Baseball may be one of the most important sports in American history, but that doesn’t mean everyone loves it. Chances are if you have three friends, at least one will admit to loving the game and another will absolutely despise it. In the world of baseball videogames, the love and hate distinction is equally prevalent. A casual sports fan can sink his teeth into FIFA just as easily as a once-a-year golfer can enjoy a round of Tiger Woods PGA Tour. But if that same sports fan isn’t crazy about baseball, chances are they will be bored to tears in a game based on one of America’s favourite past times. For the semi-fan and hardcore baseball fanatic, however, Sony’s San Diego Studio has consistently delivered a top-notch gameplay experience in the well-crafted MLB The Show series.
With this year’s offering, MLB 11: The Show, that same top-notch experience fans love just got a hell of a lot better. MLB 11 features a host of new features, including PlayStation Move support (only for Homerun Derby), analog controls, four-player offline and online co-op, and 3D support. But these in-your-face changes pale in comparison to the overall crisp and authentic baseball experience. Needless to say, baseball aficionados will love the attention to stadium details, crowds, player animations, quick Challenges of the Week, the Road to The Show, and the ability to adjust nearly every gameplay element to their liking.
Once again, San Diego Studio delivers one of the best looking sports games on the market. The level of detail is truly impressive. For one, the crowds are different at each stadium. Instead of a mass of people, the stadium is filled with individuals; people actually walk around and react to the game in a more realistic manner than in any other sports game. The players look authentic, too. But what really stands out is the feeling conveyed in the different stadiums. The cameras actually change depending on which stadium you are in. The ambiance is remarkable for a sports game, and that means even the semi-fan will feel eager to impress the home crowd.
There is a clear shift to analog controls in sports games, for better or worse, and The Show delivers a smooth new system for pitching, batting, and fielding. Pitching using the analog stick is pretty much the best control upgrade in the game. The system is very similar to the standard pitch meter, but you use the right analog stick to direct your speed and direction. Instead of wacky analog rolls or twitches to pull off curve balls or sliders, The Show simply requires you to pick a pitch and move the analog stick in the appropriate direction (and path) to skim a ball over the plate. You pull back on the right analog stick to start your pitch, and push it forward to throw the ball.
Batting, on the other hand, is only made more frustrating using the analog controls. It may be a more authentic experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s more enjoyable. Still, the best hitters in real life only hit three out of ten pitches, so it only makes sense that batting is difficult in The Show. As such, the fact that batting is slow and frustrating means San Diego Studio nailed the experience as accurately as possible—after all, just think of all the bats thrown to the ground during actual baseball games. You can turn all these features off in the game’s user menu if you wish, however. Furthermore, since you can dumb-down the gameplay, the hardcore baseball follower will be able to play with the less-avid fan on a relatively equal margin.
Road to The Show returns in its fifth generation, and little has changed over the years. If you want to take a rookie and bring him to the majors, this is the mode for you. You start off by creating a character, giving him a nick name, country of origin, and applying the obligatory facial and body tweaks. This year introduces an interactive slider to adjust your player’s attributes. You’ll also get new training mini-game modes and improved stat comparison. This career simulator, along with the Franchise mode, is the bread n’ butter for any baseball fan, but it’s hard to recommend it to anyone who just wants to play some innings.
The Show is an extremely solid baseball experience, but it does have some missteps, mainly with the commentary. Sure, it doesn’t break the overall experience, but the addition of Eric Karros does nothing to improve the broadcast booth. Beyond the lame commentary, the MLB 11 boasts some rather brutal load screens. Yes, I understand that the game is loading nine innings of gameplay, but at least give us something cool to look at during the lengthy process. Obviously neither of these points kill the overall experience, and we can’t help but praise MLB 11 for providing such a terrific baseball simulation.
It should be clear to this point that I don’t think this is the right game for a non-sports fan. There are sports games that offer some additional modes to either provide a break from the standard gameplay or entice non-sports fans. MLB 11: The Show only has one solid gameplay mode for the non-sports fan, and that’s Homerun Derby. Using PlayStation Move for this mode is a ton of fun, though; it’s easy to pick up and play, and offers a quick competition for a small group of friends. In the future, I’d love to see Move even further integrated into the core mechanics of the game.
MLB 11: The Show is yet another homerun. It’s not quite a grand slam, but more of the same with a little extra sugar is plenty to bring fans of the series back for another inning. While it doesn’t have much to offer non-baseball fans (and really, why should it?), there is fun to be had playing with your buddies in online and offline co-op. Pick your position, and hit the field to play. The slight tweaks to gameplay, added 3D support, and the addition of PlayStation Move compatibility in Homerun Derby makes this one of the best entries in the series, if not the best to date.