Title: MLB 11:The Show
System: PlayStation 3
Release Date: March 8, 2011
ESRB Rating: “Everyone”
Pros: New analog control scheme allows for precision hitting, pitching and fielding, amount of detail on individual players is stunning. AI is as smart in the front office as it is on the field.
Cons: Long load times, repetitive commentary. Much touted PlayStation Move capability is limited to a single mode.
Overall Score: Two thumbs up; 90 out of 100; A; **** out of 5.
So rook, you think you have what it takes to make it to The Show? You’ll find out soon enough if you pick up Sony’s latest baseballer, keeping up its fine tradition. Rival 2K Sports is rumored to be considering pulling the plug on its baseball franchise, so this could be prime laurel resting time for Sony if it chose to do so. Thankfully, Sony is not playing this conservatively. With the competition on the ropes, MLB 11: The Show is bringing a host of new features including 3D, PlayStation Move control and analog control.
I should mention that while Sony has made a fairly big deal about the Move compatibility, it only works in Home Run Derby mode. That adds a Nintendo Wii-style party element for sure, but I would love it as a full-fledged control option. Also, if you don’t like the concept of analog control, there’s another misconception floating around. The original button-based control scheme is present as Sony mentioned. But you can only use the buttons on the game’s lowest difficulty. If you want to play on Experienced or Veteran level, you will need to master the analog controls.
It’s All About Control
The analog learning curve is a pretty steep one, particularly where pitching is concerned. Working the pitching meter is a multilayer process of pinpointing where you want the ball to go, how much power you’ll put into it and finishing off any “break” on your pitch. If you get all three perfect, especially with an ace pitcher, you’ll be tough to hit. A slight mistake can result in sliders that don’t slide or fastballs that end up in the cheap seats. Analog hitting allows you to start your stride while the ball is on its way to the plate, and you’ll need to time the swing properly to follow through. You can guess the locations and type of incoming pitch to gain a bonus to your hitter’s swing.
Analog fielding is where things may get a little too realistic for some. If your player is not the surest handed guy, there will be delays as he tries to grip the ball. You hold the analog stick longer to throw the ball harder. Again, there’s a smaller margin of error for guys with bad hands. Even a simple throw to first can and will become an adventure if you apply too much analog. My first few games of fielding, I looked like the infamous expansion New York Mets of the ’60s.
In baseball games of the past, it’s been easy to zone out while playing. Throw the same pitch, earn a groundball and push the same button to throw to the same base. Even on normal difficulty, you need to keep your focus at all times. If you’re not looking alive in the field or hitting the corners with your best pitch, it’s going to be a long, long frustrating day at the ballpark. It’s been said that the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a major league curve ball (just ask Michael Jordan). The Show captures that essence. Turning a double play, or getting that game-winning hit, is an exhilarating experience. Giving up a three-run blast to cost your team the game is every bit as crushing.
A League of Your Own
The Road to the Show, this franchise’s Create-A-Player Mode, gives you all these feelings. You will start from the minor leagues, asked to pick a couple of specialty areas. Your character starts out so bad you wouldn’t be drafted in real life. As a pitcher, I could choose to be a control guy or a power pitcher that piled up the strikeouts. I went for the control option, and found it meant I merely sucked less at spotting pitches than I did at getting strikeouts.
Your minor league teammates show why they belong in the minors, too. I had a no-hitter broken up in the fourth inning when the second baseman missed a routine ground ball. Outfielders in Double-A often play as if they just left their day job, adding more realism. I was ecstatic to finally make the major leagues where routine plays were – in fact – routine.
Your player earns experience for making great plays on the field. It’s not just as simple getting a hit or getting an out. As a pitcher, you’ll gain more points for retiring someone quickly. A batter will get more points for prolonging an at-bat, even if he’s eventually punched out. This is probably a good place to mention that the batters, even on normal level, suddenly turn into Ted Williams with two strikes on them. A batter that didn’t even offer at the first two pitches will foul off six-eight pitches an at bat. In RTTS or in Season Mode, your pitchers will hit the 100 pitch count if they last seven innings.
The Road offers RPG-level satisfaction at where your created player ends up in comparison to his humble beginnings. I nearly teared up when my pitcher finally reached the majors, even though I got drafted by the cellar-dwelling Toronto Blue Jays. This mode does most things right, although it could probably stand to give your created player at least the stats of a decent college prospect in your chosen area. If I made the team because I’m a power prospect, I should at least start Double-A ball with enough pop to consistently hit balls out of the infield.
Franchise mode will easily eat away the hours for the fantasy baseball player in you. The AI trade logic in this game is no joke. I’m trying to pick up a speedier player to turn the St. Louis Cardinals into the small ball team from years back. I’m having a hard time unloading Albert Pujols, one of the game’s best hitters, to get a base stealer in return. If anything, the trade logic may be too good. Prepare to unload top prospects from your organization to make any significant deals happen. It’s easy to have an hour blow by as you try to craft your perfect monster.
The Sights and Sounds of the National Pastime
There is a lot of attention to detail with the individual players. I’m a lifelong baseball fan and didn’t realize how many quirks batters have until I could pick from hundreds of real-life batting stances. Ichiro Suzuki tugging his sleeve, Kevin Youkilis standing with no space whatsoever between his knees, it’s all in there. It’s no wonder that every game or electronics event Sony goes to, The Show is one of the games it’s presenting. This game shows why you bought a PS3 as casual observers will mistake this for an actual baseball broadcast. There’s not as much detail rendered in some of the stadiums, so Sony hasn’t achieved perfection quite yet.
The broadcasters are one of the weak points here. If the visuals fool friends into thinking it’s a real game, the repetitive commentary will soon tip them off. The trio of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Eric Karros just don’t have the chemistry. Karros was brought in to replace Rex “Wonder Dog” Hudler but the rhythm is still off. It’s still obvious these guys are reading lines at different times. After listening to the historical commentary in NBA 2K11′s Jordan Challenges and Gus Johnson’s hyperactive delivery in Madden 11, this is one of the few areas The Show doesn’t wow us. It might be worth losing the third guy in the broadcast crew and just focusing on the color and play-by-play commentators until Sony can get this fixed. It’s not easy to do. There are numerous real broadcast teams that don’t work with all the commentators sitting in the same booth. With three guys reading scripts at different times and pretending to call a game, it’s hard to find that magic.
The Show is plagued with very long load times as well. I’m talking Fallout: New Vegas long. I find myself checking sometimes to make sure the PS3 isn’t locking up.
A Franchise Player
Bottom line, MLB 11: The Show is the closest you can get to playing at the major league level without having actual athletic ability. Between Road to the Show, Franchise Mode and Online Play, baseball fans will have to tear themselves away to watch or attend actual baseball games. The analog controls add a whole new precision, especially where pitching is concerned. You will earn every out you get even on the normal difficulty level. Crank it up higher, and you’ll be working overtime to get the platinum trophy on this beast.
As I mentioned, it’s time to overhaul the broadcast team. Their commentary is one of the only things that snaps back you into reality. The lengthy loading times are not fun either. Even with those few caveats, this game is a system seller for any diehard baseball fan. Franchise mode and online play will have you pouring untold hours into this one. The PlayStation Move feature for Home Run Derby is gimmicky but will probably draw in the more casual crowd.
Site: MLB 11:The Show