After all these years on top, one could forgive Sony for resting on the sizable laurels of their MLB The Show series. Yet, year after year, they continue to add tweaks and features to ensure their continued dominance of our digital national pastime. This year, they’ve reached into the “Anything you can do-” bag and pulled out analog controls for batting, throwing, and pitching, which have long been standards for the MLB 2K series. This, coupled with some much needed changes to the “Road to the Show” formula create what is certainly the most complete entry in the MLB series.
Fans of the series will be right at home, with the standard suite of game modes on display. There are several aspects that deserve mention, however. A new online/offline co-op mode allows up to four gamers to cover different positions in the field and choose which batters they will control. You can also check out the new Challenge of the Week, a series of 2-3 minute challenges, complete with leader boards and prizes. Users will get one free try at the challenges each week, and will need to pay for additional chances. It seems that the mode will get plenty of love in the prize department however, with already announced prizes including signed MLB gear. This year’s game also adds support for Playstation Move in the Home Run Derby Mode.
It’s only appropriate that the mode that received the most attention this year is the game’s signature mode: Road to the Show. RTTS 5.0 adds an incredible amount of improvements. You’ll now set what style of player you are as soon as you boot up the mode. For example, pitchers will need to determine if they are a power pitcher or an innings eater with a ton of stamina. Will you pride yourself on Maddux-like control, or snapping breaking pitches? Lastly, you’ll need to decide if you’ll feature a bevy of solid pitches, or focus your efforts on one fantastic out pitch. These decisions will determine the starting values for each of your stats, which will be instantly familiar to RTTS veterans.
The most significant change to RTTS is a much-needed update to the advancement process. No more will you have to worry about hitting .600 and being stuck in AAA. Now, the game will compare your on-the-field performance to your competition’s in addition to your stat points. You’ll also trigger the training minigames more frequently this year than last, due to a Player Performance Evaluator that will determine what specific training you need. The training games are more varied than last year, and they not only make for a good way to earn some points, but they provide a welcome distraction from the day-to-day grind. The mode now adds a great deal of transparency to the level of experience points that players earn for their on-field performance and what they did to earn them. This was a much-needed enhancement that provides instant feedback to the player and instant gratification following a great at bat. Overall, these improvements do a great deal to enhance an already incredibly solid game mode and iron out some of the frustrations that people have had with the mode in the past.
MLB 11 marks the first series appearance of Pure Analog Controls (an optional analog control system) and the developers have done a pretty good job implementing it. Those of you familiar with MLB 2K will take to the controls quickly, especially the batting controls. Analog batting requires the player to pull back on the stick to load your batter, and then push forward to swing. While this control method works admirably, I still find the traditional button press method to be superior. The game also features analog control for throwing the ball on defense, requiring you to point the stick in the direction you want to throw. While this control method does allow for more precise control (including fake throws), again, I preferred the standard button press method.
The one area I did prefer the analog controls was the Pure Analog Pitching system. After you’ve selected your pitch, you’ll need to pull back on the stick to begin your pitchers motion. You’ll want to pull the pitch down to the yellow line on the meter, signifying the optimal release point. Once you’ve done so, you’ll press the stick forward to give ’em the heater. While pushing forward, your speed controls the speed of the pitch, making it easy to change speeds. You’ll also need to subtly direct the stick to either the right or the left to hit a target determined by which side of the plate you’re attempting to hit. This system provides the perfect balance of control and challenge, and remains the only analog control in the game I’ve stuck with. While I actually prefer the analog pitching system in 2K, Pure Pitching control certainly puts forth a great first effort.
With gameplay and modes set, the development team took the opportunity to focus a great deal of effort into improving the already fantastic presentation in the Show. Weather effects show up for the first time, as do stadium specific jumbotrons. You can also choose to watch the game from the new stadium specific camera angles, enhancing the fan experience by providing the same viewpoint you’d get while watching your favorite team on TV. Don’t like the preset camera angles? Create your own with the brand new camera editor. Last but not least, The Show has swapped out Rex Hudler for Eric Karros, providing a fresher sound in the broadcast booth. Even with the new voice, the commentary can’t help but feel a little stale. It may be time for the series to switch things up and go with an all new team for next year’s game.
Overall, I can’t imagine any fan of our national pastime that wouldn’t love MLB 11. The series best entry combines fresh new ideas with the same great backbone you’ve loved for years. The new improvements to RTTS will keep series veterans happy, and the solid analog controls should appeal to a large segment of the audience. As a huge fan of the sport and this series, I can’t wait to see what next year holds. Until then, it’s back to guiding my Reds to a well deserved World Series.
Review copy provided by publisher.