It’s that time again. The weather is starting to get warmer (well, everywhere but here in Ohio). Spring training has started, and countries that used to think baseball was some kind of pagan ritual are participating in the World Baseball Classic. That means it’s also time for Sony’s annual gift to fans of our nation’s pastime. This year’s version of The Show makes some significant changes to the standard formula with updated presentation and a bevy of new online content. All of this adds up to another (pardon the pun) home run for Sony’s flagship series.
This year’s version of The Show adds some new flavor to a well-established formula. The overall presentation has been ratcheted up a notch. New camera angles, new between action and pre-game cutscenes, and a host of improvements to what was already the best animation system in sports gaming are all here. Enough can’t be said about how much the realistic animations add to the dynamics of the visual aspects and game play. Character models and crowds both look sharp.
One of the big changes to this year’s iteration is the addition of online support for nearly every mode. While your standard online exhibition matches still exist, there is also online co-op against the computer, leaderboards in Road to the Show mode and the return of the online teambuilding/card game, Diamond Dynasty. The most obvious online addition is in the new The Show Live feature that apes a similar inclusion in 2K’s baseball series. In this mode, it’s easy to stay on top of the baseball season by playing games beamed straight to your PS3 from the MLB’s real schedule, complete with actual lineups and starters. Of course, there isn’t much to speak of here just yet, but it should be fun once the season kicks off.
Road to the Show is the major attraction with this franchise, and this year it’s no different. The presentation upgrades across the other modes are most readily apparent here, as just about everything is different. There are several new player creation options, including customizing their walk-up and between pitch animations. Once the game starts, instead of presenting created players as if they are on television, the goal this year seems to be to enhance the “put you in the game” mindset. Everything is presented from the perspective of your slugger. Between appearances, there is a new interface to keep players abreast of what’s going on in the game during downtime. It still moved quickly enough that I never felt like my time was being wasted. When it’s time to play, there is a really great zoom in/zoom out function that seamlessly transitions from watching to playing.
These sections in between the action are also the only time the commentary track is audible. Once on the field or in the box, the only noises played are the ones coming from the stadium: fellow players or coaches yelling out instructions, the roar (or boo) of the crowd and those consistently sweet sound effects. When making solid contact with the ball, I noticed a huge and jarring (at least at first) change. The view changes to a close-up, over the shoulder view of the ball in flight. This is meant to mimic your player watching the ball as it soars through the air. It can be interrupted with button presses to look at the third base coach for instruction or switch back to broadcast mode. Once I got used to it, I found it to be a pretty cool addition (particularly for the base coach stuff), but it definitely required an adjustment. I also found it to be a bit clunky when attempting to field fly balls over my head.
Of course, there are never any questions about the way the game plays. The controls are smooth as butter, and new tweaks to the ball physics that were overhauled last year mean more possible ball flights and quirks. Sony has also altered both the visual presentation and behind the scenes mechanics for the “Guess Pitch” feature and added a new throwing meter for plays in the field. I’ve only had a couple of small glitches mar the overall experience (things like players clipping through each other or AI behaving strangely). None of it was frequent enough to ruin the experience.
Perhaps the biggest change to the way the game plays is the fact that they’ve made hitting much easier than in last year’s game. Instead of the Sisyphean task that time in the batter’s box often felt like, this year’s outing feels like it’s paying attention to the selected level of hitting difficulty. This was particularly obvious during the early part of my RTTS career. Those of you afraid this will lead to ridiculously high scoring games and .500 averages need not fear. Selecting the correct difficultly for my talent level still yielded a realistic experience. This should be more welcoming for new players or those who stuck to pitchers because of this issue.
The other major addition is the new Postseason mode. This mode allows players to focus exclusively on the postseason. It features special presentations that give the game a much grander feel. Sony has put a lot of work into increasing the atmosphere for these games, and it really shows. Crowds build to a fever pitch and swing their rally towels in anticipation of each swing of the bat. It’s a fun mode and a great way for players to take their favorite team to the Series without having to play through a full season or franchise.
It would be easy for Sony to rest on their laurels with this franchise, especially considering the downward spiral (and expiring contract) of their only competitor. Instead, they’ve continued to take pride in making sure that The Show is always at the top of its game. Those of you who care enough to read this review have probably already bought the game, but if you haven’t, get out there and pick it up.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.