MLB ’10 The Show
Developer: SCE San Diego
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Genre: Realistic Sports Simulation
Release Date: 3/2/2010
Not many would argue that MLB ’09 The Show wasn’t one of the best – if not THE best – sports games of 2009. Sony’s been knocking their series out of the park since ’07 on the PS2, and the series has evolved into a game that can transcend into being liked by non-sports gamers. I rated it so highly last year that my personal sports game of the year ballot looked like this:
1a) NHL ’10
1b) MLB ’09: The Show
3) Everything Else (not counting Punch-Out!!, which is more arcade game than anything)
Considering I called NHL ’10 “the greatest sports game of all time”, MLB ’09 carried itself into lofty company, the likes only seen by games like ESPN NFL 2K5 and NHL ’94, games that gamers talk about years after they’ve gone out of style. Needless to say, I was practically giddy at the prospect of the release of MLB ’10 The Show, and a few snags – like the demo coming out two weeks later than it should have – didn’t really put a damper that excitement. Furthermore, the stated improvements in this year’s game tickled my sweet spot of what I wanted improved on ’09, especially the ability to call pitches in Road to the Show mode (RTTS) and a fully real-time presentation that eliminated the canned presentations that took away from the immersion of the experience.
I’m glad to report that those improvements live up to their billing. Unfortunately, they seem to have come at a price.
MLB ’10 The Show is less about world-changing evolutions and silly marketing blurbs like “Hitters vs. Catchers!” than it is about evolving what was – by far – the best non-text baseball game of all time. In an unheard of development, just about all of the changes they put in worked out beautifully. The biggest one for me when the game was first announced was the advent of real time presentation. I had a hard time showing other gamers what this was, so I’ll try my best here: when you hit a home run in any other baseball game, or do anything baseball related, it always cuts away to a canned animation designed to simulate what happens in a baseball game. For example, you’d hit a home run, and it would show a cutscene of the pitcher showing despair, with the runner rounding first base, even if the runner was on his way to second when the ball crossed the fence. Now, everything in the game is presented in real-time, meaning there’s no cut away to a canned sequence; players who hit home runs actually run the bases while pitchers kick the ground in disgust. It’s not perfect – there’s still a few cutaways after innings are over – but it has to be seen to be believed, and adds to the realism of the game.
Gameplay additions were mostly small, but one big one stands out: the ability, in Road to the Show mode, to play as the catcher in the field, and call pitches. This is a tremendous addition for someone like me who caught as a kid. It works a lot like pitching, in that you have to call pitches and location. Unlike pitching, you can’t really help it if your pitcher stinks and misses the zone consistently, so you have to know your pitcher, what pitches they can and can’t throw well consistently, and what each batter’s weaknesses are. It works as advertised, but I do wish there was a way for your pitcher to shake you off, like if you stupidly ask for a crossfire changeup low and inside to a left handed hitter. I also wish there was a mechanic so that you could go talk to your pitcher, if he’s either rattled or constantly shakes you off, but I feel that’s a couple of years away from becoming reality. Finally, let me warn that unless you have it set to not catch pitches, games drag on after awhile. When I play RTTS, one of the things I like about it is that I don’t have to sit through entire games; that’s not the case when you’re catching every pitch. Despite the fact that I’m familiar with the position, I changed my position in this mode because it dragged on. With that said, this is a tremendous addition for the dedicated gamer.
Other gameplay changes are minor at first, but still great additions for the discerning baseball gamer. They added a new way of doing pickoffs, allowing the player the control of either doing a throwover to keep the runner close, a legit pickoff move, or a “deceptive” pickoff move, like how a lefty will pick his leg up before going forward to the plate. This shows up more in online play than against the computer – it’s hard to fool the computer – but it’s a great mechanic to add to the realism of the game, especially when dealing with lefties. In RTTS mode, they added the option of batting practice before games, which was great for me to gauge where the ball is coming from and where my swing is. Along those lines, when bringing pitchers into a game now, it gives you the option of warming up that pitcher for eight pitches. This is doubly effective; not only does it allow a little more leeway when bringing in a pitcher that isn’t 100% warm (those pitches count towards his readiness), but it also helps in getting a new pitcher’s wind-up and release points for those using the pitcher bar. Trust me, that’s a big deal when you’re bringing in a guy like Francisco Rodriguez or Joakim Soria, both of whom have funky deliveries, into a close game. It’s also possible now to look into the opponent’s bullpen to see who’s warming up, to see if they have a situational lefty ready. This helps Tony LaRussa wannabes who feel they have to manage every left-right matchup to their favour.
The only gameplay thing they added that I wasn’t happy with in the slightest was a new running method in RTTS mode. Now, instead of advancing, they want you to hold the base that you’re going to. You HAVE to hold it; if you let go, you just stand there like a doofus. It’s also camera relative, so pressing up one minute means you’re trying to go back to a your base the next. This is a problem if you’re in scoring position, as it often means the difference between scoring and getting caught in a rundown. The game does let you switch back to the old method of running, but the game obviously wants people to use the new standard, no matter how bad it is.
The rest of the changes are primarily cosmetic, though they’re still great additions. Most of the changes went into presentation, such as showing a semi-accurate crowd count in the stands. For example, Fenway is almost always filled to capacity, and this is reflected in the crowd; there’s never an empty seat. Unfortunately, Kauffman Stadium is lucky to outdraw some AAA clubs, and it reflects in the empty atmosphere road games had in Kansas City for me, where one game drew under 8,000 fans (sorry, Chuck). They also added in some extra options for replays, such as the ability to record movies from replays with various camera angles and the ability to save the end of game highlight reel and export it to the XMB as an .mp4 file. I like this, and it’s easy to transfer files onto your computer for editing or uploading to YouTube, but the video quality in the XMB is very poor. Finally, there is now a way to add in custom soundtracks for different teams, in addition to the custom walk-up music that has been available since last year for hitters and pitchers. In short, when adding things in, MLB ’10 The Show does an outstanding job, running notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, I mentioned earlier that these changes had a price. The problem with games as complex as The Show is that they have millions of lines of code, each one like the thread at the end of a shirt. Pull the wrong thread, and things start to unravel. The San Diego crew pulled a lot of threads, and the result was a first for this series: bugs.
I can’t beat around the bush: The Show, even over a month after release, is a buggy game. A patch addressed some of them, but there are still issues. One of the issues that came up when the game first came out was the issue of seeing players on base, in the lead-off window, standing on black ground, like they didn’t put in the graphics at that point. Also, occasionally, one would see two lead-off windows with only one runner on base, with both windows showing the same thing. One time, while pitching with the camera set behind the pitcher, a hitter fouled off a pitch, and from behind him, another batter – a completely different one – stepped into the batter’s box, through the textures of the hitter at the plate (both were lefties), and started to dig in before the camera reset itself for my pitch. This is the kind of crap I would expect from a closed beta, not a retail ready game for a franchise that’s in its third annual release on PS3 hardware.
Most of those were addressed with patches, but my catcher not being able to get to a popup because he’s trying to run through a stationary hitter wasn’t. Nor was the issue where pitchers who get charged by hitters get ejected but the hitter doesn’t. Nor were any of the issues having to do with the DLC retro stadiums, who’s problems are myriad. I’ve had more balls go through roofs and walls then I care to count, and one time at Shibe Field had a shot down the line to right hit the area around where the foul line is, sound like it hit a bunch of cans, and then get called for a ground rule double, despite the fact that it’s still rolling on the field (meaning, it didn’t get stuck under the wall). This pissed me off because I would have had a triple out of that play when it happened. In short, good on Sony for adding in some great things, but boo on their shoddy QA work.
What’s sad is that the bugs obscure what is still the best baseball engine on consoles. Hitting and pitching are unchanged, nor did they need to be changed. The pitch meter is still the way to pitch (though the classic option remains), and simply aiming at the ball and swinging is the preferred method of hitting. It’s the simplest way of playing baseball on a console, and has been around since the Genesis, but what Sony lacks in imagination, it makes up for in execution. Pitches come in at the speeds one would expect them to come in at, and the difference between a 90 MPH fastball and a 95MPH fastball is the difference between pulling the ball into the gap and popping it up in foul ground, as it should be. Laymen think that hitting is as easy as “see ball, hit ball”, but things such as a pitcher’s release point have to be taken into account, which The Show emulates beautifully. The only real “gamey” aspect to hitting is that you’re able to guess where the pitcher is going to throw, and what type of pitch. Get one right, and you’re given an indication based on what it was; the strike zone box briefly illuminates if you got the pitch, and the location indicator lights up if you got the location. Get them both, and the controller vibrates, almost as if the game was lighting up as much as you were. This is a decent gameplay element that simulates some of the guesswork that goes into hitting major league pitching, but the more I’ve played the game, the less I’ve used it. It’s good in situations – like if you’re expecting a slider breaking away with two strikes – but for most uses, it just clutters your mind, in my experience. If I have one complaint, it’s that I see a lot more opposite field home runs – maybe a 40:60 ratio – than I would during a normal baseball game, with most of my pull home runs coming from dead-pull hitters like Ken Griffey Jr. Plus, since this is a videogame, it’s harder to see pitch tips than it would be in real life, so changeups are disproportionately effective because even a mediocre pitcher in a game like this isn’t going to slow his arm down, and the resolution of the game isn’t high enough to look at pitch grips if the pitcher’s showing the ball on his wind-up. With that said, that’s very nitpicky, and hitting and pitching is still superior to MLB 2K10’s, despite the latter game’s efforts.
Fielding, on the other hand, is vastly superior to the mess that 2K’s game showed. Nothing’s really changed, but the game does a great job of getting players into position, adjusting to the situation (i.e., automatically having a third baseman play closer to the plate when there’s the possibility of a drag bunt, for example), and queuing up throws is very well done, as particular attention was made to ensure that players have their throws properly queued before catching and throwing; if queuing up the throw while the ball is received, the thrower will go through the entire throwing animation instead of just getting the ball away, which is crucial on double plays and sacrifice flies. For the most part, this works well, though too often – more than last year, at least – the game would decide that I was really in no rush to get the ball out of my hand, and lollygagged on throws from deep in the hole to first. I lost a no-hitter because of this and could have eaten the controller. Also, I can predict accurately 90% of the time when a fielder is going to dive for a ball he has no business being near, and turning a double into worse; when the computer is fielding, it will happen often. And a lot of balls tend to go under the backhand sides of fielders that would normally at least knock them down Still, no console game offers better fielding.
One major complaint I have about gameplay is for baserunning, which goes beyond RTTS. Simply put, too often, what I tell the game to do isn’t done on the field. I’ve all but given up on stealing with runners on first and third, because about 80% of the time, even when I KNOW I’m doing the right thing (left stick of the runner on base + L2), it sends both runners. Sliding is also something that isn’t done properly nearly enough; I often tell the game to slide a certain way, and it either goes in a different way (screwing up chances to break up double plays), or stands up altogether, which led to a Jeremy Giambi Special as I had a runner tagged out at home standing up. I despise when my games do something I don’t want them to do, especially as this is a bug that wasn’t present last year.
In terms of modes, the two modes that see the most work are Franchise and Road to the Show. Franchise mode is mostly untouched from last year. The biggest thing Franchise Mode does, other than giving control of a Major League organization and its’ minor league affiliates, is become the first mode in a console game to get MLB’s various roster rules right. Most games get things like the trade deadline correct, but The Show utilizes all of the rules that a lot of fans don’t even know about, which affects how people handle their roster. Bringing up a major-league ready player to start the season is a good idea at first, but that brings prospects closer to the three year arbitration-eligible mark, which can cost valuable money for a small-market team. Plus, sending him back down costs him one of his major league options, and if they’re used up, they have to pass through waivers. This is assuming the player isn’t Super 2 eligible, and if you just asked “what the hell is a Super 2?”, there’s an exhaustive guide that gives you an explanation of what all of the different terms used in contract negotiations are, and what all of the different drafts (like the Rule 5 draft) entail. For those that don’t want to deal with all of this, the game allows you to delegate GM tasks to the computer, but they sometimes make daffy decisions that can leave your roster depleted.
For what it does right, franchise mode does a lot of things wrong as well. They removed the ability to see fan and player morale in specific ways; now, you only have a bar to go off of, and get the occasional email to let you know that fans are unhappy about a specific price of something, if you have those notifications turned on. Player development is also a bit screwed up, in that players only develop at the end of the year (during the year, it shows that every single player is getting worse in some way), and their development has no bearing on what level they played during the year. There comes a point in a player’s development where keeping him in the minors does minimal to no benefit when it comes to real life; for an example of this, watch Stephen Strasberg over the next month or so. In The Show, a 28 year old player in single-A can jump up twelve overall points if he “rolls” well enough after the season, whereas in real life, a 28 year old in single-A doesn’t exist because he’s retired and is selling insurance by that point. There are also some freaky rating rolls, such as the one time Jose Reyes lost 15 points before his 28th birthday, turning him into the world’s most expensive backup shortstop. Speaking of contracts, it baffles me how poorly The Show did with getting initial contracts done. When going into franchise mode, know that players do not have their actual contracts; they have something similar, but the game prorates them based on ability in most cases. Whether it’s good for your team or bad is irrelevant; the fact that they’re inaccurate is problematic, and worse, players that signed after the game was pressed – like Joe Mauer and Tim Lincecum – don’t have their new contracts in; good for Giants fans ($3.4m, but still arbitration eligible), bad for Twins fans ($14m AND he’s a free agent after ’10). Finally, there’s no way to just simulate a season and walk away. When you choose to sim the season, the game pops up with every little malady that comes across your team, no matter what your settings are. You can’t just tell the game to do everything automatically; it comes up saying “Player X broke a toenail, he’s going to miss one day. Should we put him on the DL?”. This happens across every level except single-A, so in a situation where simulating an entire season is something that should be doable while someone goes to pick up a pizza, it takes hours to get through one season while that person sits there and hits the button on “auto” for every stupid thing that happens, such as “The Bisons don’t have four full lineups!”. Franchise mode in The Show does what it needs to do and is effective, but it doesn’t even shape up to other sports games like NHL ’10, let alone competing with Out of the Park.
Road to the Show is the other single player mode that will get playing time. Other than catching, it’s not much different than last year. One addition that was made was more training minigames to make players better, and they work for their intended purpose. Otherwise, the goal of the mode is to be able to develop your player through the minor leagues on whatever team drafts you and eventually make the Majors. For its purpose, it works out well. You gain development points based on what you do during the game; perform well or follow instructions well, you’ll gain, and vice versa, though you never lose points between games (meaning, if you have 200 going in, you’ll have 200 going out no matter how poorly you play). You also have metrics to hit over a specific amount of time; for example, the game will want you to improve in two stats a certain point, get X amount of RBIs, and Y amount of fielding percentage. I don’t like arbitrary measures like this. For one, not much care seems to be made what stat it wants; it just wants stats. “I want 17 RBIs in five weeks!” “But I’m a #8 hitter and my team’s in last place, I won’t even SEE that many baserunners!” “Sucks to be you!” Furthermore, I have problems with the requirement to raise specific attributes for advancement. For one, the game has no real appreciation for what kind of player YOU want to build, it just wants you to build the stats IT wants you to build. If you want to spend points on power hitting, you can, but you’d better have throwing accuracy built up, because otherwise, you’ll get in trouble and possibly lose your spot in the lineup. Secondly, it doesn’t seem to care that if you don’t build a stat up for a while, it’s going to atrophy, so it gets a bit hard to keep your levels up at times, especially if you’re in a slump. Finally, the levels to get better seem higher than last year. Ironically, this is also the first season that Sony allows people to purchase upgrade points (and funds for franchise mode, though those are far less necessary) for their player, at a 1,000 point per dollar clip. I’m not 100% certain that these two points are related, but I’m suspicious.
Also, just like with just about anything, if you leave anything in RTTS mode to be done automatically, rest assured that it will be done poorly. This goes beyond seeing that you finished 0-5 in games that you had simulated, it actually got me benched for a week. I’ve developed my avatar – a catcher who can also play third base – the way I played baseball: I hit the ball hard, play good defense, and can’t run for shit. If I were to steal a base in real life, I’d make it, if only because the catcher would be too busy laughing at me to throw the ball. Naturally, I don’t steal, but I also hate running in RTTS mode so much that I started telling the game to let the AI handle it. I got a nastygram from my manager two games later, telling me that I was never allowed to steal due to the fact that I’m slow and can’t run the bases to save my life. In my head, I agreed; what the hell was I doing stealing? A few more games go by, when I get another nastygram, this time telling me that since I decided to steal again, I was benched for a game. A week later, I’m benched for a week, as told to me in an email that I swear is the closest a sports game has come to cursing me out. I had to turn running back on after that, because if I’m going to suck, at least I’m going to suck in ways that don’t get me benched. Overall, RTTS is as good as it was when it was started in 2008, but it’s been surpassed by other sports games, like NHL ’10‘s Be A Pro mode.
Finally, there’s online mode. A lot of care was put into being able to matchmaking this time around, with players able to “scout” specific game settings that they want, such as difficulty level and other minor game settings. The biggest deal is online leagues; for people that want to join a league, the game allows it for up to thirty players, though it’s best to get involved with friends that you know; joining random leagues is useless, from the horrid interface that goes into searching for leagues that aren’t abandoned, to getting in and standing a strong chance of someone abandoning. If you have a bunch of friends that own the game and can keep to a schedule, by all means, enjoy the leagues, but otherwise, this is a big deal that doesn’t mean much to most people. In terms of how the game actually plays online, there’s usually enough of a lag in terms of pitching and hitting to screw you up, even on “full” connection speeds, especially when pitching where the pitch meter is so important. A lot of the reason for this is because there’s so much timing involved in hitting and pitching, but some more effort needs to go into this to make it effective.
I’ve been somewhat of a negative nancy the past few paragraphs, so I’m going to finish with the game’s strongest suit: the presentation. This is one of those games that I can tell is developed by people that have an absolute love affair with baseball. Every park is lovingly recreated down to the smallest detail, every player that has a set face and style of hitting or pitching has all of that almost perfectly recreated, and the sound is amazing in all aspects. The three man booth of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler return, and they constantly say things that are relevant, witty, new (I STILL hear new things in late April), and which even link onto previous statements, such as when Campbell says that a curveball’s likely coming, and when it doesn’t, he follows up with “then again… uh, maybe not”. Not only that, but the stadium PA announcers are relevant for people that listen, by giving out train information after games, announcing during stoppages to check out local (actual) radio stations with their actual announcers, and even announcing team award winners from the previous season. When it comes to baseball, it’s all about the little things, and MLB ’10 The Show excels at the little things.
Control and Gameplay: Great
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
The good news for baseball fans is that MLB ’10 The Show is far and away the best console baseball game on the market.
The bad news is that there are still things that Sony needs to improve upon. We’re not to the point where Major League Baseball 2K is a worthy competitor for PS3 owners, but the 2010 version still has to compete with the 2009 version, and while ’10 is a better game, it’s not better to the point where non-discerning fans will feel the need to plunk down $60 if they either own ’09 or are looking for a PS3 baseball game and are deciding on possibly saving $40.
I recommend The Show for baseball fans, but ’10 is nowhere near the leap forward that ’09 was.