MLB '07: The Show REVIEW

MLB '07: The Show Review (PS3)

Over the last few years, Sony first-party developer, San Diego Studios, has been quietly crafting the best sports game available - regardless of sport or platform - with their MLB: The Show series of baseball games.
There's no question in my mind that you won't find a more in-depth, loving re-creation of any sport than The Show; a title that screams, "We love baseball!" through every bit and byte on its vast Blu-ray disc.
It's a testament to the quality of the game, that even though it feels glaringly unfinished in parts, it doesn't substantially dull the glow of one the finest console baseball titles ever released.
First, a note to the reader: ignore the blasted score. Yes, I'm serious.
Game scores exist merely to feed the monster that is Metacritic.com and give higher-ups some sort of simple, distilled bullet point for presentation purposes; it can't appropriately convey all the nuance and subtlety that hours upon hours of gameplay can bring to the fore.
As such, their usefulness is extremely limited - and especially so in the case of this game.
Put simply, The Show's gameplay is sublime, and the better you know the sport of baseball, the more enjoyment you'll derive from playing it.
Every at-bat feels like a battle, whether pitching or hitting, and the game's "feel", an admittedly vague and indefinable quality that's quite real nevertheless, is nearly perfect.
As a pitcher, you'll need to nibble at the corners, change speeds - and throw balls outside the strike zone - lest the batters catch on and knock you around like a piñata.
You'll feel the difference between pitching as the Twins' Johan Santana and the Angels' Ervin Santana, and face entirely different ways of succeeding with precise hurlers like the ChiSox' Mark Buerhle or fire-ballers like the Tigers' Joel Zumaya. Facing a team like the Red Sox with your favorite squad's fifth starter is downright intimidating, and it's thanks to The Show's fabulously effective pitching interface.
Starting at six o'clock, and continuing counter-clockwise, the meter shows you a pitcher's repertoire at a glance, from their best pitch to their worst. A small bar under each pitch shows its relative effectiveness - start fanning guys with the high cheese, and your fastball will get more effective; but if you've been neglecting the curve ball during that time, the next time you bring out "Uncle Charlie", don't expect it to have much bite.
Managing a pitcher on the mound therefore becomes an entertaining challenge. While your catcher will call for location and pitch type (and does so quite sensibly), there will still be times, much like a real pitcher, that you'll want to shake him off and keep some other pitches from getting rusty. The player's confidence also matters here. Maybe you hit the outside edge perfectly with a nasty slider, but if the Twins' Justin Morneau just deposited into the Metrodome's right-field "Hefty Bag" anyway, expect your slider's effectiveness to drop.
You'll often hear commentators mention that a pitcher's not only battling the opposing hitters, but himself as well, and that's never been better represented in a game then it is in The Show.
At the plate, the dedication to realism is evident. If you're facing an effective pitcher, they'll pick the corners, change their speeds, bust you inside, and generally do everything in their power to get you out. Fastballs and change-ups look nearly identical upon release, just like in real-life, and the game's crafty pitchers will use that to their full advantage. If you're swinging at garbage, expect to see more of it, as pitchers won't even bother throwing strikes to undisciplined hitters.
The best way to succeed at the plate is the way the pros do - they way every Little Leaguer is instructed to do - wait for "your" pitch. The game's pitch-guessing mechanic, while somewhat unrealistic at first glance, actually does an excellent job of granting the game player the real-life advantages of waiting for a specific pitch.
The two-part system entails guessing a pitch type and location. Guess the pitch type correctly, and the strike zone borders will momentarily flash red; guess the location, and you'll see a target denoting where the pitch will cross the strike zone. Guess them both, and, well - it's as good as Christmas - just don't miss. You can use the right stick to influence the hit type, so if you need a sacrifice fly, tap that right stick up just before you swing… or if you're Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, just do it to see if you can crack the 500-foot barrier on that hanging curve.
The game's batting model depends on difficulty level; on the lowest setting, it's merely timing-based, on the default difficulty, you'll need to pick a direction in the strike zone while you take your cut, and on the highest difficulty setting, you'll need to place your bat precisely on the ball. Combine that with an excellent set of sliders, and everyone can find (or create) a hitting mechanic that they like.
In the field, the game flows beautifully, cruising along at a silky frame rate and providing excellent camera coverage of the field. Throws "pre-load" well, and the throwing meter at the feet of the players allows more control over your fielders. While you might rarely see some oddities, such as the opposing pitcher struggle to track down an infield fly when the second baseman or shortstop should wave him off, such instances are few and far between - despite what you may have read elsewhere. Fielding may be difficult at times, but it's never due to the camera or the game's control.
It should be noted that the Sixaxis controller can be used for jumping and diving in the field. However, I didn't find it consistent enough or quick enough for my tastes, and as such, the game performed more reliably when using the buttons or right analog stick instead.
On the base-paths, the Sixaxis controls can play a role in sliding, too, but it feels a bit tacked-on and unnatural. Controlling runners with consistency is quite probably the most difficult part of playing The Show, but after a while, it becomes quite manageable. If you're struggling with it, you can switch to "Auto" baserunner controls, but keep in mind that, when under computer control, players may choose to steal on their own.
Each game of The Show is an enjoyably unpredictable experience thanks to myriad of animations and the way they affect the game. Expect bobbled grounders, botched fly balls, off-line throws and plays that will make you jump off your sofa and jab at the buttons for a replay. In motion, The Show is jarringly lifelike, with one notable exception - players simply run right through one another as if they were ghosts unless there's a collision at the plate. While it's not the first game to do so, the fact that everything else is so realistic and engrossing makes the flaw seem shocking by comparison, and it completely takes the gamer out of the moment, which is unfortunate.
While the game does have some lackluster textures in spots, player models (including most faces) and animation are, by and large, excellent. The Show has a very clean, almost utilitarian look that begins to grow on you, and the presentation is top-notch.
It may not have all the bells and whistles of MLB 2K7, but what it lacks in flash, it more than makes up for in depth. The three-man announcing team of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler is as good as it gets, delivering terrific play-by-play and loads of player-specific commentary with gusto, and the game's sounds compliment it nicely. Behind the plate, the well-animated umpire helps bring the game to life, and active base coaches add authenticity as well. The fans in the stands may be the best in video-game history, but oddly, the dugouts are empty during play, which tends to defeat the purpose somewhat.
Some of the cut-scenes are amazing simply due to the depth that they represent. Play a franchise game with the Phillies, and soon into the season, pitcher Jamie Moyer will likely reach his 2,000th strikeout. When he fans No. 2,000, the game switches to a cut-scene of Moyer doffing his cap to the crowd while the announcers recognize the achievement. That, ladies and gentlemen, is attention to detail.
But that same attention to detail seems to waver at certain points, giving this reviewer the impression that the game's developers simply ran out of time to finish it.
I witnessed a wonderful cut-scene where the announcers talked about a rocking Leo Mazzone, watching his Orioles hurler struggle on the mound. The only problem? It's wasn't Mazzone they were focused on; the rocking coach in question was a member of the competing Royals. This team-swapping happens with base coaches at times, too.
There are other oddities: uniforms that are inaccurate on the selection screen before the game, but are correct in-game, the starting pitcher's stats during a game-loading screen seem to be missing a leading "1" on occasion or are sometimes absent entirely, and your player profile counts simulated games in your statistics, awarding you points to spend on unlocking classic players without actually accomplishing the necessary feats to earn them yourself.
In the end, however, none of these quirks hurt the actual game itself, and while it's reasonable to expect them to get addressed in next year's iteration, the next time you call Trevor Hoffman in from the Petco Park 'pen to the dulcet ringing of church bells, most, if not all, will be forgiven.
The game's online suite offers a plethora of options, including game lobbies, leaderboards, mailboxes, message boards and a place to save slider settings (hey, they're stealing our gig!), as well as a place to download the best and most consistent roster updates of any game around.
Adding to the remarkable flow of content is the MLB Sportscast and MLB.com Headline News, which keeps you up-to-date on your favorite teams.
But by far, the biggest improvement is the addition of full online leagues, which, in combination with San Diego Studios' excellent roster updates, should extend the lifespan of the game tremendously.
The Show boasts all the normal game modes you'd expect, but the game's robust Franchise mode and the genre-defining Road to the Show career mode stand out. The Franchise mode has to be the deepest such mode in any sports game to date, with such details as scouting, drafting, managing your advertising, television contracts and stadium and team facilities in addition to the more standard Franchise fare. The attention to detail here is staggering, with most stadiums' seating precisely managed in the same sections as the real ones, and goals realistically set for each club. If you're taking over the Yankees, a World Series trophy had better be in your future, while the Royals' owner would be delighted if you just got them to .500. This makes taking over any team fun and challenging, as you work your way to the top.
However, working your way to the top can be far too easy - just start making trades. Lamentably, The Show's trade logic is abysmal. It appears to be based on a simple strand of logic; if one position is lacking, and another is strong, make the trade that strengthens the weak spot. Unfortunately, this means that you can fleece the opposing teams with ease - it's almost as if the NBA Knicks' Isiah Thomas switched sports and took over every team in the league.
Starting a Franchise with the sad-sack Rockies, a team nearly bereft of marketable big-league talent, I made ridiculous trade after ridiculous trade - typified by this gem: minor-league catcher Alvin Colina for Boston's superstar off-season acquisition, pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka… straight-up. Without ever giving up any of the Rockies' five best players, I assembled a squad of All-Stars and phenoms, and raised the Rockies' rating from the mid-20's to No. 2 by essentially making trades at will. The only time a team would refuse a trade was if the team was already strong at that position. In the Rockies' example, I couldn't trade first baseman Todd Helton to a team that had a decent first baseman already, even if I asked for nothing more than a scrub minor-leaguer in return.
Figuring this was a fluke, I started five more Franchises, with different teams encompassing the spectrum between good and bad - with the same results. The AI-controlled teams didn't make such ludicrous swaps, fortunately, but in Franchise mode, gamers will have to exercise phenomenal self-control if they're to manage their rosters realistically. I'm not sure what went wrong with this portion of the game, but obviously, it'll be high on the list of things to fix for next year's release.
The Road to the Show mode gives gamers the opportunity to realize a dream; it's an enjoyable and challenging career mode that takes your created player from the minors to the bigs, and maybe even to the Hall of Fame. Only plays that involve your created player matter, and you'll have specific goals to reach during your appearances. On one at-bat, the goal might simply be to get the ball in play or advance a runner with a bunt, while on another, it may be to drive in a run or simply get on base in any way possible. The goals are sensible and reasonable, and the more of them you achieve, the more Training Points you'll earn, increasing your player's skills. As you play, every skill needs to be worked on occasionally over time, or they'll begin to decline, so there's a constant management of your player's career involved in this mode. Using different camera angles while playing defense and on the bases, the game mode is wholly engrossing and immensely enjoyable.
And the real beauty of Road to the Show is this: due to it's compressed time, one can play an entire month of games in only a few hours, meaning that it's finally possible to play out an entire career; working your way through the minor-league ranks to becoming a bench player in the big-leagues to becoming a starter and superstar, if you're good enough. Road to the Show has now become fully-realized, and it sets the new standard for career modes in all team-based sports games in the future. It's that good.
In the final analysis, even though The Show is tripped up by some poor trade logic and it doesn't entirely seem like the game takes full advantage of the PlayStation 3's power, it's a very solid first effort on the system, and most of its inconsequential oddities don't have any real impact on the game itself. Next year, based on the rock-solid foundation on which this title rests, I fully expect these problems to be ironed out, and the game to be better than ever.
But that's then, and this is now - and what's here right now is certainly worth your time. MLB 07: The Show plays a fantastically realistic and remarkably fun game on the field - in fact, it's perhaps the best on-field baseball game ever created, and certainly the best one this year.

MLB '07: The Show Score
out of 10