IGN Review of MLB 07: The Show
Since the PSP came out, Sony Computer Entertainment's first party baseball game has easily been one of the best franchises on the handheld. Even with a few limited features, the port stood out as an excellent translation from the PS2 version of the game. Last year's presentation of The Show was a solid title, which held definite promise for MLB '07 to truly shine. Unfortunately, while this year's version of The Show adds to the gameplay in just about every way, a frame rate issue keeps the overall gameplay from being a significant leap forward.
Last year, the primary focus of the game was placed on batting with the redesigned Zone Control Batting system. This year, the attention turns to towards the mound, with a two part system designed solely around the pitcher. Of course, every pitcher has a set number of pitches they are good at throwing. The Pitch Command System not only places them on the face buttons from strongest to weakest, it evaluates the confidence that your pitcher has in that particular ball as it leaves his hand with a meter. As you land more strikes or get players out with a particular pitch, your pitcher's faith in that pitch will grow, and it will get much stronger. For example, fastballs will have more speed and curveballs will break more over the plate.
Pitchers will have to vary up their pitches while they're on the mound, however. Constantly relying on one specific pitch over another not only sells your opponent on what you're willing to toss, it decreases the effectiveness of your other pitches. As a result, MLB 07 adds in the other part of the pitching system, Adaptive Pitching Intelligence, which is governed by the catcher. During the game, your catcher will read the situation, batter that your facing and strength of the pitches you're throwing and give you a suggestion of what you should throw and where in (or out) of the zone you should place the ball. Players then have the opportunity to disregard that pitch and choose a separate pitch and location, or can choose to follow the suggestion and hopefully deliver a strike. It may seem like a minor adjustment, but it can add to the strategy of the game when you're trying to balance your pitches and how you're painting the strike zone.
Then again, you'll also need to worry about whether or not the umpire thinks your pitch is a valid strike, or if you're going to unintentionally walk half the lineup. MLB '07 now features Umpire Personalities that dictates how the plate ump will call the game. You have a chance to pull down one of three different guys during any particular matchup, which will force you to adjust your playing style on the fly. Loose strike zone umps will often call strikes, even if the pitch is clearly a ball, which will force you to be on your toes. Tight strike zone umps won't be so forgiving on borderline balls, so if you try to paint the corners, you may find a lot of balls being called. Otherwise, you may run into an ump that calls it right down the middle, so a ball is a ball and a strike is a strike.
While it's great that the game "keeps pitchers honest" with calls this way, it sucks that you have to essentially stumble into figuring out what kind of umpire you're going to have. Major league teams know which umpires are loose with their calls and which ones are sticklers for the zone, so whenever they see them step behind the plate, the pitchers know how to adjust their game. Unfortunately, you don't have any warning or information to discover this, so you can potentially go through two or three innings before you have a full sense of how the game will be called, which can potentially be dangerous to your score.
Now, once you're on base, you can take advantage of the new Baserunner targeting system, which lets you point the left analog stick in the direction of a base to select the runner. As soon as he's selected, his icon will blink on the diamond display, and you can hit a specific button to send him to that base. This effectively replaces the Classic baserunning mechanic of sending a character from, say, first to third, because you can literally highlight the first baseman and direct him to that base with one button press. It's a nice addition, but it can sometimes be a bit sticky as far as trying to parcel out directions before the pitch.
The other tweak is to the fielding system, which implements a new meter to determine the strength of a throw from a player. The longer you hold down the button, the harder the throw is to your intended target. The problem with the fielding system is that the meter is somewhat inconsequential to the actual play, especially since certain throws are automatically determined to be light throws even when you've been holding the button for a while. Since it doesn't seem to actually affect the accuracy of the throw, even though it's supposed to, the feature seems somewhat ineffectual to the gameplay. As a quick aside though, why is almost every throw a one hopper? If I'm on first base, I don't need to hop to toss the ball back to the pitcher, yet just about every single player will do this. Yet for some reason, just about every throw involves a hop before it leaves a player's hand.
While last year's career mode wasn't really breathed on (apart from the updated menu system and presentation), MLB '07 features a brand new take on the career mode with Road to the Show. Similar to Superstar mode from Madden, you'll create a player and solely experience the league from that position's perspective. You're not the manager of the team you're on -- the computer handles all of those details. As a result, the computer will give you either situational tasks, like swinging away during an at bat, or specific goals to accomplish, such as not getting tagged out when you're on base or driving a run home. Successfully performing these tasks will add to the number of points you can use to boost your player's stats, making him a more formidable player in the game as well as increasing his status amongst the club. Consistently fail tasks, and you'd better expect to be spending a ton of time stuck in the minors until you can prove to your skipper that you deserve another shot at The Bigs.
This places a completely new spin on the game, and really will test your skills as you attempt to perform sac flies on demand or successfully hit for the cycle to keep your manager happy. But there's a ton of depth here, and the fact that the game fast forwards to your next at bat or defensive situation means that you'll have the opportunity to fly through games quickly. There's definitely a rush when you discover that the goal of driving a run in just happens to be during the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the club is looking for your hot bat to perform.
However, as exciting as the Road to the Show can be, there are still a couple of problems that happen to plague the game mode. For one thing, if you happen to play one of the outfielders, it's impossible to perform a defensive adjustment. That can be especially difficult if you know that a particular hitter likes going deep, which can hurt you if you're trying to get a jump on the ball. Another issue is the disorienting camera angles. It's possible to have a play go off and be completely confused as to where the ball happens to be, which can hinder your attempts to accurately decide what you need to do. For example, if you're baserunning, you can only rotate the camera around 180 degrees along the flat plane of the basepath, which doesn't help if you're trying to spot what's going on in the outfield. It's extremely frustrating to take off from a base and not have a clue whether or not a fly ball is being caught or whether a cutoff man is ready to throw you out until you get to a different base, at which point it can be too late.
MLB 07 also features a number of new online features either via Ad Hoc or Infrastructure play. For one thing, players can join online leagues of up to 30 separate teams and establish leaderboards, playoffs and other items. A player can also choose to be the commissioner of the own league, establishing separate rules and league schedules. Of course, you may want to know who you happen to be playing against, and thanks to the Online Player Card, you have a sense of things such as whether a player likes to disconnect if he's down by multiple runs late in the game, or what difficulty rating they like to play with. This is a great measuring stick to determine if the person on the other side of the screen is a worthy challenge or not worth your time.
Players can also keep on top of the latest news going on in the MLB with a Sportscast that updates the MLB ticker at the bottom of the screen with news and other details. You'll also be able to update rosters (which you'll need to do out of the box, since they are a month old), but there's also one very cool side feature that most players might not expect. Previous MLB titles have always featured a ton of various sliders that you can use to tweak your game to create the perfect settings for you. Players now have the ability to save these adjusted settings and upload them to the MLB servers, where other players can download them. If you ever felt that you could determine the best settings for the game, such as not being able to guess a pitch or eliminating the throwing meter, here's your chance to help your fellow MLB player.
Finally, PSP owners now have the opportunity to post discussions to the MLB 07 Message Boards, as well as send and receive mail to friends that you've played against online. Tie in the fact that MLB 07 has game sharing for friends, and you might think that the online community couldn't get any better, right? Well, I'd hate to be nitpicky, but I still want to see the rivalry mode from last year's game make its way over to the PSP. Considering the game sharing and massive league play that's been implemented in this year's title, is it too much to ask for a Rivalry mode so friends could test their favorite teams across infrastructure mode? Maybe next year...
Visually, MLB 07 hasn't really received a significant facelift in graphics from last year. The stadiums will still feature a lot of generic background textures with a lot of aliasing issues and rendering passes that will crop up on camera angles. Crowd textures are a bit smoother than they were in last year's game, although every now and then they'll perform in this weird animation loop that pops them back into place after a few seconds. Fortunately, many of the players' character models have been improved significantly from last year's game. The seams on character models have been significantly reduced, their hands now actually look more realistic, and the faces of the players now look much better.
However, for some strange reason, MLB 07 features a strange frame rate drop whenever the ball is hit. The speed of the game will inevitably sync back up, but for some reason, the camera doesn't follow the onscreen action as well as it did last year, which is a shame. It's not that it's one of those facets that will ruin the game by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a significant step backwards that you have to get accustomed to whenever you're playing a game. Combined with the other camera issues, particularly within Road to the Show, and it seems like one little glitch managed to mess up the presentation of this game for this year.
The sound hasn't changed significantly either. Players will still get razzed by fans, the crowd will still roar or express disappointment based on how the home team is doing, and Vasgersian, Hudler and Campbell are still somewhat behind in their play calling. At the very least, the timing of a call has been tightened up somewhat, so that instead of being five to seven seconds behind the onscreen action, they're around 3-5 now. It's a minor adjustment, but it does help. The game also still packs the diverse musical soundtrack from previous years, with rock and rap songs filling out the selections for the game.
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