Exclusivity agreements, in general, are bad for the industry and worse for gamers. They stymie competition, which in turn stunts creativity and progress on the whole. There's a reason National Football League video games have advanced exactly nowhere since 2004. It was after that year that the NFL locked out fair trade in its licensing the way it has recently locked out its players. Without taking its annual whipping from 2K, Electronic Arts could drive its "let madden = madden + 1" development full throttle.
Take Two, 2K's parent company, learned a valuable lesson from the NFL's deal with EA and locked up its own exclusivity, this time with Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for them but fortunately for gamers, they missed a spot. Unlike the NFL/EA deal, the 2K/MLB agreement only covers third-party games. Thus, the loophole was opened through which Sony drove its MLB: The Show franchise fleet.
High-level players will see even more challenge and complexity from the game.
Developed by Sony's San Diego studio, MLB 11: The Show looks to continue the series' winning ways. In many ways, the Show and MLB 2K rivalry has been like the Cardinals versus the Cubs. The Cubs are undoubtedly the Cardinals' primary rival, but they never win anything. Sony would like to keep it that way and has made some key changes to its 2011 offering in that regard.
The biggest addition to The Show in 2011 is the Pure Analog Control. Think of it as Sony's big free agent acquisition of the off-season, since 2K's series has benefited from a similar system in prior years. Through Pure Analog Control, high-level players will see even more challenge and complexity from the game.
Imagine for a second a slowly hit grounder to short. As Jose Reyes (but definitely not Derek Jeter) ranges far to his right to field it, the runner is closing in on first base. When he comes up, ready to throw, Reyes must decide whether to unload the throw with all the strength he has but not complete control or to ensure an accurate throw that may be late.
With MLB 11: The Show's Pure Analog Control, the player must make this same decision. Holding the analog stick longer will ensure the throw has plenty of zip, but that velocity may take out the hot dog vendor in the fourth row aisle instead of nailing the runner. Similar balance is required in pitching and batting, greatly adding to the realism of the game. It's often better to be Pete Rose and reach base than Dave Kingman and impress with the gale-force wind your swing-and-miss generated. But don't bet on it.
Continuing the balance theme is a key decision Sony made regarding where to spend the PS3's visual horsepower. Focus was clearly given to the player models, which truly differentiate body types, for example. Also, the new and improved weather effects, such as rain and cloud cover, are a welcome addition in 2011. Unfortunately, as with any type of limited resource, something had to be sacrificed. In this case, it was the background details. In any other sport, this would be a complete non-issue, but baseball's unique venues are such a part of the atmosphere that concession is noticeable. Heck, even the Trophies point to the uniqueness of each stadium, awarding players for launching a ball into the hot tub at Chase Field or the aquarium in Tampa.
Joining the already ridiculous amount of other features The Show brings to the park annually are two technological advances. First, MLB 11 joins Sony's growing list of games proudly displaying the "3D Compatible Game" logo. Baseball lends itself so well to 3D because of its relatively slow pace. Players have a chance to take in the sights in their full 3D splendor while the pitcher adjusts his cup for the 32nd time after tossing the rosin bag.
The second new technological addition is support for Sony's PlayStation Move. In 2011, this feels like a bit of a toe in the pool exercise, as motion controls are only supported in the Home Run Derby mode. It would not be surprising to see this expanded in MLB 12, though Sony needs to keep traditional controls available as well.
The biggest question for the sports genre is always whether or not this year's release can differentiate itself enough from last year's to warrant an additional purchase. MLB 2011: The Show really does add enough to the package to not only justify but demand a purchase for fans of the previous seasons' games. It will be interesting to see how MLB 2K11 stacks up, but 2K definitely has its work cut out for it in trying to match Sony's "Murderer's Row" list of features and Greg Madduxian execution.