For the last couple of years no sports title has even come close to the level of detail and quality found in Sony’s MLB The Show franchise. Year after year the team at San Diego Studio somehow finds a way to cram more and more into an already bustling franchise, with last year’s version becoming pretty much the gold standard for sports (not just baseball) simulation. With so much pressure and the bar set so high, could the So-Cal dream team pull it off again?
Normally when reviewing any yearly sports franchise one would normally take the time to discuss all the new features that just didn’t make it into previous iterations. I need to start off this review with pointing out a few things that surprisingly remained unchanged. For starters, when you first boot up The Show you start to get that eerie feeling of Déjà vu. It wasn’t even the mandatory install (seriously in 2011?) that made me feel it, or the same style opening clips, no — it was the EXACT SAME menu music and menu styles from last year making their way into this year’s title. I understand the whole “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mantra, but that would have only worked before another prominent sports title (NBA 2K11) blew the doors off on a proper sports game introduction. There are some subtle differences, but they are too few and far between. I’m sure fans of last year’s game will feel the same way.
Good thing I don’t play The Show for the menu’s right? Time to talk about what is new in 2011.
The biggest feature that cannot be ignored this year has to be the new “pure analog control” game play mechanic. A feature, which has been part of The Show’s 2K Sports competitor for some time now has finally made its way to the Sony series. And as I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now, since it’s their first time around the analog control block things aren’t as smooth as one would have liked and it does have its issues.
The thing about analog control is either you love it or absolutely hate it; I think most players coming from another certain baseball series will find The Show’s integration of the feature just a bit lacking or awkward for use a better word. On the other side of it, I had the opportunity of putting the controller into the hands of someone who normally doesn’t play sports titles (our very own Chad Awkerman) and after explaining it briefly, within a few innings he looked like the second coming of Tom Seaver.
With analog hitting, the right stick is used to time your stride as well as your swing. As you see the pitcher wind up, you begin to prepare your stride. As the ball is rolling off of the pitcher’s fingertips the right stick should be fully extended down (or back) and ready to be snapped up (forward) to make contact. The idea and even the execution is pretty intuitive as it replicates the movements of actually swinging a baseball bat, however it feels as though you’re all over the place and there’s no real or reliable way to determine where that ball will go once contact is made.
Fielding the ball with the analog controls is another animal all together. It’s simple and straightforward: Point in the direction of the base you wish to throw the ball using the right stick. The problem is the “Fifa-Like” pressure sensitive throwing where if you hold the stick in the direction of the base you wish to throw to for even a millisecond too long, you will be overthrowing that baseman every single time. It’s pretty punishing, and if you plan on using analog controls you better learn quickly. Lucky for you there are video tutorials at every turn.
As usual The Show delivers the goods in the mode that keeps players coming back year after year and that’s the “Baseball RPG” also known as Road To The Show 5.0 (RTTS). This year, RTTS takes everything you loved about the mode and boosts things up to the next level. Where previous iterations of the mode would give you breakdowns during the postgame or in the menus, this year everything you do in-game is broken down and points are awarded on a 20 point scale.
I played my RTTS as a pitcher in the Met’s organization (I have to represent), and with the new system in place it felt like not just every appearance, but every single pitch I threw truly counted. As a pitcher it’s obvious that you have to make sure the opposing team doesn’t score, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Using that 20-point scale, every single at bat is put under a microscope. A three-pitch strikeout, can easily net you a cool 18 points. Where as on the other end you may have gotten yourself out of a bases loaded jam, without allowing a run, but if you gave up 9 pitches in the process and its later into the game it will only get you about 4 points. In other words you aren’t awarded for mediocrity or just getting by.
Visually The Show is still truly a sight to behold. There are those rare instances in this current generation of video games where people will come into the room your playing in and not realizing it’s a video game until they see the controller is in your hand. MLB 11 is definitely one of those titles. Just like last year, it almost makes you wonder as to how characters on the field look and move around so well. Through my time with the game I noticed only a handful of new animations that were added since last year, especially in the fielding department; but hey — the series was never slacking in that department to begin with. They’ve taken an already visually striking title and made just the right adjustments to make it better. Player models and faces look much better this time around, and its to the point where you can recognize most big name players by their faces rather than their batting stance or the number on their jerseys.
There are a few more highlights worth mentioning one of which I didn’t have the luxury of including in my review time. The first being co-op play, which is pulled off without a hitch and you can play it in plenty of variations. Not sure if this was done to follow the lead made by the inclusion of Co-Op in Madden last year, but it’s definitely a feature I can’t see myself using too often. Next up is PS Move integration into the Home Run Derby game type; now this is cool. Thanks to the 1:1 nature of the move controller, playing Home Run Derby is like having your very own personal batting cage in your house.
The last highlight is stereoscopic 3D. For those of you who own a 3DTV, I envy you. The one thing that needs to be pointed out though is that the inclusion of 3D may have played into the reason as to why this game tops out 720p as opposed to an up-scaled 1080p found in it’s predecessor. Is the inclusion of the feature worth the loss of fidelity? You decide.
When it’s all said and done, MLB 11 The Show is still the among the crème de la crème of sports titles. With its always-impressive RTTS mode it has a level customization and micromanagement that would make a BioWare developer blush; meanwhile the in-game presentation has no equal in the realm of simulation video games. With last year’s game, Sony’s San Diego Studio set a new standard as to what should be expected from a sports title, so by just meeting and not exceeding (online play is still the black sheep of the series) it has transformed back to being just another competitor and not the leader. However, If you’re still on the fence as to which MLB game to pick up, The Show it still is the title to own this year.
- Title: MLB 11: The Show
- Platform Reviewed: PS3
- Developer: SCEA, San Diego Studio
- Publisher: SCEA
- MSRP: $59.99
- Release Date: Available Now
- Review Copy Info: A copy of the title was provided to DualShockers Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.