MLB '07: The Show Review (PSP)
The best baseball game in the portable biz is back.
Pitching takes front and center in MLB 07: The Show, and as hard as it is to believe, it might be the first game in history where playing as the hurler is more challenging and fun to play than the hitter.
The new Pitch Command System makes it easy to immediately understand the "makeup" of a pitcher, as their repertoire is displayed from best pitch to worst, and the mound-man's confidence in each pitch is displayed and changes over the course of a game based on your actions.
Throw the heat with success and your pitcher will get in a groove, hitting spots with pinpoint control, but if you've neglected the deuce, that bender won't move enough to get the big boppers out - and you'll be looking back into the stands.
The end result is a fluid, dynamic experience that forces the gamer to think about what they're throwing and why they're throwing it. You'll need to work inside and out, changing speeds and pitches effectively to succeed. In other words, you'll have to think and act like a real pitcher - an impressive achievement that really helps bring this game to life.
But it's not just the pitching itself that makes the difference - the guys behind the dish matter, too. Your catcher uses Adaptive Pitching Intelligence, taking into account the game situation, batter and count, and calls for pitch types and locations like a real backstop. You can "shake him off" and throw whatever you'd like, of course, but unless you want a "Bull Durham" situation on your hands, trusting your battery-mate is generally a good idea.
The umpires themselves also play a role, and their Umpire Personalities will dictate how they call balls and strikes. A certain ump may call a tight zone, squeezing you and making your execution even more critical, while another may resemble a virtual Eric Gregg, with a strike zone so wide you could drive a truck through it. While he's the pitcher's best friend, you'll think differently at the plate. While it would be nice to have a general idea of how certain umpires usually call the game, I find some enjoyment in feeling out each game's zone for myself. After all, every umpire has good days and bad days…
The game's baserunning controls have changed a bit. Now, a baserunner can be selected with the analog stick and then, after his icon pulsates, simply point him to where you want him to go with the same stick. It takes some getting used to, and don't be surprised if you run yourself out of a few innings for a while, but on the whole, it works well enough - and it does give the gamer quick and relatively precise control over every baserunner.
The Road to the Show mode builds upon last year's Career Mode, but the Road your player takes is far more detailed, interesting and engaging than its predecessor. Your player will receive instructions from the manager before each at-bat, and not all of it will be to lace a double into the gap (though your manager wouldn't mind that, either). Oftentimes, he'll just want a runner moved over by bunt or sacrifice fly, and other times, he may just want you to make contact and keep the ball in play. It comes of as realistic, and the different approaches need in each at-bat keep the experience fresh.
If you get on base, you'll control your player on the basepaths, which can be an adventure in itself, and you'll play the field as well. While you'll know that every fielding play will be coming to you when it's featured, I don't think that detracts from the experience, as they only way to avoid it is to play the whole game - defeating the point of the exercise. What does detract from the experience somewhat is the camera angle used on the paths and in the field. While it's not bad, it's not easy to read ground balls, and since you can't really look backwards on a fly ball, running from base to base sometimes requires unnecessary leaps of faith.
On the whole, however, the Road to the Show is the single-player career mode evolved, and I look forward to seeing more from it in the future.
MLB 07: The Show's online suite deserves special mention, as it may be the most robust I've seen on the PSP yet. With full 30-team online leagues, discussion boards, quality roster updates and real-time MLB tickers available, there's plenty to keep even the most ardent gamer and baseball fan busy. There's even game sharing available for friends using the ad-hoc connection. For you slider gurus, you can even upload you’re your own set to The Show's servers, where others can download and use them. SCEA San Diego has always been far ahead of the game when it comes to taking PlayStation products online, and The Show's simply the latest example. Quite frankly, they're the very best at it, and whoever's in second place is so far behind that they can't be recognized.
There's one big ol' fly in The Show's ointment, however - there's a distinct and consistent frame-rate issue. As soon as the game has to draw the outfield into the picture, the frame rate drops significantly. It picks back up quickly, but the speed difference can severely mess up your timing on defense if the ball's in the wrong place, turning a single into a double or triple, or even causing a fly ball to be missed on rare occasion. This didn't happen last year, and it's… well, it's a drag.
There's no way around it, and it happens dozens of times in every game. Will it keep me from playing the game? No. Will it keep me from enjoying the game? No. But it is annoying, and since the rest of The Show is so immersive and exhilarating, it seems like a bigger issue than it really is.
Otherwise, the game looks and sounds outstanding - and the animations are still among the very best in sports game history, portable or otherwise. The game's sounds are first-rate, and the three-man announcing booth is still jarringly realistic. Everything that made last year's PSP title is still here, and in most cases, they've been improved, to boot.
The lack of a true Franchise mode is still noticeable, but aside from the disappointing frame-rate issue and exceedingly long loading times, there's a lot to like here. MLB 07: The Show is still the best portable baseball game available on the market - by far - and it's a must for any baseball gamer on the go.