Ah....March. The snow is melting, the days are longer, and the birds are chirping. It’s also the time for Spring Training and the start of baseball season in the United States. So with the season comes our annual release of baseball video games. This year the PS3’s exclusive franchise “MLB: The Show” is back with MLB 11: The Show. We’ll be looking at it from a pretty fresh perspective in terms of sports games goes - I think that last Baseball game I really got into was Baseball Stars on the NES.
So what is MLB: 11 The Show? While its a baseball simulator first and foremost, its definitely caters to all types of players. This means a myriad of control options are available out of the box including a new Pure Analog control system. If you choose this method over traditional button presses you’ll use the right analog stick for a ton of actions from pitching to hitting and even fielding in the game itself. For me pitching became the most satisfying aspect using this method of control, it felt a bit like putting in a Tiger Woods golf game. Hitting on the other hand I found extremely difficult, and while it felt good, I had a real hard time getting the timing down - even after a few games.
Graphically the show is one of the most impressive sports games I’ve seen to date. Sitting back and looking at the game from a behind the pitcher to the plate view it’s damned near impossible to tell its a video game. There are certain animations and times when things are a bit rigid, but for the most part I was continually impressed with the style of the game. Audio commentary was decent, but because i sucked so bad, I was constantly berated by the color commentator. Look dude, I want to swing the bat and hit the ball, ok?
MLB: 11 The Show is loaded to the brim with game modes, this includes franchises, online franchises, exhibition games, home run derby, Road to the Show (basically a be a player mode) and finally weekly challenges. Weekly challenges are a bit of an odd bit - basically you need to score points by doing certain tasks - for instance - hitting two line drives and two pop-ups with Ryan Howard. There’s real life prizes to earn here - but what’s odd - you only get one shot at a challenge a week. If you want to try for more, you’ll need to pay 25 cents a try making it a bit like a carnival game.
The Road to the Show mode is a lot of fun, allowing you to create a player of any position and then assign him to a team. You’ll start off in the minors and then try to work your way up to the big leagues. I created a first baseman for my character, and much to my liking, you are only required to participate in the plays you are actually involved in. This means you can simply blast through a game in 5-10 minutes and quickly enhance your player. Obviously if you pick a pitcher or another position that’s more involved, your times may vary.
New this year to the game is online and offline co-op - which oddly - is only available in exhibition games. The way it works is that before a game players can choose how to divide up duties. My partner and I alternated innings for pitching and then took turns batting every other player. You can also lock players to the infield or outfield if you want to help with defensive responsibility. If you manage to get on base, trust me - its not as easy as it sounds early on - you’ll be in control of the base runner if you were the player that actually made it to the base.
I think Sony San Diego made the best of this mode they could - I never really felt bored playing co-op despite not always “doing” something. Baseball is really about one specific area of the field at a time, its not as involved as say NHL hockey where player positioning for passes is key, so this makes The Show a lot more chill in co-op. I did have a problem trying to play with random folks online, most seemed to not understand that co-op means on the same team, despite there being a specific match making play list for the two player mode. Of course, the game itself seems to mix up “co-op” for online team play by allowing 2vs1 or 2vs2 in the mode as well.
I do commend a lot of little touches though thrown into the co-op mode. For instance, while my partner preferred to pitch from the batters perspective, I chose to pitch from behind the mound. The game remembered this and automatically altered the camera angle when it was our turn to take the mound.
On top of everything there’s PlayStation Move support in the game’s homerun derby mode as well as 3D support. While I couldn’t try the latter, Home Run Derby is pretty much like you’d expect with the Move if you’ve played Wii Sports. As someone who isn’t a huge baseball fan, I can still appreciate the appeal of MLB: 11 The Show. While the co-op works well, Sony chose to leave it out of the one area I could see people using it the most in - franchise. Its not a deal breaker, but it is a bummer, especially in an otherwise solid package.