In what can only be described as a comeback victory of epic proportions, Sony's MLB The Show franchise has quickly gone from being a virtual afterthought to the best baseball franchise in the business. In fact, it's completely dominated its only licensed rival (Take-Two's MLB 2K series) for the past two years. Sure, Sony has benefited from still being able to make games with the oh-so-important Major League Baseball license (while third party developers like Electronic Arts have been shut out by the complicated exclusivity agreement Take-Two signed a couple of years back), but instead of halfheartedly cranking out ordinary games, they've aggressively pursued excellence; their PS2 and PSP titles have been the best baseballers for those systems for a couple of seasons now.
So, while MLB 07 The Show for the PS2 and PSP are tremendous achievements of baseball simulation, the PS3 version hit a delay and didn't head to retail stores until late May. Now that it's finally emerged from an extended bit of spring training, there's no doubt that it also can lay claim to a piece of the next-generation championship. While it's not quite as solid as its sublime current-gen brethren, The Show is a fundamentally strong, smooth, and eminently enjoyable game that offers fans endless hours of gameplay and more variety than possibly any baseball title ever has before.
The Show is a fundamentally strong, smooth, and eminently enjoyable game that offers fans endless hours of gameplay and more variety than possibly any baseball title ever has before.
Good sports games start and end with gameplay, and The Show delivers that in spades. All of the fundamental aspects of playing the game are handled with aplomb – at the plate, on the mound, and in the field.
The hitting mechanics are rock solid, employing a splendid pitch-guessing technique that gives everyone a fighting chance at making contact. If you guess the pitch location, you'll know where that toss will wind up; if you happen to choose the pitch type, a quick flash before the hurler lets go will let you know you were right. Put them both together, and a pulsating sphere will beckon contact with the bat. Of course, considering the wide array of pitches and locations, it's hardly easy to figure out how and where that ball is heading in, especially when the top gunslingers in the game are facing you. So it's not cheap (and, of course, you don't have to try and guess at all), but is superb.
Pitching also sports a traditional look and feel, utilizing the tried-and-true three-button-press slider gauge you've seen on the virtual links as well as pitchers' mounds. The main difference comes when there are runners on base, as the gauge moves much faster and takes on a sense of urgency that's not found when the bases are empty and you're pitching from the windup. In-game bullpen action and substitution planning is a breeze, too, since it's easy to pull up the lineup card and see who's coming up next and whether they're a righty, lefty, or switch hitter.
Even the fielding is a joy, as big and bright indicators will let you easily spot where you need to position your defenders to get to the ball. There's never any doubt where the baseball will land (especially in the outfield), although to be sure I am not sold on the whole Sixaxis-based jumping and diving. I would much rather control my sports games with traditional buttons and sticks, especially when it's such a random occurrence to veer quickly to nab a hot smash off of a hitter's bat.
Traditional exhibition and season games obviously play wonderfully – that much is true. However, if you're interested in carving out your own personal big league story, the “Road to The Show” mode just might be the best one-off non-traditional offering I've ever experienced in a mainstream sports title. Simply put, it's a selfish ballplayer's dream come true, as your only concern is taking care of your created player's at-bats and defensive moments (unless you're a pitcher, in which case you'll only need to make appearances when you get to the mound). Instead of spending an hour playing a single game, you can tear through a week of games, build up your skills, impress (or tick off) your manager, and fight to make it to and stay in the majors. Unlike other classic create-a-player modes (one of which still exists in The Show, though, in case you want that kind of control), your position in the lineup, on the team, and at the plate depends completely on how well your bosses view you. “Road to The Show” is addicting, maddening, and enveloping – all at the same time.
So the standard gameplay is silky smooth and “Road to The Show” is brilliant – what, then, is not to like about MLB 07? That's easy – the visuals. While it hardly passes as the gaming version of Ugly Betty, there's no doubt that it does not impress very much when it comes to graphics. From the ordinary player models to the rather bland presentation, it's pretty clear that the folks at Sony were concentrating more on getting the fundamentals of gameplay just right in 2007 – let's hope that they pick up the visual pace next season.
Even with a rather pedestrian look and feel, MLB 07 The Show is still a tremendously entertaining game that offers virtually endless amounts of fun to baseball fans. Not only is it a solid next-generation debut on the PS3, it lays the foundation for what should be a string of top-notch baseball games for years to come. The most important aspects of a superb baseball simulation are in effect, and all that's left is some spit, polish, and tweaks to take it to the level of sheer genius.
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