Top positive review
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Serious baseball (with a few serious flaws)
on April 12, 2011
This will be short and sorta sweet- refer to the comments I'll tack on for a much more detailed critique of this game, for those who are interested (ie: serious baseball geeks, like me).
This year's version of The Show is again clearly aimed at serious baseball gamers- meaning people with a somewhat fanatical interest in a baseball game that plays out like a real MLB game. Meaning accurate player models/performance, believable gameplay, reasonable statistical outcomes, and most of all, challenging to play. Arcade gamers should look elsewhere- this is clearly a very serious baseball sim- and as for the "fun factor" (many criticize The Show series for this), I'd offer that it will likely be a lot of fun, but only for fans who are looking for a challenging game of video baseball, with all the ups and downs that entails. One guy said it perhaps most succinctly: if you grew up, as I did, playing the heck out of the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game, you will recognize MLB The Show 2011 as the visual representation of what you used to love about that game: real stats from real players, and real baseball game outcomes. And, I might add, outcomes that you have a lot of control over, but NOT complete control. More on that in my comment section.
This review will be mostly for people who like to play out a full season vs: the CPU, with their favorite team (single player Franchise mode). I'll mention the other game modes (Road To The Show, Home Run Derby, on-line play, co-op play) only in passing, since I don't use those modes much. I also think it's useful to state one's own background and baseball experience, when offering a critique of this game for others, as what people will/won't like about this game will largely be directly related to that. I am 56 years old, played competetive baseball from age 7 up through a college level, and have remained an avid fan to the present day. I have played most of the pc/PS baseball videogames over the years, starting with DOS-based pc games, up to the present PS3 generation of games. I play through a full season vs: the CPU on All Star level of difficulty, using my home town Chicago White Sox, and ensure each year before I start the season that all the rosters are up to date, and accurately reflect the current real teams. What I want out of any baseball game (board games through videogames) is a realistic baseball experience, that isn't easy to master after a few tries. MLB The Show 2011 is clearly for players like me- those seeking an arcade style baseball game, where you can win games, hit home runs, and strike out everybody with regular ease, should look elsewhere- you'll be incredibly frustrated/annoyed/humiliated by this game, if that's what you're seeking. But for those baseball fans like me, THIS is your game: read on.
The new addition to this year's game is the use of the right analog stick to control hitting, pitching, and fielding (baserunning still largely button controlled, same as last year). However, one of the best things about this game is the flexibility it offers: you can play with the old button controls if you don't like the right stick, or you can play with any combination of old/new gamepad controls. For instance, I am playing this current season using last year's zone control/buttons for hitting, but the right stick for pitching and fielding- more on this below.
To hit, you pull the right stick back(down) as the pitcher is in his windup, and push forward(up) to "swing". It's largely a matter of timing that affects the outcome of any swing, as the only "aiming" you have to do with the right stick is left or right, as you push it forward, to hit pitches on the inside/outside part of the plate. The CPU automatically adjusts for whether the pitch was high or low. I went back to the old button control for hitting after a number of games, but not because I was having all that hard a time with it....it just simply didn't "feel" like hitting to me, especially because of not having to consider whether the pitch was high or low. "Swinging" with the left stick, and having to aim the left stick to a specific zone where the pitch is, to successfully hit the ball (last year's mechanism) just feels more like hitting to me. But to each his own- hitting has always been challenging in The Show series, and this year is no different, regardless of what control you choose. See my comment section for WHY hitting is hard. Hint: it's not because of the controls.
Pitching with the right stick is a major upgrade, IMO, compared to last year. You still select the type of pitch you want with a button, but then pull back on the rt stick to start your windup- the height of the pitch(high or low) depends on how close you come to releasing your pitch (forward on the rt stick) when a meter bar approaches a white line- hitting the white line exactly when you push up on the stick means a pitch on the level- too soon or too tardy on the release affects the up/down location result. You are also required to aim your upward push of the rt stick to hit the spot laterally, where you aimed before the windup started- hit it exactly, and the pitch USUALLY winds up where you intended- the more off the target you are with the upward stick motion, the less accurate the lateral location of the pitch. I have stuck with the rt stick for pitching, as I find it much more challenging and interactive than the old model. It IS harder to avoid walking CPU batters, as a result, but much like hitting, success with the analog stick for pitching depends on more than just accuracy with the stick. Comment section for more on that, but in short: strategy, and some baseball know-how/experience counts.
Fielding with the rt stick has some issues, IMO. I use it again because it is much more interactive than the old push-a-button-and-hope-for-the-best mechanism. You move your fielder with the left stick, and throw with the right. You push the stick in the direction of the base you want to throw to, and then a tricolor meter bar will rapidly appear below your fielder. Throw when it is green, and the throw is always on the mark. Throw in the yellow, and it usually is, but better fielders will have better throws when it is yellow, and the chance for an error higher with a less skilled player. Throw in the red, and it is almost always an error, and usually a seriously wild throw, no matter who the fielder is. Pure fielding errors/bobbles on batted balls still seem rather random to me, however- though this is supposedly based on the individual fielder's real MLB skills, I'm not entirely conviinced of this yet (ie: I've already had to watch Sox fielding wizard, and future Hall of Famer, Omar Vizquel, bobble a number of routine ground balls). So this is OK, since it's way more engaging now to field, and PERHAPS takes into account more of the individual player's fielding skills, but it has some serious issues, IMO, that affect gameplay a lot- see my comments again for details. Just be prepared for making LOTS of errors, when you first start playing the game. The learning curve isn't all that steep, though, so keep at it. It IS more engaging than last year.
The graphics are again stellar, and easily the best of any sports game on the market currently. Player models are unbelievably accurate and detailed, as are individual player batting stances, pitching motions, and mannerisms. There are a number of new gameplay animations from last year, which add to the fun factor in playing a game. The stadiums are also more detailed and individualized, as are the crowds. The noises of the ballpark and gameplay are also spot-on, with the result being that the incredible visuals in this game greatly add to the gameplay experience. It's totally immersive, and looks like the real thing. All they need to add now are the smells of hot dogs, peanuts, and beer......
The announcers, alas, remain the single weakest aspect of the game, and a main reason why I don't give this game 5 stars. Eric Karros has replaced the annoying Rex Hudler, but Matt Vaskurgian and Dave "Soup" Campbell are back. Karros stuttering, gee-whiz delivery is probably an upgrade from Hudler's ridiculous schtick, but the other two unfortunately have very little new scripting involved in their announcing of a game. It's obvious that very little effort went into upgrading this aspect of the game, and it's too bad, because it was old last year. MLB2k does this WAY better, though the rest of that game remnains inferior to The Show. More in my comments again, but for now, that's all I have to say about THAT.
Rosters are fairly complete, though again most minor league players are fictional characters. It seems that real players exist only for players who have played some games at the MLB level- likely a licensing thing, I suspect.
Not a big deal, though, since again a major strength of this game is that you can edit just about everything, and create players to your wishes as well. Players are all rated for a number of skills, that affect individual performance and gameplay results, and you are free to edit any player that way, should you think the ratings are wrong. I have found that most ratings are OK, with the consistent exception that many fairly fast players have relatively low speed/running ratings- so I edit those accordingly, as I come across them. For on-line users, the game again updates rosters, based on real MLB changes, on a weekly basis.
Other modes again include Road To The Show (I don't use this, but consensus I hear is it's also much improved from last year), Home Run Derby (to satisfy, somewhat anyway, the arcade-game seekers), and on-line play (still apparently a serious lag problem, though), and co-op play, where up to 4 players can play a game at the same time. I'd refer readers to other reviews for a critique of these game modes, since I rarely use them: playing a full season vs: the CPU is all the time I can manage.
In summary (guess this wasn't too short after all): MLB The Show 2011 remains the best baseball game on the videogame market, by far. It has it's appeal mainly to serious baseball fans, though, and will likely be "too hard" and "no fun" for more casual gamers, especially those who don't understand that the best MLB teams LOSE 4 out of every 10 games. I'll add details in the comments section for those interested, as the season moves on- and I get more games played, and comments are welcome.
P.S. As of this date, no less than 26 professional videogaming review websites rate this game 89.5%, out of 100%.
I'd have to agree.