Sony has done it again. Not only is MLB 09 The Show the defining baseball experience for this year, it continues its dominance over a weaker 2k franchise which benefits from MLB licensing deals - and it does it handily. While there are some very small issues with this years rendition, the combination of superior gameplay, stellar animations and gorgeous stadiums and models make The Show a must-buy for PS3 owners.
The Show allows different styles of baseball enthusiasts to play, whether it's an ultra-compulsive gamer who wants to manage a franchise down to minute details, someone who merely wants to play through a season, or those looking to develop their own customized athlete and work his way through the minor leagues to the Majors. All the modes are well designed and offer plenty of depth. The Road to the Show (RTTS) mode, where a created player works to become a big-leaguer, is quite challenging and demands plenty of gameplay to achieve Major League success.
The batter-pitcher interface in baseball games is very important, and while I don't think the pitching mechanic has evolved enough in the show - it's serviceable. Pitching works with a timed meter and the batter uses a combination of pitch guesses along with a button swing. Analog swing controls are overdue, but The Show does so well in other areas, that this isn't a huge problem. The ball plays off the bat incredibly well, and the combination of timing and location seams to never produce the exact result twice. Fielding is smooth and natural. Playing RTTS did present small bugs, like a second baseman's inability to run toward the bag while being thrown to. Other than that, fielders are easy to control and look somewhat natural. Baserunning has been revamped this year - and it's better. That being said, the baserunning in the RTTS mode is atrocious. It was by far the most frustrating part of MLB 09 The Show that I uncovered. Runners stopping short of the base, changing direction when the camera moves, etc - this is a MUST FIX for future versions.
While this year's 2K went to a "real time" gameplay design and look, Sony stuck with cut-scenes in between plays and innings. The result turns out to be a very smooth experience, and it really highlights the player models and expressions. MLB stars look realistic and their actions and hitting style all tend to be spot-on. Pitchers look good and windups are accurate looking. The stadiums in The Show are extremely detailed, and really give the game a solid experience. Fans are wearing clothing that are representative to the temperature and time of day, react to balls hit to them and look extremely real with the addition of a new lighting engine. The lighting probably deserves it's own paragraph of praise - but trust me when I say it's amazing.
The sound of the park is excellent. Crowds react to bad calls, balls off the bat sound different based on the hit, and of course, vendors and hecklers are waiting at every turn. Another cool addition this year is the ability to customize players walk in music - and even record crowd noises for specific on-field plays. Very customized and very immersive. The biggest downfall in the sound department is the commentating. While 2K revamped their commentating and took many steps forward, Sony settled. Rex Hudler sounds like a WWF announcer, not an MLB color analyst. Yelling out "Whoa, dude, Whatya doin swinging at that!?!" neither adds credibility nor realism to the experience. Commentating seems to be 3 seconds late on most calls, and while it's not a deal-breaker in any way - it needs to be overhauled.
The online experience is really struggling with what most next-gen console baseball games have been dogged with - LAG. And the truth is, lag in a game that is predicated on timing just doesn't deliver the needed experience. To be honest, I haven't played too much online because of it, but that's okay - The Show delivers in so many other ways that it makes up for the lag issue.
Sony has once again proved that they know how to make a baseball game the right way. It's a shame 360 owners are left with only one option, because The Show really deserves to be in every sports fans home. If you've got a PS3 and you like baseball, this is a must-buy.
Other reviews for MLB 09 The Show (PlayStation 3)
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