MLB 11: The Show
One of the first things I always hear people say when they talk about Sony’s baseball series is that it’s hard. There is no game that more accurately portrays what it is like to play baseball, and baseball is apparently a difficult sport to play. MLB: The Show has achieved this reputation of difficult-but-accurate simulation as the series has progressed, and last year’s edition was unrivaled in terms of presentation and authenticity. MLB 11: The Show spent the off-season focusing on core mechanics and the latest entry delivers substantially.
MLB 11 is defined by the Road to the Show mode, where users can create their own player and work them from minor league substitute to Hall of Famer. In last year’s edition I made the mistake of thinking I was good enough at the game to be a second baseman, so this year I choose to create a starting pitcher. This gave me a lot of time to get acclimated with MLB 11‘s new pitching mechanics. The classic on-screen meter requiring button presses at specific times in order to deliver a pitch has been reworked into a fully analog option. The system works very similarly, requiring the player to pull back on the analog stick and then forward once a certain point is hit, but it also brings timing into play. How quickly or slowly you press the analog stick up affects how the ball moves across the plate.
The system works very well and as I progressed through the game’s Road to the Show mode, I started to see the improvements I had made to my player through the training options. I really got into each game and was probably more engaged during my starts than I was when watching a real baseball game. MLB 11 does an absolutely amazing job replicating not just the look of baseball, but also the feel of the game. Sure, you get accurately modeled players and ballpark-specific broadcast angles and all of that, but the game goes further and delivers the tension of baseball. There’s an added pressure to each pitch when you’re late in the game and clinging onto a tight lead. I was invested in my player player, working toward goals, and making my way to the major league. I also cursed a number of times after being pulled from a game and finding out I got the loss despite stellar performances.
But I liked how it was last year!
If you preferred how the hitting and pitching mechanics in the previous games worked, fear not! Change a couple of settings and you can go back to just the way things were in previous installments. But, I strongly suggest that you do play a couple of games with the new control scheme. It’s a big improvement and, once you get accustomed to it, gives you a lot more control over your player.
The new pitching mechanics have been complimented by analog hitting controls. Players once again pull back on the analog stick to stride and then press forward to swing the bat through the strike zone. This gives players total control over the bat, allowing players to hold up when they shouldn’t have swung, pepper shots across the field, and bunt without having to press a button. Though hitting a ball into play is still tough, I found that I felt like I was actually progressing and improving as I played further and started to see results. In last years’ edition, I felt like I played game after game and couldn’t put anything together. In this version, I felt like I could at least maintain a minor league batting average.
All around, the Road to the Show feels like it does a better job of accurately gauging your performance than last year’s rather arcane and mysterious system did. Training points are awarded after every single play, so you receive constant feedback on your performance after every pitch, strikeout, or fielded grounder. Do something well and you’re instantly rewarded. The game is even smart enough to reward you if you push the pitcher’s pitch count up but fail to get a hit. Failure is discouraged through the subtraction of training points. It’s a simple system that helps players to instantly gauge how well they’re doing without having to navigate menus outside of the game. Getting a huge chunk of training points after a three-pitch strikeout is almost as satisfying as unlocking a trophy.
Challenge of the Week
Want to win top-tier schwag? As part of the online component of MLB 11, Sony is offering up sweet prizes to players who can complete certain challenges. The challenges (and prizes) change every week, and participants are given one free entry. Additional entries can be purchased, and the prizes so far have been very substantial (TVs, signed equipment).
MLB 11 comes with a laundry list of other new features. The new co-op mode, which allows for up to four players to face off locally or online, is fun for players who are invested in the game. It’s not particularly friendly to novices and they may grow bored quickly. There’s a new dynamic weather system that actually makes you appreciate the setting sun over some field in Arkansas during your AA days. And, in one of the coolest moves I’ve ever seen a developer take, there’s even a difficultly setting specifically geared toward making the game more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
But not everything is bright and sunny. MLB 11 is a big game, the Gran Turismo of baseball. With that comes long, long, (long!) loading and saving times. I know this is a detailed game, but spending more time loading and saving than you did facing that one batter is aggravating. And while the commentary is serviceable, I had issues with it stuttering at times and it doesn’t take long for the commentating to become repetitive, even with Eric Karros joining as third commentator. Though the new hitting and pitching interface is easy to understand and certainly an improvement over previous year’s models, I still think the game could benefit with some stronger training sessions, perhaps using interactive tutorials to help teach players how to see the ball, when to swing, etc., outside of games.
MLB 11 does an excellent job once again at delivering what this franchise is all about. The pitching/hitting interface is excellent and teaches players how to throw and hit in an intuitive and natural manner. MLB 11‘s presentation is unrivaled, and everything down to the stadium-specific Jumbotrons are presented with beautiful accuracy. There are enough changes with this year’s edition to justify a purchase, and the new mechanics make it a strong suggestion it to fans who were put off by last year’s unforgiving learning curve. Major work was done in making this game not only more authentic but more accessible, and on both fronts the developers succeeded. MLB 11 stands as one of Sony’s strongest exclusives.