It’s that time of year again, sports fans. Beautiful weather, St. Patrick’s day, and the first day of Spring are just around the bend. Best of all (or worst of all), the latest iterations of everyone’s favorite sports games begin to make their rounds with the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting on your ass yelling at the ref in Madden 11 how that was totally not pass interference.
Sporting the all new “Catcher Mode,” Sony’s MLB 10: The Show looks to remain at the pinnacle of baseball simulations. Will it come through in the clutch when it’s up at the plate? Grab a footlong, pop a cold one, and read on to find out.
MLB 10: The Show, in its 5th season as a PlayStation exclusive, comes back toting another great showing of fantastic baseball simulation with an array of improvements to keep its fans entertained, though the most alluring of these enhancements may also be the least noticeable to the untrained eye. While The Show has always featured superb motion capturing in terms of gameplay and presentation, 2010 sees a whopping combined 2500 new animations added. When a pitcher lets up a homerun ball, he expresses his anger and disgust by through is hat to the ground or slamming a fist into his mit. Miss that hit-and-run opportunity because of a foul ball, and the baserunner will show slight distaste on his way back to the base.
Each game is played in real time, meaning that you’ll see transitional lighting, fan reactions (such as placing “K” signs) and players will appear on the field, in the dugout or in the bullpen, depending on their status in the game. It’s the little things that can make you happiest, and The Show gets all the intricacies of baseball right down to the tee, helping to create an experience rather than a simulation. The attention to detail, to the color of a player’s shoes, and the chants of a specific ball park are unprecedented.
Like most baseball titles, during normal games (exhibition, season, franchise, online) you’ll play both sides of the ball. Pitching is fairly simple, as you’ll select from a group of pitches, then choose where you want to throw it, and determine it’s velocity or movement by timing button strikes with the pitch meter, taking into consideration the type of pitch and how it’ll move out of the pitcher’s hand.
More difficult settings will make you take notice of a hitter’s tendencies, such as hot and cold spots and favored pitches. The only new addition to pitching is the reworking of Pickoff moves. Rather than just one move, you’ll be able to either causally throw over or give a quick toss to keep base runners on their toes, and this actually makes Pickoffs more successful than ever before. It adds to the already great sense of realism, and gives pitching a more exciting and interactive edge.
Batting is also basically the same as past years. On the rookie setting, hitting the ball well is merely a matter of timing your swing. As you play more challenging difficulties however, it becomes much more involved. Using the X and Square button for contact and power swings, respectively, and the left stick to control the placement of your bat, you’ll not only have to time your swing correctly amongst a barrage of 18 different pitches, but also have to move the left stick to where the ball will be. The gameplay may have been left unchanged, but it’s hard to improve upon something that already operates relatively flawlessly and feels really natural.
What has always been unique to The Show comes back as “Road to the Show” 4.0. Here, you can create a player at any position and take on his role as you play and compete for a spot on an Major League ball club, beginning at the AA level, where you’ll have to field, bat, or pitch your way to the majors through pure skill. If you’re a starting pitcher, you’ll likely pitch every 5th day and stay in the game as long as your performance and energy remain high. As a position player (first base, outfield), you may only start games sporadically, or be a mid game replacement until you begin to solidify yourself as an everyday player.
To obtain that starting position and eventual Major League stardom, you’ll have to train your player in an RPG fashion using Training Points (EXP) to divvy amongst a large pool of attributes, such as fielding, speed, power, and endurance (defense, speed, strength, constitution). You earn points based on your player’s performance during games and training sessions throughout the season, or by taking some virtual HGH by purchasing points from the PlayStation store.
It’s a fantastic system that gets surprisingly complex; concentrate too much on one skill and neglecting others will lead to a loss of stability of those attributes, and they will eventually begin to decrease. While you may want to be the next Barry Bonds and focus on the long-ball, the game takes into account that in order to be an athelete at the professional level, you must have a solid foundation in all skills. At times though, your team’s AI will stress that you train in bunting, even though you bat 4th in the lineup and have 30+ homers. It’s not quite perfect, but some RPGs could learn a thing or two from The Show’s finely crafted, deep skill system.
New to RTTS is the ability to call the game from the catcher’s position. While great in theory, it’s execution is far from it. Catcher mode just feels like a stripped down version of the pitching mechanics. You don’t have total control over location or speed, and instead can only choose certain spots for the pitch, relying on an AI pitcher’s accuracy and endurance. This may promote investigating a hitter’s tendencies and a pitcher’s repertoire more carefully, yet it’s not nearly as involved, and quite frankly, not as fun as pitching the game normally.
Franchise and online modes have been given some much needed treatment as well. During a Franchise, you can now control up to all 30 teams right off the bat, giving you complete freedom in how you want teams to operate, from salary arbitration and scouting players to adjusting the injured reserve to correlate with the ongoing baseball season. It really allows players to get into the nittiest and grittiest parts of the club’s operations, and is accessible even by the biggest baseball noobz, as it includes a complete rule handbook for your viewing pleasure.
Last year’s online was fraught with network and lag problems, but this time around The Show eliminates these issues. Each game I played was fast and smooth, and ran without a hitch. You can now have full online seasons by creating leagues with your friends, allowing you to trade players, track injuries, manage 40-man rosters, and save and display player stats. What was one of the most problematic features of last year is one of this year’s more intriguing aspects. With a huge overhaul to network conditions, playing online is a blast, and with the reworked league play it really makes you feel as close to being in the Majors as possible.
Though it does have some problems, AI trading during Season or Franchise play can be really dumb, and the commentary brought by Matt Vasgersian, Dave “Soup” Campbell, and Rex Hudler is exactly the same as last year, just with worse “color” commentating. Despite that, MLB 10: The Show is a shining example of what a sports game should encompass: superior visuals, great gameplay mechanics, a variety of game modes, and a fantastic online system. Not to mention it’s probably the only way I’ll see the Mets win another World Series in my lifetime.
The sheer amount of animations utilized is astounding, and it is one of, if not the most beautiful sports title released to date.
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The general feel of the game may have remained unchanged, but the minor improvements made to the already thrilling mechanics make it that much more enjoyable.
The crack of the bat and the roaring fans sound fantastic, and the soundtrack is backed by great bands like the Silversun Pickups and We Are Scientists. Too bad the commentary couldn't keep up.
With a wide variety of modes, and especially with the revamped online network, you'll clock triple digits in no time.
Although it may not take the crown from the likes of Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., The Show flirts exceptionally close to baseball perfection.