Sony’s MLB The Show series has spent the last several seasons as the undisputed MVP of baseball simulations. This year proves no exception as MLB 09 turns in a stunning performance that builds on last year’s already fantastic edition. SCE San Diego has made several tweaks to the basics to enhance the experience, and despite a couple nagging flaws, MLB 09 clearly continues the series’ dominance.
Never has the phrase “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” been more applicable than in this year’s game. Most of the gameplay modes and features from last year’s version return, with some additional features. The Franchise mode now features waivers, salary arbitration, and the ability to call up players in September. The standard season and online modes are also available, as well as the series’ signature Road to the Show mode.
RTTS has always been The Show’s main draw, and the same holds true this year. RTTS lets you create a player and follow his career from AA Ball all the way to the Majors. The potential for addiction here is through the roof, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself constantly saying “just one more game”. You’ll only have to play in situations that directly affect your player, which allows you to really concentrate on making the most of those situations. New to the mode this year are mid-season batting and base-running training sessions that your coach will assign to you. Having trouble hitting the curve? He’ll throw you in 20 pitch batting practice and make sure the BP pitcher only throws the 12-6. This really does a lot to keep the training aspect of the game from feeling static, and the managerial AI is often very intelligent. The only flaw in RTTS is the excessive load times. Not only are they long, but due to the very nature of the mode, you’ll run into them quite often. While a minor inconvenience, it’s still something I’d like to see them iron out for next year.
On the field, the game plays just about like last year. SCE San Diego made great strides in the pitcher/batter dynamic last year and this year builds on that progress. The pitching feels tighter and more realistic than last year’s already great mechanic. Batters respond much more realistically to your pitches, and I found it much easier to punch out hitters than in the past. The batting mechanic is much the same as last year, although you’ll be hard pressed to find another baseball game that successfully replicates the physics of ball on bat better than this one. Every time you make contact it feels real, and you’ll never feel cheated when you miss balls out of the zone. The other thing that The Show gets right on the offensive side of the ball is the scoring. Most baseball games find it hard to strike a realistic balance between feeling like every hit is a struggle and every swing putting the ball out of the park. I have yet to have a game where the score felt forced in any way.
One major change in gameplay is the new baserunning mechanic for Road to the Show mode. Instead of last year’s hit and miss button press mechanic, MLB 09 relies on the stick for controlling your runner’s take off from the lead position. Couple this with a brand new “lean” option, and you have a much more fluid system than ever before.
The first thing you’ll likely notice on the defensive side of the ball, is that shallow liners and ground balls to the shortstop are no longer iron clad outs. You’ll see a lot more flubs, stumbles, and errors in this year’s game. As is standard across the entirety of the game, however, you’ll never feel like any of the misses were unrealistic thanks to perfectly natural feeling animations and speed. The fielding animations in the game are a sight to behold, and it’s even better knowing that it’s not just a canned motion that always ends in the same result. It’s unfortunate, however, that occasionally the camera will give you an odd angle that makes it difficult to accurately field the ball. This doesn’t crop up all that often, but when contrasted against the polished presentation of the rest of the game, it is jarring when it does.
Graphically, The Show is a sight to behold. Player animations are among the best in the genre, and the smooth animations (especially during transitions) really add to the realism. Player models are also very well done, especially the faces. Every big league stadium is faithfully rendered here, including the two brand new parks in New York. Overall, the game is an upgrade from last year, with one notable exception. The clipping issues and collision detection problems that have plagued the series the last couple years return in 09. Occasionally, body parts will clip through walls, bats, bases and other body parts. The level of polish in all other parts of the game only makes these flaws stand out more. Hopefully this will be ironed out next year, because it’s really the only main knock on the visual side of the game.
As anyone who listens to baseball on the radio will attest, good Audio is a must. Luckily, The Show has that in spades too. Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler, and Dave Campbell are back on commentary, and they do a great job of mixing up the lines to limit the repetition you find in most sports games. The sound effects are equally well done, and everything from the crack of the bat to the crowd noise is pitch perfect. Speaking of crowd noise, new to this years version is the ability to record your own crowd chants. This is a great feature, and it allows you to personalize the experience to a fantastic degree.
Overall, MLB 09 The Show is a fantastic approximation of America’s Pastime. Road to the Show mode is an addictively deep timesink, and you won’t find a better playing, better looking, or more realistic baseball game on the market. The bottom line is that every PS3 owning baseball fan should reserve a spot on their shelf for this no doubt first ballot Hall of Famer.