I think I mentioned in a blog post earlier this year that I had purchased an XBox 360 and bought a copy of MLB 2K6 as soon as it was available (you can get it now for $19.95). I've now played two full seasons in Franchise mode (using the default settings) as the Cubs and wanted to share the results.
In season one (2006) I finished second in the NL Central behind the Cardinals. Although my team won 93 games the Cardinals won 105 and I was never really in the race. I was hampered by injuries to Todd Walker (60 games) and Ronny Cedeno and underperformance by Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. I was able to flip Greg Maddux and a couple throw-ins for Ben Sheets and J.J. Hardy although Hardy ended up in the minors. I also upgraded by acquiring Wily Mo Pena to play left field. Carlos Zambrano was the brightest spot as he won the Cy Young award.
For the first two-thirds of the season I simulated the games and only set the typical lineups, rotation, and playing time and then let the computer manage each game. I did notice that once I started managing the games myself, the record improved dramatically but too little too late. The computer manager makes poor decisions frequently. When managing the games, however, there is apparently no way to warm up a pitcher when not on defense and so it makes pinch hitting more difficult on occasion. You also don't have the option of setting the defense in manager mode as you do when actually playing the game. You also don't have the option of skipping to the end of the game when it gets out of hand. Another problem which manifested itself in both seasons was that although roster expansion on September 1st is a part of the game, the roster screen wouldn't allow me to bring up any minor leaguers and so I was stuck with 25 players through the end of the season. The trade deadline worked as expected and the options for finding and offering players are pretty decent.
After the season is over you go through a five round draft period and free agent signings before beginning the next season. Players that you haven't extended before the end of the season go into the free agent pool. I've heard from others that there is a bug where the next season will start with a schedule containing only 10 games but I haven't seen that in either of my seasons. The free agent period lasts "10 days" and allows you to make offers and see how the market is progressing. What I've noticed in both trying to re-sign my own players and sign free agents is that when a player says he'll sign with your team for x dollars over y years he's not kidding. I've tried numerous times to offer slightly more money in exchange for fewer years (it seems almost everybody wants a 3-5 year contract) but to no avail. As a result I ended up signing a couple of free agents who would take 2-year contracts. I should have mentioned that before the season you're given a budget with which to work and for the Cubs that was around $75M for the 2006 season. If you reach various milestones you'll receive additional money the following season.
There's also an interesting player morale system whereby each player has a rating that can be boosted by changing his batting order position or adjusting his playing time. Generally it seems that aside from these two variables the aggressiveness settings of the manager also play into how the player feels as well as whether he'll sign with your team as a free agent. You can call team meetings to try and affect the morale but I haven't messed around with this feature that much.
One of the features I liked very much is the Inside Edge scouting reports. In Franchise mode you can use some of your budget to purchase reports for entire teams, hitters, or pitchers and of course they give you a slight advantage. I made sure to purchase them for my primary division rivals and of course its interesting just to look through them since they're based on actual data. Those scouting reports translate into the live action mode as well and when pitching suggest pitches and location and when hitting reveal likely zones for the upcoming pitch.
When I started my second season things started to go haywire. I was able to trade Ben Sheets and Glendon Rusch for Derek Jeter to shore up my hole at shortstop and pick up Scott Kazmir but otherwise started the season with roughly the same roster as the year before. This time, however, the gaming engine seemed to allow my pitchers to dominate at the same time my hitting took off. I was also able to swing a deal for Jason Bay and Craig Miller at mid season by sending Jacque Jones and Michael Barrett to Pittsburgh. The end result of the pitching dominance was that my team went 120-42 with Zambrano and Mark Prior shutting down the rest of the league (throwing three no-hitters between them) and finishing 1-2 in the Cy Young balloting with Prior first this time. Zambrano went 33-4 with a 1.10 ERA and Prior 29-3, 1.05. Both pitched around 300 innings with Prior striking out 481 batters. The third and fourth starters in Jerome Williams and Scott Kazmir both won 19 games with eras in the low 2s and struck out over 200 batters each. On the offensive side Derrek Lee hit 42 homeruns and drove in 137 hitting .327 while Ramirez hit 27 homeruns, Pena 29, and Bay 24. That wasn't the strangest part however. Juan Pierre, who I tried to trade in the offseason, hit .342 with 78 walks and stole 172 bases in 198 attempts. As a result he won the MVP with Lee coming in second. Weird.
In the playoffs I was ousted in the first round by the Mets losing two extra-inning games but did pick up $3M to work with in the following season.
In perusing the other teams statistics it's clear that the rest of the league must have hit something like .240 while my team hit .285. As I mentioned I didn't mess around with any of the settings and wanted to see how the game played out of the box. It'll be interesting to see if the trend continues as I move in the '08 season or if I'll need to start adjusting the settings.
I've not read too many kind things about the game in general (there was a freeze bug that has some workarounds and a patch) but I haven't really been displeased overall. The game did freeze on me initially but after replacing the entire Xbox unit I've not had it lock since. I'll play a live action game occasionally and the game play is decent with the pitching controls and catcher placement being especially well-done. The game does come with some historical teams that can be unlocked and so once I got the cheat codes I was excited to play the 1969 Mets and 1976 Reds. Much to my disappointment the rosters of those teams are populated with no-name players I assume because of licensing issues (the same reason Barry Bonds does not appear in the game). The game could also use more historical stadiums and I've had trouble trying to play in the World Baseball Classic mode which should allow you to play a team all the way through the tournament.
In the final analysis yes the game is a little buggy but I've certainly enjoyed it.