MLB 09: The ShowESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: SCE Studios San Diego
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
2 players online via network adapter
Analog control/vibration function
Logitech/PS2 USB headset
PS2 Memory card - 1389KB save
Eyetoy USB camera
It is too bad that the sport of Major League Baseball has got such negative press over the past few years. With all the drug scandals, and the lack of the league doing too much about it, it tends to tarnish the rich tradition of such an endearing sport. That why it is good to know that there is at least one constant that baseball fans can look to, Sony's MLB: The Show series. Over the past few years the franchise has consistently provided solid gameplay while improving the presentation of the sport. While the PS2 is an aging dinosaur of a game machine it is still capable of providing some good honest fun. The result is a game that is highly anticipated every spring. However, due to a lack of new features, game elements, and weak play, the PS2 version comes across as a shadow of previous years. Is MLB 09: The Show still enjoyable enough on the older system or have all the goodies and refinements gone to its younger more powerful brother, the PS3? Let’s find out.
The PS2 version of The Show has been starting to show its age in recent years and this year is no different. In fact, many of the same issues from previous games still stand out. You can clearly still see crowd textures that snap into place, animation loops, and loads of aliasing issues throughout the ballparks. This weakens the overall presentation of the game and shows the PS2 has hit its proverbial hardware wall. I did notice there are a few new camera angles that the game tries to present, but it really doesn’t help the graphics engine much.
The Ballparks, which try to look like real life counterparts, also look a lot weaker. The bland texture work tends to make everything look alike, whether it is a billboard or an area of the stands, everything in this regard does not look as good as it could. On the other hand, player’s faces do look good, however there are still some that look way too generic for my liking, especially when presented in a cut scene at the end of a play. At least the animation for the players is solid as there are a large number of different plays like sliding stops or spinning throws that manage to look really good.
That being said, when you balance the positives with the negatives in the visuals, including the lack of the collision detection, you realize that the game engine for the PS2 game is aging poorly. Collision detection is one glaring fault of the game’s graphics. With the exception of a collision animation every now and then at home plate, you will find plenty of players literally running and sliding directly through each other, which is inexcusable multiple years in a row. It is hard not to notice the huge difference between the PS2 and the PS3 versions, but for those with only a PS2 the games graphics are more than serviceable.
MLB 09’s audio is in Dolby Pro Logic 2, so it should sound very good to any gamer. The announcers are again anchored by the Vasgersian, Hudler and Campbell. The team still does an excellent job of calling the games. In fact, they sound more realistic, and not as robotic, as some commentary teams can get in other sports games. I found they had more natural flow and a sense of surprise of the gameplay thanks to the excitement that rises in each of their voices as they provide their insightful commentary. It is refreshing to hear them as if they were calling a real live game. During repeated play, like in the franchise mode, they do tend to repeat themselves, but what sports games do not end up doing this, and in baseball 162 games is a lot of time to have to try to be non-repetitive.
The crowd noise, in the form of cheers and taunts, adds environmental flavor to the game, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. The crowd’s oooing and awing seem to be done at appropriate times with healthy doses of clapping and whistling, all of which adds to the games overall realism.
MLB ’09: The Show brings a soundtrack that works well for the game. The soundtrack is mostly just songs for your enjoyment as you pick what you want to do in the game. Pop and rock music seem to be the flavor of choice in this game. You can customize the music setting and pick and chose the song offerings as you like. Although there are not as many tracks to choose from as in previous years there are more customizable ways to use them.
While the gameplay in The Show is virtually unchanged from older iterations there has been some tweaking. Batting and pitching still rely on button presses and not the analog sticks like MLB 2K9. The set up does work well enough here, but you would think that using the analog sticks would be a benefit over the pressure sensitive buttons. The game utilizes a new base running mechanic using the left analog stick that is unfortunately the only option for this control. It requires a more active experience as you must push up advance bases and push down to run back. It is a neat idea in practice, but in reality it is clunky and sometimes unresponsive. Trying to get your player to run back can be futile as he keeps running forward, and vice versa, and this can create a frustrating experience at times.
On a positive note, better animations for all the players on the field make ground balls and fly balls entertaining and less frustrating in ‘The Road to the Show’ mode than it has been in years past. That being said I found it a hit and miss affair as the game cannot judge the depth of the hit at times, which results in me coming up short. It does become frustrating at times, but it can be overcome with regular gameplay, however it never gets rid of that clunky feeling. Overall the game is still highly playable and enjoyable at the same time.
The franchise mode has the biggest additions of any of the offline and online modes in The Show. These include more hardcore features like new contract options, and a calendar-style setup for the off-season that is really built for hardcore baseball fans. These additions mainly add some fluff to a game that is known to be chock full of options. In fact most gamers won’t even get close touching the amount of fine tuning that can be done outside of CPU control. You will definitely have to pay more attention to your rosters thanks to the inclusion of salary arbitration, locking down a 40-man roster, waiver wire and other managerial tasks. While you would have to traditionally advance in the post season, and focus on some signings, you are dealing with some of the more complicated ins and outs of baseball this time around. Some of these modes are like reading Greek to me, as I do not follow baseball as much as other sports. Amongst all the complication however, you do not need to worry about whether you know the landmarks for service time, or what Super 2 eligibility rules are; the season and franchise modes provide a contract transaction handbook which spells out signing periods and contracts. These are all excellent additions to the game that not only adds to the depth of play, but increases the education of the fans playing the game giving them a better sense of how their favorite clubs have to handle certain contract situations. The ‘Road to the Show’ mode gets these same tweaks along with the much-needed ability to edit your player after the initial player creation step.
The online portion of MLB 09 does not get quite the amount of upgrades that its PS3 brethren received this year. The newest feature is the ability to submit custom rosters for everyone to enjoy for any purpose you can come up with. Leagues are definitely still there, but lack the flex scheduling and fantasy drafts that gave them a breath of fresh air in the PS3 version is non-existent. Overall it is pretty much the same experience that we were offered in last year’s game, so don’t expect all that much to change for online play this year.
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