Where’s My Beer and Peanuts?
Spring is in the air! It’s not just the tulips sprouting or the birds chirping that gave it away either. Sony has once again released the latest iteration of their excellent baseball franchise, MLB 09: The Show. Whilst scores of players have been tooling around with Madden and FIFA, the geniuses over at SCEA San Diego have been hard at work making the tightest baseball title ever made. Of course, not a lot has changed since last year’s stellar offering, but the subtle nuances are enough to make the game just a bit better and may even warrant another purchase.
For gaming sports fans who have not picked up a copy of the MLB: The Show franchise over the last three years; shame on you! You’ve missed out on one of the best sports titles around. What you need to know is that this game has all the bells and whistles. It is utterly authentic and perfectly playable. There are several modes of play including Practice, Quick Game, Exhibition, Road to the Show, Franchise, Season, Manager, and Rivalry. As you can imagine, Practice, Quick Game, and Exhibition help you hone your skills and get you quickly into the action. But, where the game starts to separate itself from the competition is in the other modes of play.
Road to the Show 3.0 is the latest incarnation of this exclusive mode. Gamers create a Big Leaguer, choose his position, play dolly by customizing his look, assign his skills from a limited pool of points, and then take to the diamond in an attempt to win a starting spot with the club and eventually help them through the playoffs and on to the World Series. This mode is truly awesome, as players only have to worry about their baller’s impact on the team. That’s because games are fast-forwarded just to the plays that involve your character, i.e. batting and making key defensive plays. Best of all, you’ll constantly be put into challenging situations that test your skills. Successfully completing these goal-oriented situations will net you development points that improve your player’s skills and standing with the team and in the league. New this year is the inclusion of interactive training such as batting practice that improves your character’s abilities in areas such as discipline, clutch, and vision. Developing your player and making the big plays is truly rewarding and highly addictive. The only place where this mode struggles is in the incessant and lengthy load times. In fact, long loading times plague the entirety of the game, even after the mandatory seven minute initial install.
Franchise, Season, and Manager modes will have you taking complete control over the front end of the club, taking your team through an entire season, or have you making the tough calls as the skipper. All these modes offer something for everyone, no matter whether you’re a more strategy or action-oriented player. Most players will find themselves favoring one mode over the others, but every offering is top-notch.
In terms of playability, MLB 09: The Show is the most realistic sports title made. Whether you’re stepping up to the plate, juggling a rosin bag, or turning two, playing a game of The Show is the closest thing to actually getting onto the diamond. For starters, pitcher-batter duels are the most satisfying around. Guessing what and where the pitcher is going to throw based on past history makes batting more than just a timely press of the X or Square buttons; it’s far more mental. Also, pitching isn’t just a matter of selecting the right pitch and choosing the right location, the pitching meter that is actually in tune to the movements of the man on the mound makes locating pitches and painting corners quite a skillful challenge. Also, fielding and baserunning are exactly how they need to be. In other words, MLB 09: The Show is a great game of baseball every diamond nut needs to experience.
Of course, getting the hang of the controls does take some time to get used to. As straightforward and well thought out as the controls are, learning how to manipulate your slides, picking off players, influencing pop-flies and grounders, and delivering the ball to the cutoff man are all complex control mechanics. While they help separate good players from great players, they may also discourage youngsters or arcade-centric players from enjoying the whole experience. Literally, there are tens of button combinations that need to be learned in order to play this game like a real pro. Along those lines, the myriad options available for tweaking gameplay, adjusting mode settings, and customizing the experience to the individual are welcome yet nearly overkill. As such, this may not be the perfect game for everyone, despite the fact it is the perfect game of baseball.
Perhaps the game’s biggest problem right now is the multiplayer features. Of course, they’re absolutely complete and compelling, especially the ability to enter into a season mode with friends, but there seems to be a lot of hiccups present during actual gameplay. I was disconnected a few times from games and often experienced some disconcerting lag. That being the case, the online offering does leave something to be desired. However, I expect the team at SCEA San Diego is hard at work making sure these issues get ironed out. From what I gather, substantial improvements have already been made.
On the bright side, the game’s graphics and sounds are perfect. The visuals are so good in full HD, you’ll often forget your playing a video game and not just interacting with a live telecast. Surprisingly, the visuals aren’t flawless, however. Though stadiums and crowds are nearly perfect, backgrounds, especially during spring training, are decidedly lacking detail and polish. Nevertheless, the solid framerate, 1080p reproduction, and amazingly accurate player animations more than make up for the background discrepancies. As was the case last year, the sounds and commentary in this game are outstanding. Crowd noise, player-specific chants, umpire calls, stadium music, the varied voices over the PA, and the commentating duo make this game the most aurally satisfying sports title out there.
As with any sports title, if you own and love last year’s version of the game, there probably aren’t any substantial reasons to pick up 09. However, the new baserunning controls, incorporated training into the Road to the Show mode, online season, extra level of difficulty, and the updated rosters won’t do you wrong. If you’re a sports fan, own a Sony console, and you’ve never picked up a version of MLB: The Show, get in your car and don’t come back until you’ve purchased MLB 09: The Show for either PS3, PS2, of PSP.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
The visual presentation is quite excellent. You’ll often think you’re interacting with a live game, only to be sucked back into reality by fuzzy backgrounds. 4.6 Control
The game controls brilliantly, but they are absolutely not novice-friendly. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds and commentary are spot on. Again, you’ll feel like you’re watching a live game on an HD set. With the commentary turned off, you’ll think you’re at the ballpark. 4.5 Play Value
With a ton of varied game modes, authenticity galore, near-perfect gameplay, and extensive yet somewhat glitchy online play, there’s at a year’s worth of content for you to swing through! 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.