. Dude. I’m not going to mess with difficulty settings yet, because I want to see how the game plays on the default All-Star difficulty. I’m also going to turn on Zone Hitting (really cursor hitting), mostly because none of the reviews I have read have said boo about it, from what I can tell.

All right. Time to play a damn game. The Cubs open in Houston this year, so it’s Zambrano vs. Oswalt for Game One. Stupid 2K still can’t figure out that the Cubs wear their blue tops on the road with gray pants, so it looks like Z doesn’t get his blueberry jersey tonight. Road grays it is.

The 2K9 graphics are good enough for me, but they’re definitely not great. I’d say the stadiums look great. The player models look very good. And the faces are mostly bad. The intro to the game really feels like the start of a baseball game, with Thorne and his booth partner Steve Phillips (ugh) introducing the pitchers and the starting lineup. There are many camera options for hitting and pitching, but none for fielding. Boo. I’m going to zoom in my batting camera to 9 so I can hopefully distinguish balls from strikes more effectively. It’s incredibly effective, as Soriano whiffs badly on three pitches, and virtual Chuck to Chuck rejoices.

One thing that worried me about using the batting cursor was whether or not it was going to “snap” to different angles. To badly explain, I was worried that the cursor would be on a horizontal plane when it was at the top of the zone, and then “snap” to a downward angle as you move the bat down in the zone. I’m happy to say it doesn’t. The bat head drops as you move down in the zone, just like a real bat would. Oswalt is throwing a lot of strikes, so I’m guessing I’m going to have to adjust sliders. Theriot whiffs on three pitches. I think that last one was a ball. Oops.

Lee hits it off the end of the bat, and I get the exact result I’d expect. He bounces out weakly to Matsui. I like how it fades to black between innings like they’re going to a commercial break. In the bottom of the first, I get Matsui trying to golf a low splitter on a 2-2 count, and he flies out to Fukudome. Zambano jams Bourn, but he [Chip Caray]FISTS[/Chip Caray] the ball into center for a hit. I pick him off on my first throw over there. I heard that easy pickoffs are a problem, so I might need to adjust the sliders.

The CPU taking strikes was also supposedly a problem. I just threw a nice slider past Tejada for strike one looking. I got him swinging on a 2-seamer on the outside corner, as they show a “camera” shot of Lou! Or zombie Lou. These faces are pretty bad and occasionally horrifying.

In the top of the 2nd, Aramis crushes a leadoff double to right center. I think I put that one right on the “sweet spot” of the cursor, and the result felt pretty darn realistic. In a pretty cool animation, that twink Hunter Pence reached for it, but it was just beyond his glove and bounced to the wall. Pence crashed into the wall like it was a sliding glass door.

Oswalt IS throwing balls out of the strike zone, by the way. I’m just swinging at them, as Bradley is quickly down 0-2. Bradley lines out to Tejada for the first out.

Fukudome’s stance is pretty good, but does he really choke up about six inches on the bat? Seriously. His hands are about one Mike Fontenot up the bat. The idiot pops out to the catcher for out number two. Way to go.

Soto lines one right back up the middle for a base hit, but I have clue how to send Aramis home, so he stands on third, sucking wind. REALISM. Fontenot promptly lines a double to left center, allowing Aramis to crawl home like the lazy bastard that Barry Rozner thinks he is. 1-0 Cubs. VIRTUAL WORLD SERIES, HERE WE COME!

I sure hope Oswalt doesn’t discover that I cannot hit his curve ball, as Z is down 0-2. If you’re a graphics whore, by the way, the faces in this game are seriously horrible. They just showed a “shot” of Soto at third, and he looked like he was wearing a skin mask that he cut off Pudge Rodriguez. Ah, Z strikes out on a pitch out of the zone. I am such a hacker.

By the way, the pitching camera settings are awesome in this game. I’m using Zoom 3, Position 5, Height 6. It looks like a broadcast camera.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Soto is calling for a first-pitch cutter up in the zone to Berkman. Um, no. I shake him off and throw a 2-seamer just off the plate that misses for ball one. Soto then calls for a cutter way up out of the zone, and Berkman goes for it, squibbing a weak grounder to Fontenot. I seriously think I’ve already seen more hit variety in 1.1 innings of MLB 2K9 than I did in a lot of games of 2K8.

Up steps my video game nemesis, Carlos Lee. Never has a game been programmed in which I could get this fucker out. Except this one. He goes after a cutter on the outside corner and rolls one over to Fontenot. Hey, remember that time Zambrano no-hit the Astros and they cried about it for months? Douchebags.

Twink Pence rolls out to Theriot on a slider low and away. I like the number of ground balls I’m seeing, especially against Zambrano.

Soriano selfishly flies out to Lee to start the third. One cool thing I’ve noticed with Theriot walking up are the little stats. The game informed me earlier that Fukudome has 58 career RBIs, and it just showed that Theriot has a .290 career batting average. Nice little touch. I assume it updates as the franchise progresses.

Have I taken a pitch yet? Theriot is down 0-2. Now, 0-3. For some reason, he’s walking back to the dugout. A nifty pitch tracker comes up and shows me that Oswalt IS throwing balls, and that I just suck. Sure enough, Oswalt seems to have “learned” that I’m going to swing at everything off the outside corner, as he gets Lee on three straight pitches off the outside corner.

Okay, I just got a glitch that I’ve seen some people mention. Geoff Blum hit a grounder to Theriot, who fielded and threw a “good” throw (the throwing meter was in the green) to Lee, but for some reason Lee was pulled off the bag and Blum was safe at first. Fix this, VC. You bastards. To be fair, they DID count it as an error.

I have to say, this real-time atmosphere thing is damn cool. For the most part, I’m writing in between pitches, but the times I’ve looked up, the game really takes care in keeping track of where everyone is on the field. It definitely lends to the broadcast feel of the game.

Humberto Quintero lines a hit to left, and Zambrano is in trouble. I sure hope Oswalt bunts in this situation with guys on first and second and no one out. Fortunately, he does, and Lee barely gets him (actually, I think I got a break, as he looked safe to me). Fucking Matsui BARELY bloops one in fair territory down the right field line to score Blum. 1-1.

Ooo. Bourn just took a 2-seamer on the black to run the count to 0-2. I think if you execute your pitches well, you might see the CPU taking more pitches. Z backdoor sliders him for a CALLED third strike. I haven’t messed with sliders at all, and the CPU is indeed taking some strikes here.

Not Tejada, though.

He crushes a triple off the left field wall to score two runs. 3-1 Astros. Berkman follows up with a double to right. 4-1. GOD DAMNIT, Z! I honestly don’t think I executed those last two pitches very well. I wish they gave you some feedback as to what you’re doing. Maybe they do so in Practice Mode. But practice? That’s for CHUMPS.

I intentionally put Lee on first with a runner on 2nd and two outs. Fuck you, Lee. I get Pence to bounce out to MY Lee to end the inning, but the damage is done. 4-1 Astros.

Aramis is 2-2, as he leads off the fourth with a base hit to center. Unfortunately, Miguel Tejada puts down his walker for long enough to retire Bradley on a 6-4-3 double play. God damn, I can’t take a pitch. Fukudome whiffs on three pitches, two of those out of the zone.

The P.A. guy just called Geoff Blum “Jeff Bloom.” He should have gone with “Jee-Off Bloom.” Jee-Off rolls out to Lee for the first out. Humberto Quintero then lines out to Theriot. My little video game Theriot seriously jumped higher for that liner than the actual Theriot can. No, I don’t mean “to scale.”

Ugh. Zambrano gives up a 2-out hit to Oswalt. Oswalt drives himself to first on his John Deere tractor. Matsui fortunately hits a sharp grounder to Theriot, who flips to Fontenot to end the inning.

Soto leads off the fifty inning. He seriously looks like a tranny. He grounds out to Matsui for the first out, and is followed by a lineout from Fontenot to Blum. Zambrano strikes out on three pitches. Seriously, I blow at this game.

Zambrano’s splitter is disgusting. Soto should call for it more. Z gets Bourn to ground out to Lee. Lee pulled a Jeter, moving to his right and unnecessarily flinging himself five feet in the air to throw back to Z covering first. Tejada grounds out to Theriot on a cutter for the second out.

Sweet. I just saw a check swing from Berkman on a high fastball for ball one. Check swings were so very rare in 2K8. Berkman smoked the second pitch just over Aramis’ head into left for a base hit. And here comes Lee. The pixelated bastard lines a base hit through the right side of the infield.

Twink Pence follows with a double down the left field line. Maybe it’s me, but I feel like balls hit down the line are “sucked” into fair territory. And I thought the Cubs got rid of Jim Edmonds. Anyhow, it’s now 5-1 Astros. Either Zambrano doesn’t have it tonight, or I don’t. I blame him. Blum lines out softly to center for the third out.

In the top of the 6th, I get the bullpen up. Christ, I forgot to kill Chad Fox, and he’s sitting in my bullpen. I’m going to give Heilman some innings, so I he gets the call.

Leading off the 6th, Soriano SELFISHLY gets a ball off the sweet spot, and drives a solo shot into the Astro bullpen in right center. The ball wasn’t a moon shot by any stretch of the imagination, which is reassuring. That’s also the first home run I’ve hit in the demo or in the retail game. MILESTONE. 5-2 Astros.

Theriot gets jammed a bit, but manages to knock an inside pitch into left field for a soft single. Lee whiffs on three pitches for Oswalt’s 8th strikeout. I suck.

Aramis comes up, and his little player stats box says “Aramis Ramirez has the nickname A-Ram.” I hope the next time his box says, “Many Cubs fans are idiots.” Aramis flies out to Lee for the second out.

Bradley comes up. Oswalt checks Theriot at first. It’s pretty cool when an opposing pitcher throws over to check a runner. The “camera” quickly cuts to a side view of Oswalt, and I pound the right trigger to have Theriot dive back safely. Bradley lines a base hit into left center. First and third, two outs, tying run at the plate in Fukudome. Fukudome TAKES (you impressed?) a strike on the outside corner. Steve Phillips suggested that Oswalt throw a curveball on an 0-1 count to “punch him out.” Steve Phillips is an idiot. ACCURATE! Fukudome whiffs on an outside fastball, because he sucks. It’s not my fault.

I’m bringing in Heilman to try to keep this within three runs. Zombie Lou is seriously nightmare fuel, as he looks hungrily at my brains while taking out Zambrano. Heilman is wearing number 49. That’s going to have to change, pal. Quintero takes a check swing strike and then a nasty circle change for strike three. I know the CPU is over-aggressive, but I’m definitely seeing the CPU take some strikes.

Oswalt lines a hit just past Theriot’s glove for his second hit of the game. Freaking redneck. Ooo, cool play. Matsui grounded one to Lee, who threw to Theriot for an out. On the throw back to first, everyone was late to cover, so the ball sailed into the dugout fence. Matsui is now on first with two outs. Matsui tries to take second (good news, as steals did NOT happen in 2K8), but Soto guns him down to end the 6th.

AS SO OFTEN HAPPENS after a good play, Soto comes up in the top of the 7th, but he bounces out to Blum. Fontenot follows with a one-hopper to Matsui for the second out. I realize what a bad manager I am when Heilman comes up, and I need to scramble to call up my bullpen so I can hit for him. I get Jeff Samardzija up and bring in Micah Hoffpauir to hit. Hoffpauir rewards me with a base hit to left, and I bring in Gathright to run for him, mostly because I want to try stealing. Joey nabs second as Soriano takes a strike. But then Soriano whiffs for Oswalt’s 10th strikeout. I am a failure.

Samardzija comes in to pitch the 7th. One knock on the “real-time atmosphere.” It takes Shark a long-ass time to get from the bullpen to the mound. I guess that’s actually pretty cool, though, since that’s exactly what happens in a baseball game. Shark gets Bourn to ground out to Theriot for the first out. Fontenot follows that up with a nice play on Tejada on a grounder behind the second base bag for the second out.

I’m finding that the better I execute my pitches, the more likely I’m get the computer either chasing balls or taking strikes. I’ve just gotten Tejada and Berkman to chase pitches out of the zone because the pitches were well executed. On the flip side, I just effed up a pitch to Berkman, and he drilled it to left for a double. That means it’s time to walk Lee again. With runners on first and second, Pence lines a hit to Soriano, but Alf SELFISHLY guns down Berkman at the plate to keep the score 5-2.

Theriot leads off the 8th with a shot to Matsui, but Kazuo makes a diving stab to keep the ball in the infield and retire Theriot. Lee follows with his first hit of the season, a single to right. I prove I still can’t take a pitch, as Aramis goes down on three of them, only one near the strike zone. Bradley pulls one to Berkman, who makes a diving stop and runs to the bag to end the inning.

Soriano (well, I) misplay a fly ball by Blum that lands for a double. Then, I let Fukudome overthrow third, so Blum makes it all the way to third to start the bottom of the 8th. With the infield in, Quintero lines out to Fontenot. The CPU brings in Erstad to hit for Oswalt (thank GOD). With the infield in again, Erstad grounds out to Theriot. Matsui lines out to Soriano for the third out. Nice job by Shark in pitching out of the jam.

Valverde comes in to close, and HOLY GOD, I TOOK A BALL! I didn’t take two, though (hee hee!), as Fukudome grounds out to Blum. Soto follows up with a groundout to Matsui. Seriously, with the cursor hitting, I’m getting VERY realistic results. Soto’s groundout was off the end of the bat, and I swung a bit late. I’d expect a groundout to Matsui. Fontenot pops out to Tejada in short center field to end the game. 5-2 Astros.

2K goes to the postgame, naming Oswalt the Pepsi Clutch Performer with his 8 IP and 11 Ks. Then, some of the game highlights are shown. After that is done, you can view the Clutch Performer again, view the top three plays (which are presented in a very cool fashion), watch the “Great Grabs,” or watch the “Signature Highlights,” which appear to be highlights for the individual players on the team. For example, when I selected Gathright, they showed his steal. Very nice.

I also apparently earned the Kazuo Matsui trading card by retiring him three times in the game. I will trade you my Matsui card for a punch in the face.

Since I know box scores are pretty telling, I scored 2 runs on 9 hits with 2 errors, and the Astros scored 5 runs on 13 hits with 0 errors. The only home run was Soriano’s selfish bomb. That’s realistic, especially considering I don’t think I was pitching very well. I also noticed that when you look back at the box score, you can view the replay of any play in the game. That’s a neat feature. I save Soriano’s homer for posterity, and to rub it in Chuck to Chuck’s face.

The scores from around the league are very realistic. Some low-scoring affairs, with the highest-scoring game being an 11-5 win by the Reds over the Mets. I will try to keep you posted as to my impressions this week, but so far, I am very impressed with how my first game played. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section. I actually have the day off, so I plan on getting in a lot of gameplay during the day, and I will answer them to the best of my ability.