MLB '07: The Show REVIEW

MLB '07: The Show Review (PS2)

We see it in just about every entertainment genre; from movies to television, music to bestsellers - the follow up. How do you follow that popular and critically acclaimed release from your resume? Whether it was Quentin Tarentino after “Pulp Fiction” or Alanis Morrisette after “Jagged Little Pill”, the pressure to produce another gem with your next project is absolutely overwhelming.

There is no other 2007 sports gaming release that has more impressive shoes to fill than MLB 07: The Show. At Operation Sports alone, MLB 06: The Show not only scored a 10/10 during it’s review during early spring, but even nine months later when we handed out our 2006 Year End Awards, the game took home three awards, including 2006 Game of the Year. But, even with the impressive track record, MLB 07: The Show has dropped with very little pomp and circumstance. The forums are buzzing, but not with the usual fanfare, but with anxious anticipation for the PS3 release.

With all of the attention clearly focused on the competition’s efforts on the Xbox 360 and their own pending next-gen release, the team at SCEA could have easily rested on their laurels and hit us with a roster update on the PS2. They were already the 2006 Developer of the Year, why risk it on the PS2? Save the big guns for the PS3 release. Not this team. And not this game.

To all of you who played MLB 06: The Show, I will save you a lot of time upfront by telling you that everything you loved about last year is here and better than before. This game still plays the truest and most realistic version of baseball on the market today. The controls, the AI, the physics, and the overall experience are the best of the best. So instead of spending the bulk of my time rehashing everything that is back from 06, I want to mostly highlight what is new in this year’s version.

In the eternal struggle of baseball’s pitcher versus batter; the most significant improvements are found on the mound in MLB 07: The Show. With the new Pitch Command System, what was already a great interface has just improved with a more logical and advanced one in 07. Your pitcher’s repertoire now appears on the controller layout in order of ability. Along the way, depending how well and how often you throw it, you can actually gain confidence in a pitch during the course of a game. We’ve all seen it countless times in a real major league game. If your starter is really snapping off that slider during the early innings, you can expect to see him use it more and more during the later innings, especially in big situations. Be careful though, if you fall in love with your fastball for too long, not only will the AI start to figure you out, but you’ll also become more likely to hang that breaking ball when you dust it off. This adds a really strategic element to pitching that is such a big part of the real game; it’s a must in a virtual version.

While you’re toeing the rubber, you’ll also need to factor in the two fellas behind the plate. Your catcher is going to call for certain pitches in specific location depending on the situation. You can brush him off and throw what you want, but more times then not, I found greater success when I listened to him. Maybe that’s because he’s getting a better read on the umpire? Umpires this year are variable in how they call a game. Strike zones change from ump to ump and you need to adjust accordingly. Again, it's a great touch, but I would just suggest in future releases a way to scout or keep some type of dossier on the umpiring crews that will work your games. Right now, it feels a little too random. Baseball is game of scouting, statistics and tendencies. That extends to the crew calling balls and strikes.

When the batter does put the ball into play, you’ll find the same solid fielding controls and system in MLB 07: The Show as there was in last year’s version with one, somewhat significant addition. A throwing meter has been added this year and, while certainly a welcome addition, I did notice that the AI seems to override the meter in certain situations. It is almost like they padded the corners and rough edges to keep you from hurting yourself. If I pick up a ball with my second basemen while ranging to my left and try to rifle it to the first sacker, I should throw a full power bullet in that direction and pay the consequences for that action. Instead, even at full power, I found myself still doing a nice soft toss to first for the clean play. I’d like to see a slider or option for this in the future to make us pay the price for fat-fingering the button.

The batting system is essentially identical to last year’s version; however, you will notice a few small additions in your half of the inning. MLB 07: The Show adds a new Swing Analysis system that helps you actually break down the mistakes that you are making at the plate and lessen the learning curve to becoming a better hitter.

Once you reach base, you’ll likely notice the biggest changes on the base paths. SCEA has scrapped last year’s baserunning system and employed a new system “targeting” system that actually has you quickly choosing a runner with the analog stick and assigning an action during gameplay. It sounds and, at times, feels a little overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to go back.

The most notable change to the entire game comes in the form of the new Road to the Show career mode. I went on the record five years ago that this individual, single player, life simulation style was going to become a fixture in sports gaming and this is one of the better implementations that we’ve seen so far. Unlike last year’s Career Mode, you are focusing 100% on the progress and from the prospective of your created player. You have no control over anything that is going on around him, only him and his performance. The action fast forwards through all of the action where your player is not involved leaving only your at-bats and defensive opportunities to be played. This allows you to zip through most games, if you’re a position player, in about seven or eight minutes. Along the path, your Manager will drop little goals your way that force you to perform in different ways depending on the circumstance. Consistently come through, and your Road to the Show will be a clear and fast one, drop the ball, literally or figuratively, and it won’t be pretty.

While it’s important to point out that I am a fan of this style mode and really enjoyed my time during this process, there is still one issue that is going to be tough to resolve. When you are only playing your defensive chances, it sort of tips the hand at which direction the play is going. Baseball is about reactions and that’s sort of taken out of the equation here. I know it may not be realistic to expect people to sit through the entire game from the perspective of their player, but it should at least be an option. Let me talk to the coaches in the dugout. Let me get signs on positioning shifts. Just a little something to build on.

The rest of the game modes remain almost 100% the same, however, it’s very important to point out one significant issue in the Franchise mode. As much as I don’t go looking for bugs in games, I am responsible to do my due diligence when I see something questionable pop up. In my experience, I think there is a consistent absence of transactions executed by the AI controlled teams during the season. It seemed strange when I got a month or so into the season not to see any action take place. At that point, I simmed forward to around the trading deadline which, in the majors, is one of the most active, and I did not see a single trade executed. I immediately restarted a new season and simmed from beginning to end and still no trades. Players were not being signed either. In the off-season, I did see free agents signed, however, there was still a complete absence of trades.

If you’re not a franchise guy, you won’t know the difference. If you’re one of those anal-retentives that controls every team to mirror the real-life moves that take place, again, no issues. But, for those who enjoy a good, deep competitive franchise mode, you will be disappointed by this huge miss by the quality team.

Online gaming has been enhanced for 2007 with the inclusion and polishing of Online Player cards that give you the history and tendencies of your opponent. No one wants a plug-puller, right? That becomes increasingly important if you join a 30-man league. Online leagues are the wave of the future in online gaming and MLB 07: The Show allows you to customize the league to your liking and enjoy a surprisingly deep experience on the PS2. Maybe it’s a dress rehearsal for the PS3, but it’s one of the cleanest online setups that we’ve seen on the PS2.

I thought last year’s version of this series was about as good as a sports game was going to look on the PS2. I was wrong. MLB 07: The Show actually looks better. They did not appear to make any significant enhancements, but the player models look much cleaner; almost smoother and more life-life than last year. That may be due to the additional animations that immediately jump out at you from the second you fire up a game.

Sounds of the game are the same as before. In fact, I did not hear much of anything new when I fired up MLB 07: The Show. Some of the commentary seems to have been updated, but it was left largely untouched. That’s far from a complaint because I still contend that this game does it better than any other franchise regardless of sport. The three man booth of Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler, and Dave Campbell does a great job and really sets a conversational tone that is hard to duplicate. I’ve heard complaints in the past about the call being a few beats behind the action, but I actually prefer that style because it comes off less jumpy than other games. It’s like they actually let them complete a thought.

When the dust settles, SCEA San Diego has done something that few have ever seen – they produced a follow up that was as good as or better than the original classic. MLB 07: The Show improved on every single thing that 06 already did well. This game is deeper, smoother, and an overall better gaming experience than last year’s version. As a gamer and a consumer, this is standard that we should be demanding from all of the developers. Series should not regress. Franchises should not make changes for the sake of changes. Back-to-back stellar releases should be the rule – not the exception.

Unfortunately, while it may not affect 95% of the people playing this game, the lack of trades and transactions during the season in Franchise mode is an issue that should have been caught prior to release. While this game would other wise gain an unprecedented second 10 out 10, I just can’t give a score that will be mistaken for perfect, when an error was clearly made in QA.

MLB '07: The Show Score
out of 10