Sometimes I really pity X-Box fans. The quality exclusives are rapidly dying off or at least getting worse. A case in point: the MLB: the Show series. Ever since Triple Play (and my lost love, High Heat) disappeared from the baseball gaming world, you really had three options for consoles: Front Office Manager (PS 3, X-Box); The Show (PS 3), and MLB 2K (all consoles). They haven’t made a new Front Office Manager (to my knowledge). MLB 2k just plain sucks (most of the 2k series are a little more arcade-y and less realistic). Even though the Show has not made huge improvements from year to year, it’s still the best baseball game on the market, if you’re not primarily interested in managing.
The biggest changes this year are the addition of PS Move support (someday, I will share my Move experience here) and the pure analog control system. Move support only applies to the home run derby, weirdly enough. The pure analog control system lets you use the analog sticks instead of the face buttons to hit, pitch, and throw. While I haven’t tried it yet, I’ve heard many complaints about the touchiness of the throwing and pitching. Hitting seems to work very well, however, although since I suck at hitting, I stick to the face buttons. Speaking of the face buttons, there are now three types of swings; power, normal, and contact. You get a bigger contact area the farther right you go, but a subsequent penalty to power. It’s a significant enough difference that in certain situations, you will actually use the non-normal swing from time to time. I use Contact at two strikes, but if I guess right on a pitch, I’ll take a rip with the Power swing.For fielding, there’s one new addition: fake throws! Yes, you can finally fake to third and throw to first, just like in the majors! Sometimes you fake throws unintentionally, however, until you get used to it.
Franchise is largely untouched. They actually took away two features I liked; the Goals system (you had five years to accomplish ten goals) and the detailed Feedback system, which has been gone for two seasons. You still get feedback, but it’s on a bar graph; you don’t get the individual comments from players or fans that helped you steer the right policies. They still have an excellent and largely realistic front office mode. You need to worry about Arbitration, the Rule V Draft, Service Time, etc.
Road to the Show has had some minor tweaks, the biggest of which is making points a little easier to get. A long at bat, even if you ultimately strike out, is now seen as a positive; in the past, you would likely lose points. Similarly, if you get a ground ball and your shortstop flubs it, you (the pitcher) aren’t penalized. This makes things more realistic; after all, once the pitch is hit, the pitcher has no control over how things develop.
As a baseball game, it’s incredibly detailed and realistic. The graphics are very solid; the crowd is actually people instead of colored splotches, a big improvement, even though you’ll see the same person a dozen times in one section. Players are sometimes readily identifiable — to be honest, I’ve not kept up much with baseball for a couple of seasons, in large part due to limited Indians availability. Physics wise, everything is great; the PC is a little unforgiving on hitting — Superb Contact, Perfect Timing, and I get a weak groundball ?! — but that’s certainly understandable. I’m still second in the league after 10 games (easiest setting), but my team average is .312, not .450, like it had been in the past. You have sliders if you don’t quite like how things are working; pitchers throw a few too many strikes, so trying to draw walks is a sucker’s bet.
It’s definitely more than a roster update, but it’s not a total rehaul of the system, which is a good thing. Too many game companies do that and lose their core audience. I’d like to see Franchise Mode get a little overhaul; it’s long overdue. Maybe add a GM mode? A new online mode — Challenge of the Week — is a nice idea; one hitter vs. one pitcher (usually the pitcher is AI controlled) and the player with the highest points at the end of the week wins cool prizes. However, there’s a serious problem with it, and it’s the one thing I really don’t like about the franchise: microtransactions.
See, you only get one play at the Challenge of the Week for free; otherwise you have to pay for more. They’re $.25 a piece, but it’s not so much a challenge of skill as one of buying hundreds of tries so, no matter how badly you do, you’ll get more total points. Since it’s not weighted or averaged, but simply added, unless you’re super human, you’ll never get enough points in the free play to win. Want extra stats, like runs created? That’ll be $.99. Yes, it’s only a buck and you only pay for it once, but you mean to tell me I have to pay an extra dollar to compensate you for an extra thirty seconds on a spreadsheet? It’s not like they licensed PECOTA or VORP; here’s a complete list (from GameFaqs):
AB / HR
BB / PA
BB / K
and for pitchers
K / 9
Really? I have to pay a buck for strikeouts per nine innings? Only DIPS and BIPA are mildly interesting, but guess what? They used to be free! (BIPA, anyway). Or, you could pay $5 for six stadiums, or get 20 million franchise bucks for $.99. You already got me to shell out $60; couldn’t you give me most of these free?
It’s a terrific baseball game; the most irritating parts are the non-baseball aspects.
— Great game of baseball
— Detailed Franchise Mode
— Some new control options
— A dollar for strikeouts per nine innings? Seriously?!
— A few missing features in franchise mode