Ah, MLB: The Show. One of two baseball series that makes me proud to be a PS3 owner. I've been playing the series on a yearly basis since MLB 08, and while it's been good, MLB 10 felt...too samey for some reason. The mechanics were still in place, but it felt a little reminiscent of some Japanese games of myriad genres: it rested on its laurels and refused to fix some nagging issues that would've made it the perfect baseball game.
So MLB 10 came and went, and I was disinterested for the year, instead looking at MLB 2K10 and being thoroughly impressed with how they FINALLY got their house in order with regard to pitching. The same problems were there: stupid objectives in Road to the Show (I'm a pitcher in the American League
, why am I working on my DRAG BUNTING?!), horrendous online play, and mediocre to bad contact in relation to the batter's eye.
Mauer returns to own Kevin Butler again
With the game more or less stagnant since 2008, what does Sony San Diego do, knowing full well they still have the best baseball game in America? Surprisingly, there is a lot that they have done. The development team has actually gone to an all-analog control scheme, no doubt taking notice of MLB2K's newfound success in that department. Don't fret Show purists, because the button-based control scheme will still be available to you.
Game producer Chris Gill has been quoted as saying, "This is the feature everyone has wanted in our game for years, but we didn't want to do it until we could do it right. People have been asking for a new way to play the game, and now everything you do, whether you're swinging the bat, throwing to first or pitching the ball, it's all done with the right analog stick."
By "doing it right," I hope he means, "We're not 2K Sports. It won't take three years to actually make the controls respectable."
My biggest concern is the same as MLB2K's: home runs will be a dime a dozen. The mechanics are the same, you have to pull back on the stick to step, and follow through to swing. From everything I've read, there's more of a timing mechanic to it, as you have to time the step-then-swing, which means that breaking and off-speed pitches could give analog users headaches with their timing, just like in real life. In addition, you actually select what swing you want, whether it's normal, power or contact. This is an option that really should be left up to the player at the time of swinging, like in MLB2K.
Where any baseball game is worth its salt is in the pitching, and it had better be good, otherwise I'm going back to the old three-click meter scheme, which just isn't as engaging as Pro Yakyu Spirits' Best Pitch Timing system, or 2K's analog system. This system that The Show is using looks more reminiscent of MVP NCAA Baseball 2007 on PS2. The goal is that after selecting your pitch and location, you have to hit your spot by pulling back on the analog stick, and then moving it in the correct direction, depending on what side of the plate you selected, and I'm assuming your pitch. Pitch speed is also determined by how fast you press up on the stick for your follow-through, so for excitable players like me who go all-out with something like this, I'll probably be wearing my pitchers out by the 5th inning.
That's more of a lead than Texas ever had in San Fran in the World Series last year
All in all, it could be a very engaging system. I never played NCAA Baseball '07, but from what gameplay I saw, the pitching system looked great. If they can replicate it in The Show '11, then I'll likely be a happy camper. But there is one potential axle-breaking pothole. If you'll flash back to my MLB 2K8 review, you'll remember that I reported that even the slightest mistake in the game's horrific pitching controls meant that a pitch gets blasted into the stands for a home run. That is the one thing that is scaring the pants off me about the analog pitching in MLB 11.
Even fielding has been mapped to the analog sticks, and that is one area where 2K has excelled is in the field. It's not a hard thing to do, but where they could mess it up is that you're forced to pre-load your throw. Say there's a hot shot to third. There's no time to pre-load your throw, which is realistic I guess, but it could be problematic for the slow rollers and fielding bunts.
A few things need to be fixed, though. First of all is The Show's traditionally bad baserunning controls. The only series this generation to EVER get baserunning right is Konami's Pro Yakyu Spirits. It shouldn't be as hard as it is in The Show, and they should take a page out of Konami's book: square for advancing runners, triangle for sending them back, with the left analog stick pointing towards specific runners if you want to advance them individually.
Instead, The Show requires that you go through a maze of controls just to advance one freaking runner one freaking base! I've lost out on tons extra bases and runs thanks to The Show's shoddy baserunning controls that feel like I'm entering a cheat code rather than playing a baseball game.
Another thing I have to address is the series' traditionally laggy and basically unplayable online. I played a game of MLB 10 tonight online. Nine months after release, you would think that Sony San Diego's code would be up to snuff right? There shouldn't be much lag, ideally none at all, but some is acceptable. But no, there was lag up the wahzoo when I played! I struck out a couple times thanks to the lag and I also missed a spot when pitching in a crucial situation because of it! It's taken four games, and Sony still hasn't figured it out with regard to online.
They promise a lag-free experience this year, and senior producer Jason Villa went on record as saying, "right now with our testing it's as close to offline play as it gets. We're going to continue to improve the stability as much as we can. Some people will tell us they have great connections, others don't, and it's hard to determine what the cause is. You never really know until you ship and get out on the shelves, but believe me, we're doing our best to make sure it's as good as we can possibly get it."
I heard this promise too with Pro Yakyu Spirits 4 on PS3. That game was extremely laggy, but it was still better than The Show, because at least I could hit the ball and pitch rather well. All I can say is that Sony had better get it right, or they will have lost a longtime customer. This is also coming from a guy who has the highest-speed Comcast connection you can have, and I don't lag on any of my other games.
No, Matt Cain. They still won't notice you. But I will. ^_^
Finally, there's the fun but fatally flawed Road to the Show Mode. Since its inclusion in MLB '08, it's been a deal-maker for me, as I can live out my fantasies of being a Major League pitcher. However, there have been some problems with the system, and more changes have been made to the game itself. For example, dynamic goals are now out. In the past, you were supposed to meet certain goals in at-bats. Get ahead in the count, draw a walk, get a double play, advance the runner, all sorts of things. Now, your performance as a whole is measured, and there are more statistics involved with manager decisions. The training this year is level-based, which I hope eliminates the stupid training goals using points like past seasons (FREAKING DRAG BUNTING?! AND I'M A PITCHER?!!?!?!). Depending on how you do, the training will be flexible and progressive, and will naturally tack on more as you level up. Road to the Show has been called a "baseball RPG," but it certainly looks like it will be even more like that this year.
Other additions that have been made are cooperative play, for up to four players, 3D support (no headaches for me, thank you very much), support for PlayStation Move, and weekly challenges that may result in players getting real-world prizes, including grand prizes like trips to the All-Star Game or World Series. That is pretty cool, but let's see how they are in execution.
Finally, there have been yet more improvements to the game's aesthetics. First off, there are accurate broadcast cameras for every stadium (straight-on NESN camera at Fenway Park FTW!). Former Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros replaces the funny-but-grating Rex Hudler as the second color man in the booth alongside MLB Network's Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell. A dynamic rain and cloud system has also come into play, as that could affect on-field performance with regard to batted balls and fielding, but I still would like to see real-world weather. Also, there's a fake throw system implemented, but I don't know how effective this will be.
All in all, MLB 11: The Show is taking risks that the series needs to take. The game finally looks fresh again, and I certainly hope that it's more entertaining than last year, because last year's game was about as entertaining as the Red Sox were last year. With an up-and-coming MLB 2K series barreling down on it, The Show looks like it's going to keep its rival in the rear-view mirror. read