MLB 11: The Show Review

By Mike D'Alonzo - Posted Mar 15, 2011

SCEA San Diego takes us back to the diamond with MLB 11: The Show, and this entry into the series comes with some pretty significant changes, as well as a lot of what makes The Show the best ongoing baseball gaming franchise on the market. Mostly for better, but sometimes for worse, it is likely the most realistic baseball gaming simulation yet created.

The Pros
  • Still the gold standard in baseball gaming.
  • Analog controls are new and add a fun dimension to the game.
  • Nice atmosphere makes you feel like you're at the park.
The Cons
  • Can be a little too much like actual baseball sometimes.
  • The learning curve between beginner and intermediate play modes is very steep.
  • Online lag can be frustrating in such a timing-oriented game.

MLB 11: The Show Review:

SCEA San Diego takes us back to the diamond with MLB 11: The Show, and this entry into the series comes with some pretty significant changes, as well as a lot of what makes The Show the best ongoing baseball gaming franchise on the market. Mostly for better, but sometimes for worse, it is likely the most realistic baseball gaming simulation yet created.
 


 
Here's the Windup...And the Pitch!

The first and most significant change in The Show is the all-new analog control system, replacing the button generated pitching, hitting, and fielding functionality. Pitching, especially with one of the real studs in the game, like Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, can be a real joy, pulling the analog stick to start the windup and then deliver the pitch with a flick forward at the right time, while you guide the ball toward the plate. Of course, with weaker pitchers, the chance that you'll throw up a marshmallow and get it pummelled is much greater, but that's the way of real baseball.

Hitting with the analog control is a much harder nut to crack, entirely. Using one stick to guess where the pitch will be located, and then the other to rear back and smack the ball can be supremely difficult, even if you're Albert Pujols. Just making contact can be a real bear, which is just like actually playing baseball, but not always in a good way. You can choose to power swing, swing regularly, or just make contact, which helps, but the hits, you should know, will be few and far between. An excellent way to try and make sense of the mechanic and get your timing down is to play the Home Run Derby, which is also just fun because, not only do chicks dig the long ball, they're pretty fun to hit, as well.

Fielding with the analog control involves you pushing the stick toward the bag you want to throw to, and holding it longer or shorter, depending on how hard you want to throw. Remember, the harder you throw the ball, the more likely you are to sail it over someone's head. Also, attention has been paid to fielding stats, which means that not every fielder has the same skills. You won't want to try and throw out a runner from centerfield unless you're pretty sure you've got the firepower to get it there, and accurately.

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Root, Root, Root For the Home Team...


The fields here are beautifully rendered, and SCEA San Diego has added the nice touch of changing camera angles depending on which field you're playing in. Wrigley, for example, has the famous WGN-style behind home plate angle that makes it feel like you're watching a Cubs game on TV. The sound effects, too, are really well done, giving you an electric vibe when there's an important situation in the game, and going quiet as crickets when you're getting pummelled on your home field. Grey, rainy days look just as great as sunny ones, which is also pretty cool.

Sadly, though, the quality of the commentary hasn't changed much, even with the addition of Dodger great Eric Karros, joining Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell in the booth. They have a lot to say, a lot of it isn't positive, and it sometimes gets buried in the sound mix. There's also some strange overlap in the commentary from time to time, which can be a bit jarring.
 


 
He's Got Some Good Stuff Out There!

There are lots of game modes in The Show, including Road to the Show, which lets you create a player and guide him through the minor leagues, and Franchise, which hasn't seen any significant changes from last year's model. There's a new co-op feature that allows you to play 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 2, or 2 vs. CPU in a head-to-head online game, as well as the usual online gameplay. One thing that should be noted about online with The Show is that, especially with a game that depends so much on timing, any lag is going to be more frustrating than normal, and my online experience was fraught with that frustration. An already difficult game can become impossible in that way.

The Show also comes with Move support in the Home Run Derby mode, which allows you to take control and swing for the fences on your own, and 3D, which, sadly, didn't add much to the game and was hard to recognize as true 3D, more than just weird waves of 3D elements that conspired to give me a headache.

The Challenge of the Week, too, is new, allowing players to play situationally in a one-player online challenge with leaderboards and prizes, and it's pretty fun, and a nice new way to rejigger the baseball experience.
 




I Don't Care If I Never Get Back!

Overall, MLB 11: The Show is impressive, and the analog functionality is certainly a big leap forward for the franchise, and something that players have been clamoring for over the years. Yes, there are concerns, and yes, it brings up the idea that perhaps making a game that hews this close to baseball can make a videogame less fun to play, but these are niggling concerns, at best.

What's best about the work that SCEA San Diego has done here is the fact that they're not content to rest on their laurels, and are obviously trying to improve what they do. Maybe these aren't the best iterations of those ideas, but there's no reason to believe they won't perfect it in the future.