MLB 09: The Show Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 02, 2009

In this X-Play Review, we point to the bleachers and take a look at MLB 09: The Show. What new features does this baseball sim bring to the game? Find out in this review.

The Pros
  • Insanely deep baseball experience
  • Fantastic visuals and ridiculously detailed animations
  • Recording your own crowd chants = never ending amusement
  • Road to the Show rocks
The Cons
  • No thumbstick batting/pitching controls
  • Load times still an issue
  • Even when perfectly timed, pitching can be a bit fickle

I know you might not be ready to hear this (especially from us here at X-Play), but Sony’s MLB 09: The Show is fantastic. And before you ask, I’m not just saying that because Microsoft’s payoff check didn’t come this week. I’m saying it because, despite the few issues I had with it, The Show is an incredibly well executed baseball game that every baseball fan should experience. Period.

Play (Serious) Ball!

MLB 09: The Show ReviewAs in previous years, The Show comes complete with more game modes than you can shake a juiced up arm at. Exhibition, franchise, season and manager modes are all back and deeper than ever. If you find yourself a bit rusty or you just want to get some extra time in the cage, practice mode lets you…well…practice. And given the game’s total dedication to being as believable and realistic as possible, you will need to practice if you don’t want to totally embarrass yourself on the diamond. In addition to all the major league teams, you also get to choose from minor league clubs as well as two legends teams (gold and silver) that let you play as everyone from Honus Wagner and the Babe to Nolan Ryan and Mike Schmidt. 

Now, you could spend the rest of your life playing the season and franchise modes or challenging players in online seasons. The new and improved online live draft system lets you play over a dozen games in rapid succession as well as tons of other upgrades and tweaks mean a more complete online experience. The Show’s crowning gem has to be the updated Road to the Show mode. It might have been a bit of a novelty when it first appeared two iterations ago, but it has come a long way since then. After all that time, it has fashioned itself into one of, if not the most satisfying, addicting, grueling, heartbreaking, intense and challenging career modes ever to appear in a sports game. Player creation has also been improved, giving you even more options like what music and what name will play over the PA system when your player steps up to the plate.

Once you’ve created your player, it’s time to begin your quest for the majors. Of course, you should know that if you fail to live up to the coach’s expectations or slack on any of your goal requirements (in the minors as well as the majors), you’ll most likely be traded.  This isn’t such a terrible thing, since it teaches you that the game isn’t about where you play but how you play each and every day you step on that field. There is simply nothing as thrilling as finally signing that big league contract and stepping onto that field with a stadium full of people chanting your name, and being able to recall every single step along the path that led you there. I managed to hit a homerun on my first pitch during my first major league at bat, and I literally almost burst into tears, because I couldn’t believe how far I had come, and because all of that hard work and dedication had finally paid off.

The new batting and base stealing training sessions are fantastic additions to the career mode, designed to give you even more control over your player’s progression on a day by day basis. At various points during a season, your coach will invite you to participate in these sessions, during which your performance on every single pitch either increases or decreases your abilities (power, contact, vision, discipline, etc. for batting, and speed, agility etc. for base running). You also earn skill points (which you can put towards upgrading various skill categories) throughout the season by batting and playing the field in key situations during every game of the season.

There are certain goals assigned to these various situations, and there is nothing more satisfying than finally being able to achieve them consistently, especially after all of the failing you will have done up to that point in your career. And you will fail. But that’s why you practice, and the game does such a ridiculous job of handling your player progression that you’ll be itching to take more hacks in the cage, not because it’s all that fun (even though it is), but because every pitch you face makes you a better player. In fact, the level of detail in the game is so incredible that with enough time and practice, you will eventually be able to recognize pitches as they are coming out of the pitcher’s hand.

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 Hey Batter, Batter. Push a Face Button Batter, Batter.

MLB 09: The Show ReviewFor everything The Show does to capture the feel, look and emotion of baseball, it inexplicably fails to take that extra step towards true immersion by sticking to its traditional control scheme for hitting and pitching, rather than letting players use the analog sticks for swinging and throwing. What’s even more confusing is that you can control base runners using the left thumbstick, and guess what, it works great! In terms of batting and pitching, it’s not that there are any glaring issues with the face button controls. In fact, they work great for the most part. The only real issue I found was that sometimes the pitching was a bit fickle in terms of representing what the power meter said. Even with spot on timing, I found several instances where the ball would end up somewhere completely different from where it should have. You expect to miss your spots when you miscalculate your timing on the power meter, but when you hit the control points perfectly you expect the pitch to represent it. For the most part though, the pitching works well, and the addition of unique umpire personalities means variable strike zones, which in turn means every game will require you to feel out the ump to see what you can and can’t get away with.

In the field though, the button controls are spot on. Whether you are turning double plays, gunning someone down from the outfield, or making barehanded snags at the corners, it feels and looks terrific. Animations are incredibly fluid, and aside from the occasional collision detection issues, it’s about as photorealistic as a baseball can get. You can use the Sixaxis to control diving and jumping, but those moves require such perfect timing that flicking the controller at precisely the right time isn’t really that practical.

Holy Rollie Fingers! This Game is Gorgeous!

MLB 09: The Show ReviewSimply talking about how well designed and visually stunning The Show is almost a disservice. It truly needs to be seen and played to be appreciated. Like I said before, the animations are perfect, and not just when players are fielding or hitting. In between these events, you’ll see players clear chunks of clay from in front of them with their cleats, casually hop on their back feet as they lazily toss pop-outs back to infielders, check a caught ball for blemishes before tossing it back to the pitcher, and perform thousands of other perfectly realized little actions that truly bring the game to life in stunning detail. The areas around the bags (especially home plate) become scuffed up through the game, grass and dirt stains accumulate on jerseys, and day games turn into night games almost imperceptibly, with shadows lengthening across the field and the stadium lights slowly turning on.

The crowds are also outstanding, and you’ll see everything from an individual person walking up the stadium stairs to get some refreshments to groups of fans lunging for foul balls. Also, you’ll be able to pick out your team’s fans from your opponent’s fans, which can be especially uplifting when you’re playing on the road for long stretches of time. What I’m trying to say is that the game is an absolute stunner from top to bottom.

The same goes for the sound design. Every single hit sounds unique, and depends entirely on where the ball makes contact with bat. Nubbers off the end of the bat sound dull and weak while line drives sound loud and solid. Well-executed pitches pop the catcher’s mitt, while curve balls in the dirt produce a clay-kicking thud. The crowds fade in and out according to the situations on the field, and having the option of using your own custom songs as well as custom chants adds even more to the game’s already ridiculous amounts of customization. The play-by-play commentary can be a bit unbearable sometimes, but then it can absolutely be spot on at other times. 

Sadly, the game’s load times are still an issue. Even with the initial install, you’ll still find yourself sitting through lengthy load-ins and load-outs between games. When you play full games, it isn’t that big of a deal, even though it still takes longer than it really should. It becomes especially frustrating during the career mode, where you’ll be jumping between training sessions and in-game scenarios for season after season.

Good Game. Good Game.

While it has a few issues (namely the lack of analog stick hitting/pitching) that keep it from being the hands-down, across the board best baseball on the market, MLB 09: The Show does just about everything else it can to give players a challenging, rewarding and realistic baseball experience. It looks incredible, plays smoothly, and offers enough on field and off-field goodies to please/occupy baseball fans for a long, long time.

Article written by: Jake Gaskill
Video produced by: Tim Jennings