Reviewed: April 4, 2007
Released: February 26, 2007
Boy oh boy, have things come full circle for Sony and their sports video games. The group that once ruled the roost back in the late 90’s with their 989 Sports line, hit an embarrassing low in the early 2000’s and all but disappeared from the gaming front. Now Sony Sports is back and surprisingly on the top of the Major League Baseball heap with their newly developed The Show franchise. And while it might not have all the pretty bells-and-whistles of the Next-Gen brethren, this year’s version MLB ’07: The Show on the PS2 is definitely one of the better hardball games to hit the digital diamond.
There is no need explaining the game of baseball to all the card-carrying American readers – the name of the game in The Show is by-the-book hardball featuring all of the teams of the MLB’s 2007 season.
Sony already had a solid hardball title with MLB '06, and MLB '07 ups the gameplay ante with deeper pitching controls via the newly-incorporated Pitch Command System and Adaptive Pitching Intelligence, unique Umpire pitch calling via the newly incorporated Umpire Personalities feature, as well as the excellent Zone Control Batting system that was carried over from last year’s release. Sony also adds a terrific build-a-player style “Road to the Show” mode, which helps to break up the monotony that can come from the usual baseball fare.
In the Pitch Command System, the pitching mechanics closely mirror the old meter-based systems of yore; where players choose the pitch type and location, then tap once to choose power and a second time for accuracy. Depending on a pitcher’s confidence in a particular throw, the accuracy area of the meter will be either larger or smaller and therefore easier or more difficult to nail. But where the Pitch Command System really comes into play is that this accuracy area of the meter is dynamic, and will grow or shrink throughout the course of play depending on the pitcher’s fatigue and confidence levels. This forces the player to use, but not overuse, all of the pitches in his skill set.
Pitching decisions are made much easier in MLB '07 with the addition of the Adaptive Pitching Intelligence, which effectively takes on the real-life role of the catcher’s throwing signals to the pitcher. Many people don’t realize that in real life, most pitches are actually decided upon by the catcher, using his knowledge of the batter, the pitcher, the umpire, and the field – the Adaptive Pitching Intelligence takes all of this into account, and tries to make suggestions accordingly. The gamer is not forced to follow the game’s suggestions, but doing so will definitely help to grow the accuracy meter.
In the same vein, the newly added Umpire Personalities tries to add some realism to the strike calling, by categorizing a few different Umpire types – loose, medium, and tight – with respect to how the Umps gauge the strike zone. “Loose” Umpires will tend to call a few more strikes on pitches that might actually lean a bit closer to ball territory, while “tight” Umpires generally require dead-nuts accuracy around the traditional strike zone. This does add another layer of depth to the game, as it takes a good 3 innings or so to feel out an Umpire and figure out the best course of pitches.
As mentioned, Zone Control Batting makes a comeback, hopefully sealing the fate of the annoying cursor-style batting once and for all. The Zone Control Batting system is a bit more forgiving, and infinitely more rewarding, than in the old days of hardball games. That’s not to say that you will be knocking them out of the park more often, but it allows you to make contact a bit more often and actually get to enjoy some base running.
Speaking of base running, getting around the diamond is traditionally where baseball games falter the worst – and can become exceptionally confusing when more than one player is on base. And really, it’s hard to knock the developers since the entire mechanic of player management with four possible players, four distinct bases, and four different running directions – it can all get a bit confusing. Add in things like fly ball touch-ups, infield fly rules, stealing, forces, pickles – and suddenly the simple game of baseball becomes incredibly complex. And while MLB '07 tries to make new strides in the area with analog-style base selections and the like, base running is still a mess.
One of the coolest aspects of the game is the Road to the Show mode that has been lifted from Sony’s NBA: The Life franchise. In Road to the Show, gamers take on the role of a rookie player and get to play through pivotal events in his career. Much like Sony’s The Life, The Show will task gamers with certain in-game situations – like winning a game by scoring two runs in the ninth inning. But instead of requiring the gamer to play a full nine innings, the The Show will fast forward to the bottom of the ninth inning, and give the player three outs to score the assigned two runs. Accomplishing the tasks is a rewarding experience, and gamers can rapidly advance through the story without having to play through endless innings.
The online mode takes things up a notch as well, allowing players to set up online leagues of as many as 30 teams – even allowing the leagues to customize their rule sets and games scheduling, and develop stat tracking and leader boards. Much like Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gamercard and player ratings, MLB '07 assigns its online players an Online Player Card which displays player stats and ratings.
As the newest generation of consoles presses onward, it is definitely getting more and more difficult to judge these last-gen releases with any degree of fairness. What would have easily been considered “fantastic” last spring on the PS2 is hardly even worth mentioning when compared to the most lackluster title on the PS3.
Still, MLB '07: The Show holds its own on the old console, with improved character animations and stadium details compared to last year’s MLB '06 release. The polygonal crowds are far superior to the muddy texture maps that EA dishes out in their hardball titles, but are still nowhere near as detailed as the 2K series tends to deliver.
It is obvious that Sony did not mess around with the sound for the MLB '07 release. Then again, any gamer who had the pleasure to play MLB '06 will attest that the sound really didn’t need much tweaking – it was already one of the best overall sound packages to come in any sporting franchise.
From the 20 licensed music tracks to the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd, the game just oozed quality. And by far the best feature from last year’s model – the top-notch press box announcing – is back and just as amazing as ever. The MLB '07: The Show franchise features some of the most intelligent play-by-play announcing ever seen in a game, making references to prior at-bats, outs, and plays. It is almost eerie hearing the announcer allude to early-inning double plays and fly-outs. I am not sure how Sony managed to pull all of this off, but it sure gives the game a sense of continuity that is often missed in sporting games.
The pickings are getting slim for the old PS2, and MLB '07: The Show delivers enough innovation to warrant picking up a copy, even for vets of MLB '06. Single player gamers will dig the improvements to the batting and pitching mechanics, as well as the uniquely satisfying Road To The Show mode. And as for online players, there is no doubt that the deeply rewarding online leagues are sure to consume many a lazy summer afternoon.
And with the enhanced Online Suite featuring online leagues, MLB.com Headline News, real-time MLB tickers, instant messaging, My Sliders and much more, there is plenty of baseball to keep you playing long past this year's baseball season.
Just when the late-adopters think that they finally have to pull the plug on their beleaguered consoles, a game like MLB '07: The Show arrives at the doorstep to deliver an extra dose of life into their outdated machines.
Sony could have easily dished out another tired remake of last-year’s game, but instead opted to add a ton of new features and improvements. And while MLB '07 might not measure up visually to the new standards being set on the new generation of consoles, the killer gameplay cannot be denied. Hardball doesn’t get better than this on any console.