MLB '07: The ShowESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer – SCE Studios San Diego
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
- 1-2 Players
- Online Multiplayer
- Online Leagues
Being that I am Canadian, baseball has never really grabbed my interest as much as it does other people in this world. I am a hockey nut, but alas I do manage to catch some games on my HD box at home so I do have some knowledge of the sport. Sony was kind enough to send its' latest MLB game, MLB '07: The Show on the PS2, for us to review. Having played some of their series in the past, I was somewhat curious to see how the newest iteration looked and played. And after some extended playtime with the game I would have to say that the new additions to the game make it another hit on the aging platform.
MLB '07: The Show's graphics have not evolved much since last year. However that is not to say they have not improved any. Last years version looked pretty good, and this years version does just a good as a job when considering the PS2's ageing hardware. If you read my review of last years version you would know that I mentioned there were issues with noticeable seams on some of players. '07 has improved on this area and there are far less seams visible. Players still look quite distinguishable too, and if anything the faces are slightly improved in terms of their clarity and overall look. Heck, I even noticed that the hands on the players are better rendered too. Animations are pretty well done. Everything from fielding animations to individual player animations, including those that are specific to certain players (e.g. swings or throws), are quite well done and will be quite recognizable to those who know their players.
I mentioned in my review of last year's version that I have not personally been to any big baseball games in my lifetime, but I have watched my share on television, so I have seen a lot of the stadiums via the good old idiot box. Well, those that I have watched on ESPN or Fox are still pretty well represented in MLB '07. They seem to have all the key features, right down to a majority of well known advertising or billboard areas in each stadium.
If anything surprised me, and in a negative way, it was that the crowds have not been improved. They still quite bland, simple and somwhat emotionless when it comes to the looks. But as I said in my review last year this seems to be the story for much of this series' history.
Given that this game is on its final run on the PS2, I had hoped it could have been given a little extra treatment. The PS2 is capable of progressive scan, and the game may have benefited from it, but the developers did not do so. As well, there seemed to be some frame rate issues evident, and this was again somewhat surprising given how long this series has been on the PS2. To those that have had the benefit of experiencing any sports games on a next-generation console, this game won't compare to the high definition graphics of any of those consoles, however overall this game looks pretty good on what is now considered last generation hardware.
The audio in MLB '07: The show manages to keep up to the good graphics and good gameplay that is offered in this game. Matt Vasgersain handles the play by play commentary. Upon hitting the web and googling his name, I discovered that he is the San Diego Padres announcer and I assume some people will recognize his voice. Overall his commentary is quite good and added to the realism of the game. The color commentary is handled by Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler. They do a pretty good job too, but they become repetitive after a few games and this is very evident during a season of play.
What really made the difference in this game for me was the rest of the sounds. Fans holler at the players from the stands, umpires emphatically yell when a player is out, there is specific music that plays when a player walks up to the batters box, the crack of a home run swing is very lifelike and there is even a ball park organ that plays music throughout the game and a PA announcer who introduces hitters and makes informative and interesting general announcements. Overall I would say that the whole audio package makes for an engrossing experience, especially when played through some great stereo or surround speakers.
I think it would be beneficial to really focus on the additions to MLB '07: The Show compared to last years version. I will briefly touch on anything that is similar, but overall it is the additions to this game that once again carry it being one of the best baseball games on the system.
Game modes in this year's version will be very familiar to anyone who had the enjoyment of playing last years. There is a quick game option, a manager mode, multiplayer modes (e.g. rivalry mode), an online mode, a career mode, a franchise mode, a season mode (full or modified), a home-run derby and a king of the diamond mode. Phew, that is a lot of modes, and that is a good thing as the game offers everything that one could hope. Most of the modes are self explanatory and there is no sense of getting into them. However I think I should comment on the king of the diamond mode. This is a timed game where you choose a pitcher and a hitter and you duel an opposing team's pitcher and hitter on a field that is littered with obstacles and targets. These will either penalize you (the obstacles) or reward you (the targets) depending on where you hit the ball. This mode is definitely not a deep mode as it is more an excursion from the rigors of regular MLB play. It is quick and quite enjoyable it is a nice addition to the overall gameplay of this title.
The biggest addition to MLB '07: The Show is new mode entitled the "Road to the Show" mode. This seems to be a refinement of last year's career mode. This mode offers depth while also offering some new spins on your traditional career path. You create a player, pick a position and a team that you hope to sign with. Now where this really seems to change from last years version is that you solely experience everything from your specific position's perspective, and that is it. The computer will handle the managing of the team and other players, whereas you will just focus on your own player in their own position. So, if you are a first baseman, be prepared to only play when your player is required to be involved in any specific play. As one would expect you will find yourself playing more as a first baseman then if you were a right fielder. This makes the game go along at a much speedier pace as you don't have sit around during the times you are not involved in a play. The game simply fast forwards to the next time you need to be involved.
During the "Road to the Show" mode the computer will generate specific scenarios where you have to reach specific goals. For example, you may be tasked with just getting a hit, not getting tagged while on base, creating a double play, or hitting a home run. You will find that the tasks can be quite specific to each players position so be prepared to focus on what your player can do. Each time you are successful at completing these goals you are given a number of points that you can use to boost your player's statistics and make him more desirable for a chance to play in the big leagues. Should you play well during preseason and make the starting roster of the team of your choice, you continue to try to complete new goals while making an effort to win accolades in the MLB. Heck, do well enough and you can even request to be traded to a team that has a shot at the World Championship. I found my experience with this mode somewhat rewarding. The first time I tried it I did not make the team of my choice, but once I got a feel for this game, and was able to start completing the goals, I finally made the cut and I actually felt like I accomplished something.
For those looking for depth on a whole new level separate of a career mode, feel free to play the franshise mode. Although not much has really changed since last year's version, this mode is still quite deep and offers a lot of options. You are given complete and total control of the franchise of your choice and it is up to you to make it a successful team. Something that is very evident is that expectations are different depending on the profile of your team. If you are a higher profile team, like the free spending New York Yankees, be prepared to meet higher expectations then teams like the Washington Nationals or Arizona Diamondbacks. During the franchise mode you will find yourself in charge of decision making for such things as budget, team facilities, promotions, vending prices at concessions, player contracts and drafting to name a few. There is a heck of a lot to manage and it can be quite complex, but should you feel somewhat overwhelmed you can give the CPU some of the responsibility of any of these decisions. This makes the whole matter as difficult as you decide given that you can take some of these aspects or all of them into your daily duties.
In terms of control, the pitching in MLB '07: The Show seems to have gotten a lot of attention. The basic mechanics are the same as last year though, as you still utilize the classic three button press approach to hurl the ball over the plate. Press X to start the meter, press X again to set the power, and press X for a third and final time to set your accuracy. What is new though is that your pitches are organized on-screen in an order reflective how effective you are at throwing that certain pitch. Each pitch has a small meter that fills or empties, the more full the meter the easier it is to throw that specific pitch. On the other hand though should the meter be emptier it becomes somewhat more difficult to throw strikes with that particular pitch. This adds a bit of strategy to the game. I found that I wanted to make sure I had more then one pitch that was effective. I also found that I could not rely on only one pitch as the AI would adapt accordingly. It was quite an effort to make sure that at least 3 or more meters were quite filled up allowing me to challenge a batter at any given time with a variety of pitches.
There are two other noteworthy areas that influence pitching. The first is the catcher's ability to recommend a pitch. You can choose to follow his recommendation or not, and I found that some of the recommendation were quite effective at the right time, however there were also sometimes when recommendations were tough to manage or just didn't seem right. The second new feature is that specific umpires will have their own interpretation of a strike zone. Some might be loose, while other will be rigidly tight. I found that it took some trial and error to figure out what a specific umpire deemed 'their' strike zone and once I did I could become somewhat more loose in my aim or not. This could be frustrating for some, but other's may enjoy this as it adds a somewhat bit more strategy to the game as you have to adapt to varying characteristics of the ump. Regardless these two new aspects did seem to add more realism to the overall gameplay and I give kudos to the developers for making the effort to add these types of features.
Hitting has been pretty much left the same in this year's version of the game. For rookies of the series you press the X button for a normal swing or the square button for a more powerful swing. You can even attempt to influence where your hit will go by using the right analog stick. As with last years version, I found the hitting a pretty good mix of speed and control. Although I am not the most skilled veteran when it comes to baseball games I was able to feel like I could hit the ball with some success. However, when I felt like I should have gotten a hit, but did not, there is a new feature in this area called the Swing Analysis system. In a nutshell this allows you to evaluate your timing (e.g. too early or too late), how your position was and where the ball was in the strike zone. This was somewhat useful as I was able to see the areas I was weak and I could make adjustments accordingly.
Fielding in any baseball games is a hit and miss affair. I have played a few different baseball games on a few different consoles in the past. I have played on the N64, PSone, PSP, Xbox and the PS2. My experience with all is that fielding can definitely be an area that one may struggle with. Well MLB '07: The Show does a pretty good job, even with some minor faults. It was quite easy to maneuver my players under fly balls and just as easy to control my infielders. Where I had some concern was that at times I didn't have a clue who I was to control. The computer had an inane ability to assign players that I wouldn't expect to be assigned control of. For example, there were the odd times that I was given control of an infielder who had no chance of making a play but there were players who were closer to the ball. It was little annoyances like this that made some great control take a few steps backwards. Overall though the control in MLB '07: The Show is not that bad and is much better then other offerings in the past.
Online play in MLB '07: The Show is quite a feature laden mode, and one that should satisfy any baseball nut. League play is a big feature and players can join online leagues of up to 30 separate teams. Within these leagues are features such as leaderboards and playoff trees to name a few. Should anyone want to take the initiative, you can also start your own league and establish rules and league schedules. Playing in a league, or in a quick online game, can be somewhat daunting as you may not know what your opponent is like. Have no fear though as each online player has an Online Player Card where you can view their overall stats right down to disconnects and level of skill they play at. Quick single matches can also be played on a ranked or unranked level as well. What limited time I had online was pretty much trouble free. There was a bit of lag now and then, but overall it wasn't that bad of an online experience.
Online capabilities are also utilized for more then must multiplayer gaming. You will find n MLB ticker is updated on a regular basis with news and other details. You can also update your rosters via regular downloads from Sony. Finally, and a somewhat cool feature, you can download your personal settings that you have become accustomed too. MLB has a ton of gameplay sliders that can be adjusted for any particular gameplay style. You can save these adjusted slider settings and upload them to the MLB servers for sharing. You can also download other player's settings should you desire. It was neat to see how other fans of the game adjusted their settings in an effort to make the game more realistic. Overall the online multiplayer, as well as the other features associated with the online capabilities of this game, are robust and really add further kudos to this game.
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