Video Game Review: MLB 10 The Show
The graphics in MLB 10 The Show are simply spectacular.
As someone that had only played Sony’s baseball series on a PSP, I was more than a little eager to finally get the chance to put the critically acclaimed title through its paces on my Playstation 3. It didn’t take long to see why it has been so highly regarded, as MLB 10 The Show packs a ton of little touches on top of excellent gameplay to create a truly memorable recreation of America’s pastime.
Pitching is handled via the same meter system I first remember seeing in EA’s MVP Baseball series during the original Xbox days. It was great then and still holds up well despite minimal advancement. You start the process by selecting which pitch you’re going to throw, then tap X to begin your delivery, which causes the meter to start filling. As it nears the top you’ll see a sweet spot to get optimal power on your pitch — stop the meter too soon and you’ll throw softly, let it to go too far and you’ll overthrow the pitch. After it fills all the way a line will move back down where you’ll once again have a target area to hit. The closer you get to that point the more accurate you’ll be. It’s all about timing.
As your pitcher becomes fatigued or rattled the meter can fill faster or your sweet spot may shrink, making it more difficult to mow down hitters. Even something as simple as working from the stretch rather than the wind up will alter timing; this keeps it from being overly simplistic. There are two drawbacks with this system, though. First, it draws your attention away from home plate and forces you to focus on the meter. Second, it makes all the pitchers feel very similar since your success is dependent on accurately timing the button hits.
One noteworthy new addition on the bump is an actual pickoff system. No longer does your pitcher own just one move. Instead he can make a casual throw to the base, utilize a quick pickoff attempt and even a deceptive move. They’re all easy to execute and it adds another layer of realism to pitching.
At the plate things also remain essentially unchanged. You still have the option to swing for either contact (X) or power (square) along with the ability to check your swing and lay down a bunt (circle). Before the pitcher delivers you can guess what pitch is coming, both the type (fastball, curve, etc.) and location (down, up and away). Once the pitcher begins his windup the strike zone will blink red if you guessed correctly as to the type, or a section of the zone will fill up to indicate you were right about location — if you see both you can just sit on the pitch. Hitting can be difficult in MLB 10 The Show, but that’s how it should be and the system really emphasizes the importance of working the count, anticipating pitches and knowing tendencies. If you step into the virtual batter’s box thinking you’re going to put every pitch into the seats you’re in for a lot of frustrating walks back to the dugout.
The fielding controls are solid and things play out about as well as I’ve ever seen in a video game in terms of realistic range, arm strength and frequency of errors. Everything just looks and feels right, even if the throwing meter is underwhelming. Baserunning can also take a little getting used to when it comes to combining the left stick and face buttons to advance runners, but once you get the hang of it the controls become imminently accessible.
The visuals in MLB 10 The Show are, in a word, stunning. Player faces look amazingly accurate, and I don’t just mean guys like Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, as even the lesser known guys are beautifully rendered. As excellent as that work is, however, it pales in comparison to the incredibly lifelike animations in every facet of the game. Pitcher windups, release points and even grips are painstakingly recreated. Swings are varied and look airtight in their authenticity.
Then, there’s the fielding. Simply stated I’ve never seen any sports game recreate the feel of a sport the way The Show does with the fielding animations. Watching your team turn a double play where your shortstop ranges deep into the hole, flips the ball behind his back to your second baseman, who then bare hands it and fires to first for the out is awe inspiring. Players move so naturally out there; they boot balls, make poor throws, argue close calls, express disappointment when a play isn’t made and a thousand other small touches. It’s tremendous.
One of my favourite moments came during Road to the Show when I was on the mound. I fired in a fastball and the batter fouled it right off the umpire’s mask…and the mask dislodged as the ump slumped to his knees. I can’t oversell how all these touches come together to create a sports gaming experience unlike any other, and the development team deserves no end of credit.
The Show also does a good job of creating a broadcast experience with plenty of dynamic camera angles, replays and stat overlays. You’ll also get little touches like hitters shedding their helmets or talking to base coaches as the game “goes to break” to add more of a televised feel. Gamers can also use the game’s user-friendly Movie Maker to create highlights and upload them directly to YouTube.
As great as things are visually, however, the commentary can’t keep pace. As a SoCal resident, I’ve had more than my fill of Matt Vasgersian, who handled play-by-play duties for the Padres for several years. He’s surprisingly solid in his role here, though, and is stronger sticking to scripted calls than trading absurd stories with Mark Grant. His colour man in The Show, Dave Campbell, is shaky and repetitive but still rates comfortably ahead of Rex Hudler in the pecking order. Hudler’s comments bring almost nothing to the table and sound detached from the other two. The rest of the audio is very strong, particularly the ambient noise in the stadiums, but I’d love to see more attention given to overhauling the commentary for next season.
Realism is the name of the game when it comes to the on-field product in MLB 10 The Show. I’ve touched on all the aspects, big and small, that go into making it such an engaging experience so I won’t rehash them here. Just know that this game does as good a job as any I’ve ever seen in making what you’re looking at seem like the real thing.
As with most sports titles these days, The Show comes packed with two primary single-player modes: Road to the Show (RTTS) and Franchise. We’ll start with the former, which allows you to create a player and follow them throughout their career beginning at Double-A. You’re able to select a starter or closer on the mound or any position player, including an expanded catcher mode that allows you to call games. My playing time early on was sporadic, but that’s to be expected as your ratings are low and you’ve yet to earn a starting role.
You’ll only be playing events that affect you directly, such as at-bats and fielding situations for a position player and obviously whenever you’re on the mound as a pitcher. Goals are obtainable in certain situations and after the game you’ll be given a detailed run down of where training points were earned (holding opponents scoreless, getting hits) and lost (failing a goal, not covering a base). These training points are then used to select activities that improve your player’s attributes. It’s a slow but ultimately rewarding process as you advance incrementally through the farm system.
I would stress that those thinking about progressing through RTTS with a catcher need to realize it will be exponentially longer because you’ll be calling every pitch in about four out of five games. That’s not to say it’s not an interesting edition, but the dedication level needed to advance will definitely thin the herd trying to reach the majors as a backstop.
Beyond the games themselves you’ll be given the chance to do some optional training to improve your skill set. As a pitcher you may be asked to throw a three-inning simulated game. Position players can perform fielding drills and so on. Another cool addition is that if you’re in the starting lineup you’ll be given the option to take batting practice before the game. You can also voice concerns about your role on the club, team chemistry and more.
Managerial A.I. can be questionable at times, however. I opened my career as an 18-year-old middle reliever for the Birmingham Barons and was eased into action by pitching in every game of the team’s opening five-game set. There’s no way a manager would trot out any reliever, much less one that age, that many times in a row. Once I became a starter I seemed to stagnate far too long at the back end of the rotation despite being the team’s most effective hurler. The decision as to when to leave me in and when to pull me seemed arbitrary as well, but these issues don’t ruin the experience by any means.
Switching our focus to the Franchise mode, The Show puts more tools at your disposal than probably any console game I’ve ever seen. In fact, it comfortably outpaces the depth of last year’s MLB Front Office Manager, which was built entirely around the GM experience. Everything from personnel moves, draft picks and contract negotiations on down to hot dog prices, stadium advertising and whether to have your club travel by plane or bus is included.
That ability to micromanage can certainly be a bit overwhelming and unwieldy given the less than stellar menu system, but the game does offer the chance to have most of the various tasks handled by the CPU. I had this meet with mixed results as the game seemed to handle certain aspects that I didn’t ask it to while not monitoring areas that I did. Personally I don’t mind that level of control, but I’m sure some would rather not be bothered. Also, a bug that is known to exist (though I didn’t encounter it) is the A.I. trading players from your team even when that aspect is set to manual. A few other bugs have been found within the Franchise mode as well, including games freezing at certain stadiums, and while some have been patched and others have fixes in the works you’ll need access to the Playstation Network for those issues to be remedied.
One thing that’s sure to stand out is the trading A.I., as you are going to see some jaw dropping transactions take place with stars you’d never see switch teams in real life populating the trading block (Pujols, anyone?) and waiver wire — I scooped up Victor Martinez off waivers. Obviously, blockbuster swaps do happen, but not to the degree they occur in The Show, which I feel is a drawback.
Another item I’d put on that list is free agents not adjusting their asking price as the season wears on. I lost my second baseman for two months and decided to try to sign Felipe Lopez for the rest of the season. Even though it was early July, he wouldn’t budge off his demand of a three-year deal worth over $10 million. To be fair I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sports game capture that aspect of free agency, but with all the details that are attended to here it’s unfortunate that such a seemingly basic aspect of contract negotiations hasn’t found its way in.
Although the bugs are a legitimate concern, particularly for gamers without PSN, most of the mode’s other issues amount to little more than nitpicking. Yes, the baseball purist in me doesn’t like seeing Derek Jeter on the Astros, but the further along you go the less those things matter as computer generated players begin populating the league. Simulating games result in reasonable full season stats and enough injuries to test your organizational depth. Franchise mode has shortcomings, but it still offers unparalleled control on the console market.
Beyond the two primary offline modes you’ll also be able to spend your time playing the best recreation of the Home Run Derby to date (part of a really cool All-Star Weekend), honing your skills with practice drills or calling the shots in Manager Mode.
Shifting to online, MLB 10 The Show offers the depth of full user-controlled leagues or the relative simplicity of head-to-head matchups. The lobbies are easy to navigate and there are always plenty of people playing. Most importantly, however, is that The Show delivers an exceptionally smooth online experience with minimal lag — an absolutely vital component in a timing based game like baseball.
No baseball game I’ve ever played has more accurately recreated the look and feel of the sport itself than MLB 10 The Show. It’s still got areas that need to be addressed, but I can’t imagine anyone that considers themselves a baseball fan not enjoying it immensely.