MLB 11: The Show
Under the bright lights of Wrigley Field, Carlos Pena takes to the plate. Commentators Eric Karros, Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell announce his arrival while also discussing his opponent on the pitchers mound, Zack Greinke. The stadium is crowded tonight, the seats filled by vague, two dimensional representations of people, all waving their blurry appendages in excitement. It’s the first pitch of the game, and as Carlos readies his swing, a plethora of abbreviated options clutter the empty space to his left and right. The commentators are silent, leaving only the ambient cheers of the crowd to lead up to the pitch. What happens next is up to you.
MLB 11:The Show is the sixth outing of the Sony exclusive series on the PSP. It’s a scaled down version of its bigger PS3 brother, it still manages to display the spectacle of the sport on the go. The players are all well-modeled and animated, and the stadiums are true to their real-life counterparts. For the most part everything looks nice, the notable exception being the audience. It’s a technically proficient game, with the exception of a flat audience, and beneath it’s bright exterior there lies a very deep, statistic run simulation of baseball.
Sports games as a whole have always been a fickle companion to the average gamer. The majority of them offer very little that hasn’t been included in the previous iteration, save for roster updates and stadium updates. MLB 11 doesn’t break away from this tradition, focusing more on tweaking what was already there rather than adding (or innovating). The most notable updates in this new game include more realistic AI for its batters and pitchers, minor tweaks to its Road to the Show, along with smoother animation and updated rosters.
At it’s heart, MLB 11 is a very simulation based sports game, meant to be a highly authentic representation of playing a game of baseball on a digital venue. The game itself is run by statistics, which themselves are gathered from the actual performance of the players. Each pitcher is rated for his throwing arm, his accuracy, his ability. The same goes for the batting and the fielding, and at first glance it seems like an excellent approach, but it only hinders the playing of the game.
For instance, consider the pitch. You’ve settled on a fastball on the inside, just barely within the strike zone, and after battling with the sensitive analog stick you’ve managed to move your cursor to the appropriate position. Your pitch is then modified based on the power you exert into the throw along with how many times you’ve thrown a fastball during that game, and checked against the statistics of your pitcher. If you’re lucky the ball will fly straight on through, as planned, but more often than not it’ll make it’s way outside the strike zone, without a clear reason why. It’s a little frustrating trying to pitch a decent game when a large amount of the pitching is affected by what happens behind the scenes.
The same goes with the batting. There is minor control towards navigating the bat over the plate, but outside of timing the X button appropriately, batting is a game of numbers. Which is realistic, but it also dulls your own sense of skill at the game.
Within MLB 11 there is a diverse core, providing several different options of play. The most notable of it’s options, against the standard Exhibition, are the Manager, Road to the Show and Season. The Manager mode adds depth to the Exhibition experience. Instead of having the same direct control as in an Exhibition game, Manager mode allows the player to provide strategies to the men on the field. Then there is the title mode, Road to the Show, along with the Season option.
The Road to the Show offers the chance to create your own player, your very own Joe Random, and lead him to stardom. The Season option retains the control over all the players on field, like in a typical Exhibition game, while also adding in the off-the-field training and the ability to play through a full season. Only the most dedicated players will see their way to the playoffs.
None of these options are new. They’ve all been shifted along from the previous iterations, and it’s at this point in time that it might be important to note that there is one thing that’s missing from the entire experience. A tutorial. There is this expectation from the way that the menus are designed to the descriptions and names throughout that you are familiar with, not only baseball, but also Sony’s franchise. Abbreviations are given without reference, both of terms that would be familiar with fans of baseball and to fans of previous versions of The Show.
It wouldn’t be a problem if the options were clear. When hopping into the more detailed modes, such as Road to the Show or Season, there is no specific button that says anything about how to actually play ball. Rather, in order for you to lead your team, or merely Joe Random, to the next game, you have to select your schedule and simulate the nothing in between. This does not mention the various player stats that can be upgraded via training, which involve some that are obvious, others that are open for interpretation.
MLB 11:The Show does a decent job in recreating the game of baseball, both in a virtual sense and in a portable one. However, this isn’t the kind of game for people new to the series. This is a game that was crafted for the fans, tweaking the things that they already liked without necessarily improving on the overall experience.