Ah the scent of fresh cut grass, the crack of the bat, and the roar of the fans. It must be baseball season! Or maybe it’s December… The truth is, if you’re playing MLB 10 the Show, you won’t even know the difference. The latest installment from SCE Studios in San Diego is truly that enthralling.
It seems we hear the same argument every year: the annual release of sports games is simply a way for those greedy developers to steal more money from diehard fans that simply want the new season’s rosters and are forced to pay full retail for it. I must say that in many cases, I agree with this sentiment (here’s looking at you Madden). So what makes MLB 10 worthy of your money? Especially when SCE already includes the ability to download updates with the most recent rosters throughout the year? The answer that it is arguably the single, largest leap a series has taken year to year this gen.
MLB 10 sees the re-inclusion of Home Run Derby mode, a more robust version of the popular road to the show mode, a completely reworked online experience, and more stats, control options, and customization than you could balk at. My personal favorite is the sound customization, where I can record my voice to have a fan in the game yell “Jeter sucks!” every time he comes up to bat. Pair all of this with arguably the best graphics in a sports game to date and you’ve got a game well worth the price of admission.
What makes The Show so great is its amazing attention to detail. Home fields will shoot off fireworks as players hit homeruns, while the opposing pitcher or catcher may be shown cursing himself on the mound or angrily throwing his mask. After getting on base, the first base coach will pat your ass and show you how many outs there are. Fans will fall onto the field trying to snatch a ground ball for a souvenir. Also no matter which of the 30 ballparks (or seven classic parks) you visit, you will be hard pressed to find any inconsistencies with the real life fields. From the city skylines in the background to the fans in the stands, the game drips authenticity. The multitude of camera angles and presentation modes really let you take advantage of this scenery as well. Simply put, if you can think of something that should happen the odds are that MLB 10 beat you to it.
So we’ve established its pretty, but what really wins the fans over is the gameplay. There’s a reason it’s the number one selling baseball video game franchise, and no it isn’t that the MVP series got canned last gen. There are such a variety of modes and customization options available that it can be challenging enough for the most hardcore baseball fanatic, or accessible enough for the most basic of fans. You can adjust the sliders to make the game play however you want. Anyone can step in and smack homeruns in the Home Run Derby, or play an Exhibition game on the easiest difficulty (of which there are 5 this year thanks to the addition of Legend). Franchise mode is as strong as ever and still allows for you to manage as much or as little of the team as you want. You can control every detail from the Rule 5 draft, to hot dog prices, to deciding whether the team travels on a bus or a plane. Or you can simply manage the games and play through them in a few minutes. Like everything else in The Show, the choice is yours.
The Road to the Show has seen updates with smarter goals, training drills during the season, and an RPG-like point upgrade system, where you improve your player based on points earned through your on-field performance. The freedom to shape your player how you see fit is very rewarding as you can make yourself the next small ball extraordinaire or the next all-star slugger. The addition of calling the game as a catcher in Road to the Show is interesting for a short time, but eventually just becomes frustrating due to the lack of the control execution by the pitchers. There are also mini-training games available to play, such as pitch knockout in which you try to hit all the areas of the strike zone in a limited number of pitches. While this game is interesting for its benefit to your Road to the Show character, outside of that mode it provides limited entertainment.
The controls remain unchanged, leaving you to choose your fielding options, pitching options, etc. If you’ve played the older versions, you’ll feel right at home with this installment. This game doesn’t just look good on replays though; it was painstakingly programmed to make the players move realistically in real-time as well. The more popular players are even programmed with their accurate swings and appearances, with new stars being updated as the season progresses through the downloadable rosters.
While the game is by far the most realistic on the market, this has led to SCE sometimes erring on the side of realism as opposed to fluency and fun. This is where a few gameplay issues begin to appear. An example is if a player is catching a ball near a wall he will slow his steps before contact, brace himself against the wall, then slowly collect himself then throw the ball in. If someone is tagging and a ball is hit near a wall you have absolutely no chance to throw him out. Sure it looks good, but it can be very frustrating. Another issue is diving. It surprises me how satisfying robbing a homer in this game is, and how terrible the diving controls are. Diving for a ball in this game is near-on impossible, and does not provide you any extra range. While the diving animation looks good, it is best to ignore it as, in terms of distance covered, it is more likened to belly flopping at your feet. Due to the preloaded animations of players coming into contact with the ball, they will get there quicker on their feet than by diving. There is also an uncanny lack of accuracy on outfielders trying to throw someone out at the plate, so it’s in your best interest to hit your cut man even if your guy has a cannon for an arm. Despite these issues the gameplay maintains a very realistic look and feel, and is still miles ahead of its rival MLB 2K10.
Next to the graphics, the online mode is the biggest improvement. Last year’s iteration found a broken matchmaking system with incomplete game modes and customization options. This year finds the complete offline seasons available online with much less lag and a much better matchmaking system. It takes a matter of seconds to log on and get matched for a game, and once inside the game truly shines. There is a robust collection of personal stats and leaderboards viewable for the entire community and countless leagues to join and play with real players instead of the still impressive offline AI. Playing online against another competitor is truly an amazing experience as you must tailor your game to your opponent. If you start every batter with a fastball, they’ll catch on. Maybe they tend to chase breaking balls low and away. For the serious player MLB 10’s online mode offers an incredibly fun and rewarding challenge, and it’s a shame if you don’t give it a go. Also, throughout all of these modes you can play your own PS3 music through the game itself, so you’ll never get stuck hearing the same songs over and over again.
Truth be told, if baseball bores you, then odds are this game will as well. While a few issues keep the game from perfection, by no means should this be a deterrent. Any game with this much to offer will inevitably have a few hiccups, and you will get over them pretty quickly. The wealth of modes and graphical prowess of this game will keep you engrossed well into next year’s installment. If you consider yourself even the slightest fan of the sport then you owe it to yourself to play this game. It’s as close as you’ll ever get to the bigs.
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