MLB '09: The Show Review (PS3)
Let us just get one thing out of the way, MLB 09: The Show is the best next-gen sports game yet. It is a must-own title, and anyone who is even remotely interested in baseball should consider checking it out.
It is also one of the deeper, more complex and realistic sports games I have ever gotten the chance to play. Simply put, games like High Heat and MVP can now be put on the shelf in the Sanner household because The Show has finally surpassed them.
Now, at this point of the review, I must stress that MLB 09: The Show is not perfect. There are several little bugs and interesting happenings that will make you shake your head like catchers sometimes do after a foul ball. But from my experience, these negatives only slightly detract from the overall package.
MLB 09: The Show is the best next-gen sports game to date.
As a pitcher in the real world -- at least when I play sports that resemble baseball -- my favorite part of the game of baseball is the pitcher/batter battle. If a baseball game does not nail this aspect of the game, then the rest of the game has zero chance of keeping my attention.
The Show nails this aspect of the game to such an extent that I almost feel like it will be overwhelming for people who are not familiar with baseball. If you are an arcade-style gamer who swings at everything, you are going to get extremely frustrated in a hurry.
While batting, you have to learn to be patient at the plate and learn how to look for certain pitches in certain situations. And, if you are not prepared to take balls and struggle with hitting, turning on the "quick pitch counts" will help you a bit (think of it as a somewhat arcade-like equivalent).
The Show is also a game that is traditionally ripe with little details that just make your jaw drop in awe. Two particularly awesome things I noticed this year were the catcher giving you a sign so you can simply pitch off what he is calling, and the fact that the pitcher actually grips the ball correctly. So on a slider, a pitcher has two fingers off to the correct side of the ball. For a changeup, the pitcher holds the ball further in his palm. It is an astounding level of detail and realism that you just have to see to believe.
One thing that I did find particularly annoying while hitting, though, was how the timing of swings had changed rather noticeably from last year. I was incredibly early on every type of pitch, and my offense was pitiful for the first five games or so. I turned up the pitch-speed slider and that fixed my issue. If you are a veteran having issues with offense, I would recommend you set pitches to come in faster as well.
Hitting in MLB 09: The Show is quite challenging.
Pitching is more realistic than ever. Pitchers will be affected by attributes, confidence and fatigue while on the mound. That sounds obvious to say, but unlike many sports games where ratings mean nothing, you can clearly tell the difference between pitching with Cliff Lee and Vicente Padilla.
The different pitches behave correctly and definitely look similar to their real-life counterparts, which is something some baseball games have taken for granted historically. Pitcher fatigue seems to be OK to me, but I think some pitchers tire rather quickly. Some starting pitchers are famished after 70 pitches -- I usually use the Rangers, which probably has something to do with that phenomenon. With more talented pitchers, the fatigue issue is not as pronounced, and the game also implements a great set of gameplay sliders that can be manipulated to tweak pitcher fatigue levels.
Overall, better pitchers will typically locate pitches better and are less likely to leave a pitch hanging. However, if you are caught playing with the Texas Rangers, prepare to see a lot of pitches end up where you did not want them to.
This is true of the batters as well, just not to the same extent. I can clearly tell the difference between batting with Alex Rodriguez and Gary Matthews Jr., but the difference is not as pronounced.
I would argue that this is a tribute to the game as well, since the difference between hitters on a certain day is not as pronounced. You have to take in a longer stretch of games to really tell the difference between them because your nine-hole hitter will sometimes have a three- or four-day stretch of good hitting while your star in the three-hole strikes out four times and does not get a hit at all in the same period. Evaluating hitting is about the long-term trends, and I think even The Show gives that particular piece of baseball a rather realistic treatment.
Looks like he's going to be running awhile.
One of my main gripes with fielding last year were the throws to second base during a force out. In the past, the fielders would throw these lackadaisical floaters that caused you to actually miss out on the force out. I am very happy to write that this is no longer an issue.
The rest of the fielding elements are outstanding for the most part. There are enough throwing errors that you will know they are in the game, but they are largely ratings-based and happen at good intervals, so you will not feel like they are sticking out like a Marlins fan at a home game.
I am very happy with the fielding overall. I did notice that the outfielders still move a little unnaturally for my tastes -- it just seems unnatural for them to be able to cut on a dime like they do. However, I can understand why this was done, as sometimes you have to make sacrifices in realism in order to make sure the end-user experience is as good as possible. Still, I hope this receives some tweaking in '10.
The outfielders can cut on a dime kind of like Barry Sanders.
The Little Bugs
I must mention -- after spending the last thousand or so words gushing over the gameplay -- that there are a ton of little bugs that are in MLB 09: The Show. When a company builds a game so complex and so rich in detail, I would say some bugs are bound to pop up.
One bug that I hope will be patched involves the Cubs playing all of their franchise home games at night (sans Sundays). This is baseball blasphemy, and the folks at SCE Studios San Diego should rectify this egregious sin.
Other bugs, such as weird animations and managers who change skin color while walking out for a mound visit are there, and you will probably notice something else that is strange or weird once or so a game. Nevertheless, for the first time since I can remember, I was able to forgive these types of little misgivings because the game is simply so good on the field.
If there is any area of the game that is holding it back, it is the franchise mode. As a fan of the Out of the Park Baseball series, I have come to expect a streamlined way to manage my franchise.
MLB 09: The Show offers a very similar level of depth that OOTP offers in franchise management –- for the record, though, it is not quite as deep –- but the interface is just terrible. You can say I am spoiled, but the roster management screen in The Show is the single-worst roster management screen I have ever seen in a sports video game. It took me 15 minutes to figure out what the heck was going on with my team.
It seems like The Show overwhelms itself with information. Because of this, it ends up trying to present a lot of information in a very little area. My suggestion to the developers is to rethink how the entire franchise mode is organized. The details are fine, but the interface is just terrible.
But, while the interface in the franchise mode is a mess, it is still more than worth noting that the level of detail is simply amazing for a console sports game. I would honestly say that the franchise mode in MLB: The Show far surpasses the entire game of MLB Front Office Manager, funky interface and all.
You have every imaginable option available to you, including salary arbitration hearings, the Rule 5 draft and so on. The Show's franchise mode is deep, and if you can figure out the interface and are a baseball nut, you will spend endless hours managing your franchise.
I also simulated a season, and I found the stats to be mostly realistic, although it would take a far higher sample size to see if some of the discrepancies were because of the simulation engine or just strange occurrences within the game. I did not see any teams like Kansas City or Houston winning 98 games though.
I only hope Single-A teams are in the game next year.
It's too bad we couldn't get failing companies to buy naming rights to our parks in The Show.
Road to the Show
While it has not changed much since last year, Road To the Show continues to be one of the best single-player career modes available in sports gaming.
You start out by creating your player and are brought to spring training to fight for a spot on your club's roster. In all likelihood, you will be sent to your team's AA or AAA affiliate, where you will play and work your way up the food chain based on your in-game performance, and your ability to meet career goals laid out to you by the organization.
One of the great features of Road To the Show is the "politics" involved, and the personal decisions you have to make as a player -- plus the consequences that follow. If you feel like your skills are not being used correctly, you can talk to the manager and try to get more playing time. How the team responds can determine your progress as a player. And if relations completely crumble, you can ask to be sent to another team where you can resume your journey once again.
With the goals, you can choose to follow the team's thinking or make your own decisions about where to spend your points. However, continuing to go against your club's wishes could lead to a diminished role on the team and lots of unnecessary drama.
While the mode still works, there is the risk in the coming years that it will begin to feel a bit stale if changes are not made. But for now, it is still one of the best features in The Show.
Yeah, the lighting is THAT good.
Needless to say, the sights and sounds of The Show make it look and sound like a big-time game. The new lighting effects are the best ever in a sports video game. The player models look very good as well, although it is hit or miss when it comes to the accuracy of faces, swings and pitching motions.
The commentary trio of Rex Hudler, Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell is once again incredibly good. There are some out-of-place lines and some frequent repeats, but the group could still be considered the best announcing trio in sports video games today.
Also on the sound front, the crowd is mostly spot on; though, sometimes after big plays like home runs, the home crowd stays unnecessarily rowdy for about three more pitches. At any rate, the people in the crowd sound like typical MLB fans, hecklers and all.
It is amazing what giving a game great looks and audio will do for it, and the audio and graphics in MLB 09: The Show simply make the game that much better.
I said in the franchise-mode portion of the review, "If there is any area of the game that is holding it back, it is the franchise mode." Well, depending on your preference, online play could also be that one weak spot.
I have played multiple games online and all of them have suffered from some sort of lag, which has been a chronic problem with the series over the year; a few of my games even became unplayable because of the lag.
This is a shame because because baseball is the one sport that cannot afford to suffer from lag. There is just too much timing involved.
When you do play a game that has minimal or no lag, the experience still is not equivalent to playing offline. The animations do not always sync up, it seems like it is nearly impossible to check swing, and the graphics do take a bit of a hit
On the bright side, the online options are pretty solid. So if something can be done about the lag, there will be plenty to keep you busy online. The online-leagues feature is a novel idea, with flex scheduling and a full live draft. But again, if the lag is not fixed, all the features in the world will not save the game online.
Simply put, run and go get MLB 09: The Show now!
If you are a fan of baseball, will be a fan of baseball or have ever in the past thought about being a fan of baseball, you owe it to yourself to at least check out MLB 09: The Show.
This game currently represents the pinnacle of the genre we cover at OS. There is no other game that touches it quality-wise. It has been almost two years since a game earned a score above a "9" at OS, but that streak is now over. If not for the many little bugs, the online mode issues and the clunky franchise interface, the Show would have been rated as a 10.
On the Field: This is baseball. It is not a perfect game, but if I were rating this section, it would be very close to a 10. The pitching, hitting and fielding all just play right.
Graphics: The lighting is realistic, the stadiums I have visited over the years in real life look spot on, and the player models are solid.
Sound: The announcing is great -- the best team going today in a sports video game. That does not mean it is perfect, though, so I am looking for better things moving forward.
Entertainment Value: If you enjoy the intricacies of the game of baseball, this game could keep you entertained forever.
Learning Curve: Get ready, you will need to spend some time practicing before you succeed. Work the count, locate your pitches and be smart in the field. This is a deep game, and it will not be easy to pick up and master.
Score: 9.5 (Instant Classic)