reviews\ Mar 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm

MLB 11: The Show Review


MLB 11: The Show is a lot like a sports RPG. It's a tough game, even on its lowest difficulty setting, and it requires players to start from the bottom and work their way up through the difficulties and modes. This especially holds true if you're new to the series. The developers have crafted a well-rounded baseball simulator that isn't to be taken lightly. Do so, and you'll fall victim to frustration in an instant. Take your time and slowly ease into it, and you're bound to enjoy The Show for a long time.

The usual round of modes are included in this year's version of The Show. If you want to jump into a quick game, you can do that through Exhibition mode. If you feel like creating your own future all-star and climbing the ranks, Road to the Show has got you covered. If you just want to spend some time playing a few rounds of ball while engaging in more traditional play, Franchise and Season modes provide you with what you're looking for. There's very little to be surprised with in terms of content, but given the attention to quality put into the game, you won't have trouble enjoying what's there.

With that said, Sony has added several tweaks to make the overall experience a lot more rewarding. Unlike arcade sports games, you can't start a game in The Show and expect to breeze right through it. The moment you select a team, whether you're having a single Exhibition game or going for a lengthy play session in Season mode, you're going to have to really pay attention to individual player stats. Fielding and batting stats all need to be taken into account as you put together your players. Ignore certain stats, and you're going to have a hard time as the game continues. The Show forces you to select players wisely and for balance. You won't get by picking heavy hitters—you'll want to have some lighter players that can run around the field a lot more easily, as well.

The biggest change to the formula is the new analog controls. Everything you do, from swinging the bat to stealing bases to pitching the ball is done with the left and right analog sticks. This provides a new sense of control that's a bit difficult to master but very rewarding once you finally get the hang of it. Sports games have tried to pull off analog controls in the past with very little success, but The Show has managed to nail the control scheme (for the most part, anyway). If you're a button-loving traditionalist, though, you'll be happy to know that the game allows you to toggle the original control scheme for pitching, batting, and so forth.

If you're up to bat, pulling back on the right analog stick lifts your player's front foot as he prepares for the swing. Pushing forward then causes your hitter to swing. Timing is everything, and a well-placed swing determines whether you strike out or send the ball flying into the outfield. If you're fielding, you use the analog stick to throw the ball to the different bases, and the longer you push on the analog stick, the stronger your throw. Just be careful not to toss the ball too hard.

Pitching also takes advantage of the new analog control setup. Like hitting, pitching the ball requires you to push and pull the analog stick, and your direction and strength are all affected by the way you perform the pitch. This is probably the trickiest new aspect of the game. Luckily, an on-screen meter helps you pinpoint the strength, curvature, and accuracy of your throws. Some gamers are bound to fall in love with the new pitching controls. Personally, I never managed to grow accustomed to them and stuck to traditional controls instead.

The more you play The Show, the better you get at it. Some players may be a bit skeptical about the new analog controls, but they work so well that the moment you try fielding using the new setup, you won't want to go back. The multiple difficulties in the game will challenge you; you'll find that it's no easy task jumping straight into the higher settings without first mastering the easy and normal options. If you really want to get good at playing The Show, you're going to have to put some time into practicing repeatedly, using strategy, and staying focused. You just can't rush into anything with this game or you'll fail.

If you want to master the game with a friend or group of friends, you can do so. The Show supports local and online multiplayer for up to four players, allowing you to engage in two-on-two games. Hitting the field with others is a great deal of fun, but if you're more of the lone wolf type, you'll get a great deal of enjoyment out of the game regardless. In addition to all of the modes, PlayStation Move support is thrown into Home Run Derby mode. The motion controls work well, but because Move implementation is specific to this mode alone, it's hard not to think about this feature as a mere novelty.

One thing about The Show that impressed me almost as much as its rock solid gameplay was its presentation. Almost everything in the game looks absolutely amazing. Player animations are fluid and realistic. Stadiums are massive and beautiful. The audience is lively and sports the jerseys of their favorite teams. There are occasional hiccups here and there and a couple of blurry textures (mostly off in the distance), but The Show has an authentic baseball look to it. The sound design of the game doesn't come up short in the long run, either. Though the menu soundtrack is a mixed bag of licensed music, the sounds while you're out on the field mimic the experience of watching a baseball game on TV. Crowds go wild, bats crack as they make contact with the ball, and commentary is slick and professional. From a presentational standpoint, there's no denying that this game has earned the title of The Show.

As far as baseball games rate, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better sim than MLB 11: The Show. If you played last year's game, you'll be familiar with all the modes and basic gameplay. Even so, Sony has managed to squeeze in some improvements and additions that greatly enhance the experience, starting with the tight analog controls. The barrier to entry may be a little high for newer baseball sim gamers, but with a little persistence and plenty of practice, you'll find yourself in love with MLB 11: The Show.


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