IGN Review of MLB '10: The Show
It's all about the details. At least, that's what separates a good baseball game from a great one for me. You can have solid gameplay and cool features, but if it doesn't have the look and feel of a real baseball game, it hasn't done its job. MLB '10: The Show gets many of the details right to the point that this is easily the most realistic console baseball game I've ever played.
Give up a home run in a critical situation and you may see your catcher toss off his mask in disgust as the batter rounds the bases. Smoke a ball towards the gap only to have the centerfielder dive and snag it from out of nowhere and your batter might kick the dirt on the basepath to show his displeasure. Take off for second on a hit and run only to have the batter foul the ball off and the baserunner may readjust the rim of his batting helmet as he walks back to first base. There are many small, easy-to-miss visual moments like this that, when added together, make up a baseball game. And Sony got them right.
Even many of the faces, often a bane of baseball games, have been given attention. You can see the look of determination on a slugger's face or the disappointment for a player who failed. And it's surprising some of the players who were rendered correctly. I'm an A's fan and have been my entire life. But I wouldn't expect anyone to get Mark Ellis' face right. Why would they? And yet, there he is, easily recognizable to anyone who's watched the A's for the past five years. That's not to say every player on every team is exact, but there are definitely enough to make baseball enthusiasts happy.
When you couple these realistic actions and great player faces with a lifelike crowd, perfectly recreated stadiums, solid animations and good lighting, you have a real stunner of a game. The only graphical issue is the occasional slowdown, which tends to happen when balls are thrown in from the outfield.
Baseball isn't just a visual experience, though. Sound is almost as important and, for the most part, MLB 10 delivers. When you're in Yankee Stadium, it feels like it. The crowd is loud and gets up for any big Yankee play. And when you're at the Coliseum in Oakland, well, it's louder than it should be, but it still has its own distinct feel. If you want that one loud guy in the bleachers shouting "Yuck the Fankees!" you can add him yourself. Record your own taunts and crowd chants by connecting a USB mic to your PS3. It can sound a little goofy, but it's a nice option to have.
You can't, however, record your own commentating. That means you'll be stuck listening to the returning trio of Matt Vasgersian, Dave "Soup" Campbell and Rex Hudler. While Vasgersian is a fine play-by-play man, Soup and Hudler offer nothing but repetitive and bland commentary. Campbell is a solid analyst in real life, but he is more annoying than anything else in MLB 10 and Hudler often comes off like he just returned from the bathroom and wants to remind people how his voice sounds. It's a bad combo that needs to be refreshed for next year.
Of course, all the little details and the good ambient audio mean nothing if the game itself plays poorly. Fortunately, MLB 10: The Show continues the series' tradition of stellar gameplay. The batting and pitching interfaces haven't seen much of an overhaul from last year, which is just fine. Both worked well in '09 and continue to work well. In fact, it seems so similar, there's little to talk about.
Batting is fairly simple. You aim with the left stick, trying to track the ball with your eyes and hit it in the right zone. You can have a slight influence on whether you hit a fly ball or grounder by flicking the right thumbstick up or down prior to the pitch, but it's mostly based on timing. As with last year's version, you can guess the pitch location and pitch type to increase your chances of getting good wood on the ball. Like I said, not much has changed, but it didn't need to.
Pitching is also pretty much the same as last year. Select your pitch and location and then execute a little mini-game to determine the pitch power and accuracy. The better control your pitcher has, the easier it will be to hit your spots. As your pitcher tires (or if he starts giving up hits and loses confidence) the sweet spot for control shrinks and even disappears making it tougher to dictate where the ball will strike the glove.
The one aspect that has seen an upgrade is in the pickoff game. You now have control over how you attempt a pickoff. Hold L2 and tap the base for a casual toss back to remind the baserunner that you're aware of him; hold L2 and double-tap the base icon for a quick pickoff attempt; or hold L2 and hold the base icon to attempt to deceive the runner into thinking you are going to the plate before firing it towards the bag.
The batter/pitcher duels can be pretty epic. This is the single most important aspect of baseball and MLB 10 gets it right. Guessing pitch location or type can give you a huge advantage, which means that pitchers must change speeds, move inside and outside and keep the batter off-balance.
The AI in these duels is pretty good. But AI is an issue on the field in other situations. Baserunners tend to be overly aggressive, often at times that don't make a whole lot of sense. Outfielders tend to throw to a cutoff man -- even someone with a cannon like Vlad Guerrero will throw to the cutoff man rather than lasering the ball in to third to attempt to gun down a runner. Managers occasionally leave pitchers in too long and sometimes wait forever to put anyone in the bullpen to warm up. See a game or two and you might not notice these things, but over the long course of a season, the AI issues add up. There is always a difficult balance for these things, but MLB 10 didn't strike the right one for me.
There are three main game modes in MLB 10 to compliment some nice bonus offerings like the new Home Run Derby and the returning Rivalry and Manager modes. Franchise, Road to the Show and online play are what will consume most of your time and all three are strong this year.
Franchise mode offers control of all 30 teams if you want your dorm to have a full season experience. There's a lot of depth in Franchise, including a robust set of injury management tools and the option to use just about every Major League rule that an owner and GM must deal with. That includes the Rule 5 Draft, limited Minor League options for players, the waiver wire and even rules on salary reduction for players. There's a helpful transaction handbook for those who don't know their baseball rules inside and out. For those who are owners at heart, there's a full set of ownership tools included. Set ticket prices, offer promotions to get more fans in seats and maintain/upgrade your stadium to make it the best place to play in all of baseball.
While most of Franchise mode is excellent (I love the robust stat-tracking), I did run into a few issues. First off, how can a game have so much depth and yet still only allow for two-team trades? That's hardly how baseball works. But more importantly, the AI trade choices are bizarre. There are some players that have to be off the market no matter what. Derek Jeter is not going to be traded in 2010 from the Yankees. But in the first year of my franchise, the Oakland A's acquired Derek Jeter through the waiver wire. What?!
The trade AI is the single biggest blemish on MLB 10. The trades made between AI-controlled teams often make little sense and, as you can see from the Jeter example, some of the moves will infuriate baseball diehards. There is also a trade bug that will have trades rejected during Spring Training if you have the quick trades option turned off. This has been fixed with a patch, but if you don't have online access, then it will still affect you.
For me, Franchise mode is about building a club and seeing how the League changes over the course of several years. But that requires the AI-controlled teams to be smart. And these teams just aren't smart enough to create a realistic experience. I'm still going to play the heck out of the Franchise mode because the on-field gameplay is so solid, but if there's any area that needs attention in MLB 11, this is it.
Road to the Show is back again, now in its fourth year. Your created character starts off in Double-A and your goal is to work up to the Majors. This year's additions include being able to call the game as a catcher. When behind the plate, you select the pitch and location and hope the guy on the mound can deliver. It's basically like pitching, except you don't have to use the power/control meter to determine if the pitch is successful. Instead you rely on the stats of the man on the mound. That forces you to be aware of the pitcher's stamina, control and most effective pitches. And, at least on higher difficulties, you'll want to be aware of the batter's hitting tendencies. Do they pull the ball a lot? You can use that against them in your pitch and location selections.
RTTS also adds new fielding and pitching drills to help improve your players. While these drills are fun, they only come every few weeks and don't add much to your stats. Speaking of stats, your good and bad choices on the field are now tracked through the season. Cover or throw to the wrong base and you get dinged. Master the fundamentals, however, and you'll be rewarded with bonus experience points to spend improving your attributes and in general bettering your player.
Like the Franchise mode, the bulk of RTTS is great, but there are issues. And again it comes down to the AI behind the scenes. In his third year, my pitcher Nuke LaLoosh spent the entire season in the majors as a starter for the Cincinnati Reds. His record during the regular season was 23-3. Yet he remained the fifth starter for some reason. The next best pitcher on the team was 10-8 with a 3.93 ERA. Somehow we made the playoffs. In fact, we won the World Series. But Nuke LaLoosh never pitched an inning. Not through the entire playoffs. He was on the roster. He was the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner and MVP. But he wasn't good enough to pitch even an inning of relief for the World Champion Reds. The long journey to reaching the majors was tarnished by a bad AI script that didn't see the value in using the League's best pitcher in the playoffs.
Online has seen a very big change with the addition of Season Leagues. You can now play a full season online that saves all stats, allows for trades and includes a 40-man roster. This is as close to being in the majors as you will get in an online game. Last year, I had some real issues with slowdown. However, in the games I played, things ran perfectly. I'm not sure what Sony did to improve its net code, but it definitely worked.
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