Opening day is finally here and I’ve put MLB 10: The Show through its spring training paces. Is this the best baseball game ever or am I just happy it’s baseball season again?
The presentation and graphics of MLB 10 are some of the best the PS3 has to offer along with Uncharted 2 and God of War 3. There’s not another sports game that comes close to the amount of detail found in this game. All of the stadiums are beautifully rendered including the Twins new home, Target Field. Every scoreboard works as it should, you’ll see the current batter, his stats, and the pitchers pitch count up on the big screen in the stadium along with special animations when a significant play happens such as a homerun, walk, strikeout, etc. In franchise or season mode, you’ll see the out of town scores updated as the game progresses. They also have the details that make stadiums unique such as the Ivy at Wrigley doesn’t turn green until it gets warm, you can hit one out into McCovey Cove at AT&T Park which will update the splash counter in the stadium, and the Liberty Bell rings when the Phillies hit one out at Citizens Bank Park. Last year’s big addition was the real time lighting transition when playing a game that started around dusk. This year they’ve taken that idea a step further by having real time lighting in all games so that you’ll see the shadows creep across the field in a realistic manner as the game progresses and when it’s cloudy, you’ll see the shadows for those too. The fans are really well done and while they still repeat, it’s not as apparent as it has been in years past. You’ll see them stand to cheer, go for foul balls, and even lean over the rails for a ball if it comes close. The authenticity of the ball parks and their unique quirks are only part of what make this game stand out.
Player models, for the most part, look like their real life counterparts although it’s time for the MLB: The Show team to finally deliver the new player models that they’ve been working on the past couple of years. The models haven’t had any significant upgrades since this series debuted on the PS3. What makes the player models really stand out is the animation of the players since there is an absolute plethora of motion-captured animations for almost any situation. You’ll see underhanded tosses to second to begin the double play, bare handed grab and throws, throws from the knees, outfielders round off realistically when approaching a ball on the ground, and also play balls off the wall fairly well. You’ll see a great variety in batting stances and pitching motions as well. There are some clipping issues on occasion, most notably on slides, where the player seems to go through a part of another player, and plays at the wall in certain stadiums where the collision detection is a bit off, but this is unfortunately a side effect of the old player models.
Aurally, the game is pretty good at making you feel as if you’re at the ballpark. The crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, crowd noise, umpires, stadium specific sounds, music, etc… are all really well done. The commentary is still some of the best in the business but is growing quite stale for those of us who’ve been playing the series for a while. I want the commentators to talk more about how my players/teams are doing in the season overall, not just how they are performing for that particular game. Sure they bring up hitting streaks, milestones, but I’d like them to comment on things like how player x has fared against pitcher x the last time the two faced each other. The sounds of the game feature is great for those who want to customize their experience by putting their own batter walkup music, reliever entrance music, home run music, and even custom cheers and jeers for players (this requires a mic connected to the PS3). The music editor is pretty straightforward, allowing you to pick any song on your PS3 hard drive and setting up to 3 marks of where you want to start the song when it’s played in game. Then all you do is go to the player(s) of your choice and edit them.
All of the aesthetics would mean nothing if the game play wasn’t great but thankfully, it is. The pitching/batting is the meat and potatoes of any baseball game. If a baseball game fails at this, than it is virtually unplayable in my opinion. The Show has the most realistic video game representation of this showdown that I’ve ever played. On the surface, the mechanics of it are fairly simple. On the pitcher’s side, you pick a pitch with the corresponding button, set the location you desire with the left stick, and then, by default, use a golf swing type meter to determine the power and accuracy of the pitch. (A classic pitch control is available which I believe all you have to do is pick the pitch, aim, and push the button to throw letting the pitcher’s attributes handle the rest.) On the batter’s side, you can guess the pitch and location (optional, for me I turn this off), if you guess right then it indicates it on the screen and you get a ratings boost for that pitch. Also before the pitch you can influence the type of hit that you want by using the right stick, for example, if you have a runner on 3rdwith less than two outs, then you would push up on the right stick to try and get a fly ball, but it isn’t automatic. After the pitch is thrown, you aim your swing with the left stick and either take a power (square) swing or a contact (X) swing. This all sounds really simple right? Wrong. This is where The Show’s learning curve is the steepest, particularly on the batting side of things but once you learn the intricacies, is very rewarding. Adjusting to the speed of the pitches, the different types, determining what’s a ball or a strike in seconds, and learning to be patient at the plate instead of hacking at anything that comes near the plate are all things that you will have to learn in order to become a successful hitter in The Show. I recommend for new players, playing on rookie mode which only requires you to press the X button and time the swing properly then once you’ve become used to that, step up the difficulty. There are several different views and sliders for both hitting and pitching so find a set that suits you best. On the harder levels, pitchers will work the corners and will also continue to test you if you keep chasing pitches outside of the zone and hitters (especially Ryan Howard, ugh) will punish you for hanging one over the plate. You’ll also want to make use of the pickoff while pitching to keep runners on base honest. Umpires, by default, are variable meaning that they each have their own definition of the strike zone and will make the occasional bad call or consistently call border line calls strikes or balls. The only real negative is that there are far too many passed balls, wild pitches, beaned batters, and dropped third strikes even with the sliders tweaked (though a lot better with the tweaks).
Once the ball is put in play, it becomes pretty standard video baseball game fare, with visual cues to show who you are controlling, where the ball is going to land if it’s in the air, and the ability to make diving and leaping catches with the push of a button. Throwing isn’t much more complicated either as the buttons are mapped to the corresponding bases depending on the game mode and the view you are facing. Hold down the corresponding button to determine the strength of the throw before the ball is in the glove to “pre-load” the throw. The harder the throw, the higher chance for an error, so be careful. Base running is easy once you get acquainted with the controls. Hold down L1 to advance all of the runners and R1 to retreat all or if you’re looking to control one runner, use the left stick to highlight that player’s yellow circle on the diamond overlay and push the corresponding base button to tell the player which base to advance or retreat to. The presentation and animations already mentioned are what makes this part of the game so fun to watch unfold.
Online play still has its share of lag issues but it’s noticeably better than last year. I’ve played a few games and haven’t had one yet that I considered unplayable. For best performance, use a wired connection. I have yet to play in a league yet since everyone is waiting on opening day rosters so I will not be going into much detail about the online play. Although, I’m hopeful that they can get the lag issues addressed and give us a fully functional online franchise next year instead of a glorified season mode where trading is pretty much meaningless since prospects are worthless in a single season league.
Offline, you have a few different modes to play with. The main ones being Franchise, Road to the Show, and the Home Run Derby mini-game.
Home Run Derby is a fun, albeit easy diversion. Its set up just like the major league all star version as in you get 10 outs per round and every swing that isn’t a homer is considered an out. Hitting in this mode is very easy and just requires you to aim and press a button to swing. I can see this mode being a lot of fun with a few friends over but alone it gets pretty monotonous after a couple of rounds.
Franchise mode will let you control one team or all teams. If you control all teams than you can also opt to control all injuries and trades to mimic the real life regular season should you choose to. You’ll have 40-man, MLB, AAA, AA, and single A rosters at your disposal though you won’t be have the option to play single A games. You’ll be able to trade, draft, claim players off waivers, designate players for assignment, offer arbitration, and vie for free agents’ attention. There’s also a handy transaction handbook within the game to help explain the rules of drafting, free agency, contracts, waivers, etc. As you might’ve known, franchise let’s you play through several seasons while trying to build or keep your team as a world series contender year in and year out. The All-Star break in franchise now includes the futures game and the home run derby. If you’ve played franchise mode in other sports games then this will be familiar territory as you’re given certain goals by your owner to meet over a certain period of time and have to accomplish or sim all of the offseason stuff between seasons which includes spring training.
Road to the Show is where you make a player and customize him to your liking before either being drafted or choosing the team that you want to start off with. You start off in AA and try to work your way up to The Show by meeting goals set by your manager. This mode has some very basic RPG elements to it as you gain points by accomplishing things in game, such as getting hits, walks, driving in runs, or as a pitcher, strikeouts, ERA, and hits allowed. You then spend the points on attributes to improve your players ratings. You will also be given a chance to improve these attributes periodically through drills that are offered to you by the team. New this year is that if you choose to be a catcher than you will call the whole game from behind the plate. This works pretty much the same as pitching sans the meter. You pick the pitch and the location you want it in, the cpu handles the rest. I played as the catcher once and the game lasted a little too long for my tastes since as a catcher, you aren’t going to be making too many plays in the field aside from the occasional steal attempt or pop foul ball. Also new this year is the ability to choose how much of the game you watch. You can choose to only show the plays that you take part in or you can watch the whole game from a bench perspective if you so choose or anywhere in between. RttS is very fun and very addictive, though as a hitter it can be very frustrating when you’re going through a slump since you only get a few opportunities to prove yourself, especially early on in your career.
If you’re a baseball fan and you already own a PS3, this is the only game you should consider. If you don’t have a PS3 and you can afford one, get one and you won’t be disappointed. If you must suffer with MLB 2k10, then I genuinely feel for you since you’ll be missing out on possibly the best baseball game ever made (that’s a debate for another time, and only MVP or High Heat should even be mentioned).