MLB 09: The ShowESRB:
Developer – SCE San Diego Studios
Publisher - SCEA
Players: 1-2 (Online 2 Players)
Playstation Network Compatible
Online: Ethernet Broadband Required
Required Hard Disk Space: 5GB
HDTV: 720p, 1080i, 1080p
The weather is starting to warm-up and Spring Training is well under way. Yes, the Major League Baseball season is back in full swing and along with it comes Sony's MLB 09: The Show for the PS3. This year I was looking forward to the game as the screen shots and videos that were released in the weeks leading up to the game being in stores looked incredible. On top of that, early feedback regarding the game has been nothing but positive. Yet I could not help but be a little skeptical. Last years game was fantastic as we here at GameBoyz gave it a whopping 9 out of 10 for an overall score. So my first thought was how could this year's edition possibly top last years? Well, after some extended playtime all I can say is fans of Sony's MLB franchise need not be concerned. That being said, do not expect any major leaps this time around.
Visually MLB 09: The Show for the PS3 is stunning, but is it an upgrade from 08? Perhaps a little; but lets not forget 08' provided for plenty of eye-candy for ball fans as it was a stunning looking game. This year's game is a bit of an upgrade in the graphics department as it features more player animations, better looking fans, and the ball parks feature more detail than ever before. I think it is safe to say there is no question MLB 09 is the best looking baseball game in this next-generation era. Aside from a couple of graphical glitches everything from the players to the ball parks looks phenomenal.
Whenever I fire up a baseball game I always gauge the look of the players first. Nothing bothers me more than when baseball players in a video game have generic swings and no attention is paid to the hitter's stance and attitude. This is not the case in MLB 09: The Show. In fact the player animations are second to none as the detail in the players is once again truly amazing. Virtual players like Ryan Howard and Chipper Jones have batting stances and swings identical to their real life counterparts. It is impressive to say the least. Granted some of the body features can appear a little off, but at the end of the day the player animations remain stellar. I should also mention that this year's edition features more animations than ever before and it really shows as the players move, react and run more realistically than ever before. The result is a game that really shines and the player movements seemingly get better every year.
The stadiums, as they were in 08', are once again spot-on and look exactly like the real-life big league counterparts. I really have no major complaints with the stadium models and there seems to be even more detail that ever before. They feature better looking jumbotrons and they seemingly come to life once again in 09'. From the billboards located around the stadiums, to the dust that swirls around the infield, you can tell that a lot of time and effort was spent designing the virtual stadiums to look as they do in real-life. I should also mention that the fans look fabulous and this was a nice change given that the PSP version suffered in this area. The crowds looks great and they really stand out in the game lending to a great atmosphere. The variance in fans creates a more realistic looking atmosphere.
For the most part the game plays very smooth. The players moved and ran without a hitch and the corresponding pitcher meter did not incur any slight slow down as it did last year. The game does however suffer from some really bad clipping issues from time to time. On one such occasion, I noticed the Phillies Phanatic (their mascot) go partially through the roof of the player's dugout. These types of glitches are minor but worth mentioning nonetheless. On a final note, the 09' replays look great and the players have a few more animations at their disposal in terms of the some of the defensive plays they pull off. You don’t see the same canned repetitive throws from the shortstop for instance. Overall MLB 09: The Show features lots of visual variety which once again adds to the authenticity of the game.
When it comes to the sound MLB 09: The Show delivers and it sounds great in 5.1 surround sound too. From the soundtrack to the commentators, this latest instalment in Sony’s best selling franchise does a wonderful job at creating that MLB big league atmosphere. New additions such as the chants from the fans and the sounds of the bullpen pitches smacking the catcher's mitt, which come out of the rear speakers, are awesome and spot on. All the sounds you would typically hear in an MLB game are in MLB 09: The Show and for that the developers get plenty of kudos.
Just like last year, Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler and Dave Campbell do the commentary and once again they are solid. They create such a wonderful atmosphere and I almost have to remind myself they are not actual real time announcers calling a game. The only time they seem to repeat themselves is when you duplicate a defensive play from a previous inning or out. Granted over a 162-game schedule you will notice lots of repetitiveness, however I never got the sense I was listening to repetitive audio clips during my time with the game. The stadium PA announcers and the umpire voice are also a nice touch and add to the realism of the experience. The crowd chatter, chanting and cheering is even better this year too. You can even record your own custom chants and play them in-game. A feature that is pretty cool and something we can all get pretty carried away with.
The soundtrack for MLB 09 is not quite as good as last year's version. My guess is gamers are likely spending more time listening to their own tunes from the PS3 HDD as The Show allows you to do so. Using the “My MLB Music” feature, you can store your favorite music for play on MLB 09. You can edit tracks to assign batter walk-up music or record your own voice and assign it to play for the player and situation of your choice. This feature is a nice addition to say the least.
If you played MLB 08: The Show on the PS3 last year you will probably agree that MLB 09: The Show feels awfully similar. The pitching and hitting mechanics are identical to last year with only a few minor tweaks. For those new to the franchise there is a steep learning curve, but veterans should be able to start striking out batters and hitting the ball when up at the plate on regular basis right from the get go. The core game is also back with your typical exhibition, 'Road to the Show' and season modes. For those of you who are new the franchise I will just briefly recap the variety of core modes featured in the game.
Exhibition mode is back and is great for jumping into a game right away. Pick two teams and off you go. This is generally my first stop as I usually want to see how the game plays and feels before I get into a full MLB season. Also, when playing a buddy at home, exhibition mode is generally where we set up a game. My next stop is usually the season mode. Here you pick a team and work your way through a full 162 game season, or a shorter game season if you want. One of these days I will play an entire season but when a game takes 45 minutes to an hour; you do the math. Who has that kind of time? The ‘Road to the Show’ mode is where you create a player in an effort to make the 'Big Show' (Major Leagues). You guide your player through spring training, spend some time in the minors, and eventually gain a spot on a major league team roster. This year 'Road to the Show' includes interactive training, a new steal/lead-off system, updated presentations, and coach interactions. Interactive training consists of a set of mini-games designed to improve a player’s ability and performance in various areas of baseball. Finally, the Franchise mode returns, adding to one of the deepest franchise modes available in any sports title. MLB 09: The Show adds the long awaited 40-man roster. Improvements this year include Salary Arbitration, Waiver Transactions, and September call-ups.
Overall, all the modes that we have come to love about the game are back and are just as good if not a bit better, than last year. Additionally, the controls are nearly identical to last year's game. Arguably the most important aspect of any baseball game is the hitting and pitching mechanics as well as the offensive and defensive controls. Many will be pleased to know the pitching and hitting mechanics are very similar to last year. In fact, I almost found hitting a little more difficult as the game places much more emphasis on patience and selective hitting than ever before. You cannot just go up to bat and swing at every pitch. You have to be patient, guess some pitches and run deep into counts just like you would if you were a pro. I was certainly my own worst enemy when it came to my inability to put up runs at times. Many newcomers may get frustrated with how difficult hitting can be at times as it will take 10-15 games to start hitting the ball with some regularity even in rookie mode. Pitching also takes some patience and good location. Firing fastballs after fastball will only get you so far. You need patience and precision and you also need to scout your opponent's weaknesses. It is this realism of the hitting and pitching which makes The Show such a strong franchise. Those new to the franchise will be frustrated at first, but for those veterans out there I think you will be very pleased.
It is not all roses for MLB 09: The Show though as there continues to be some issues which plague the franchise. For instance, the base running and defence continues to be hit and miss at times. Players running the bases seem to have one speed and have a slight hitch in their step when rounding the bags. I just wish Sony implemented some kind of turbo or sprint button for those occasions where I really need the player to ‘bust his ass’ get to the bag. Also, when caught in a run down, you don’t have a chance as your player runs like he is disinterested. Bottomline, the base running continues to take some time to master and when there is more than one player on the base pads it can get tricky. Perhaps it is my inability to master the controls, however there has got to be an easier system than what is already in place. It should not be so difficult to have a runner hold-up at first while you advance a player from second to third, yet repeatedly I had issues.
The defence appears to be very similar to last year; however there are many more animations which can create some problems. Players seemingly dive way too often and the defensive AI makes more incredible plays than ever before. On the flipside, we are seeing many more bobbled balls and golden glove players having a bad case of the fumblitus from time to time. It makes for great entertainment but can take the game more into the realm of arcade than simulation. I also found that sometimes the defensive players do not always react or throw the ball as you like which can cause some problems as routine flyballs sometime turn into absolute gong shows. Additionally, there were occasions where I wanted my shortstop to make a casual throw over the first as the runner was not even half way to first. Instead, he frequently rushed throws and my first baseman would have to dig the ball out of the dirt. On a positive note, the new defensive alignment system works very well and comes in hand when some big boppers are standing at the plate.
There are several levels of difficulty found in MLB 09, including a new hardcore "Legend" mode for those who are insanely good at the game. I spent the majority of my season in veteran as the increased difficulties were just not my cup of tea. I should also mention that Rookie mode is not as easy as it was a couple of years ago either. I actually played a few games in Rookie mode where I lost my first few games. Not that I am perfect, but I do consider myself pretty competent. Another feature which is back from last year, and shows Sony is listening to their fans, is in-game saves. Nothing is more frustrating then when you are playing a tight game in the bottom of the fifth and you have to turn the game off for whatever reason. With MLB 09 you can save in game at any time and pick up where you left off at later date.
Just like last year, MLB 09 features the Progressive Batting Performance feature. This rewards players for superior performance and penalizes them for getting into slumps. Specific to each individual hitter, players will be rewarded or punished based on how that batter performs beyond his “natural ability” while under user control. The Progressive Batting Performance is only used in the Season and ‘Road to the Show’ modes and it adds more depth and realism to the game. A big part of, and well publicized aspect of Major League Baseball, are players who are either in the midst of hot or cold streaks. With the Progressive Batting Performance it is nice to see who is hot and who is cold when facing opposing batters.
I should also mention that the popular “Pitcher/Batter Analysis” feature returns on MLB 09. This feature details the breakdown of how a batter has performed based on pitch type and result. The game offers up 17 different pitch types for players to master and MLB 09: The Show details the different pitch grips and arm angles that hitters must address. These new tools add more depth by showing you pitcher and batter tendencies. By simply hitting select you can view hitter and pitcher stats; which is very helpful when facing the top half of the line-up or the ace of the opponents pitching staff. One great aspect of MLB 09: The Show is the fact they recognize that MLB fans are generally statistic freaks and The Show embraces this and gives all the stats a true fan’s heart desires.
The multiplayer component of the game is once again decent. Admittedly I did not spend nearly the amount of time online that I wanted too; however the time I did play was lag free and enjoyable. It also adds features including customizable Online League Play, and a scrolling MLB Score Ticker. Furthermore, the SCOUT (Sports Connect Online User Tracking) allows gamers to set and store their game preferences on the MLB server, and then enables the system to look for a Quick Match with opponents that fit similar competitive criteria. New to the online component is the Online Season Leagues which allows players to hold fully functional drafts and utilize Flex Schedules, providing fans the opportunity to play games ahead in the schedule. Overall pretty impressive stuff.
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