Developer - SCE San Diego Studios
Publisher - SCEA
Memory Card – 3335 KB
Multitap (1-8 Players)
Eyetoy Camera (for PS2)
Online – Broadband Only
Sony is in a good spot when it comes to making any baseball game. Anyone who has been following videogame news knows that first party companies (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo) are the only videogame makers next to 2k Sports that have the rights to the official MLB and MLBPA licenses. That being said, Sony has once again released its latest version of its long running MLB series, MLB '06 – The Show.
The MLB series has been hit and miss when it comes to the visuals of the game. This year's version is more pleasant on the eyes then I had expected. I have a good enough knowledge of the really big stars in the real life baseball and Sony's game seems to be pretty much on par with the looks of these stars. Animations are quite well done too and they seem fluid enough to convey that one is watching a real game of baseball. The developers have seemed to put a lot of effort in the marquee's player's movements and those with specific styles are definitely noticeable.
Now I have not been to many 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 well represented in MLB '06. They seem to have all the key features, right down to a majority of the well known advertising in each stadium. I have to say that it was nice to see that good of an effort of the places all the teams play.
So everything seems great right? Well to tell you the truth there is some much noted negative within this entire positive. The great character models seem to have some weakness in the sense that there are very noticeable seams on some of players. And amongst all the great animations there are some really weird ones too. As for the stadiums, although they look great, there are some very bland ones too. Some of these have very generic textures and blocky graphics in the non marquee parks. As for the crowd, well that is poorly done and it is very bland, simple and somwhat emotionless when it comes to the looks but this seems to be the story for much of this series' history in terms of the crowd. Regardless of the negative in the visuals the positives do manage to outweigh them for an overall good looking game.
I have to say that the sound in MLB '06 was a pleasant surprise. All the sounds of baseball are here in this game, from the crack of the bat to the slap of the ball against the leather of the glove. There is also the typical stadium music ranging from rock n' roll to rap. There is commentating during the game too, however it can be kind of bland and it seems to be out of sync with the on-screen action most of the time. Interestingly enough, it is the sound of the crowd that really stands out. The comments that come from the stands are actually quite funny as they will ride your team should your performance deserve it. The first time I heard my batter get razzed I had to chuckle because he really did deserve it as he was just hitting poorly. As well the volume of the crowd reflects how well your team is doing. Should you be on top of your game the crowd will really be in it, however should you be having an off night the crowd will be relatively quiet.
Although limited, my baseball experiences via videogames are diverse enough to have played a little of everything. As I delved into MLB '06 I was treated to the usual Career and Franchise modes that have become a staple for all types of sports games. However, that being said, I came across a new mode called Rivalry Mode. Here players are given an option to set up a series of games between any two teams. Where the thrill lies here is that you can set between 7 to 83 games to play between you and any of your friends and the computer A.I. What happens during these games is that the MLB '06 actually tracks the stats of the rivalry as it occurs. Everything from hit streaks to team batting average is tracked during the series of games and it allows diehard fans to actually let their favorite teams go against other teams of their choosing. It also allows for friends to pit their favorite teams against each other for bragging rights. Hell, this mode allows the really big fans to simulate real life rivalries, such as the Yankees and Mets, to only further the love of the game.
Something that videogame baseball fans will find interesting in this title is that the old school button press to hit the ball still exists. Don't get me wrong, innovation is good but sometimes it is great to rely on old school mechanics and MLB '06 does this with style. I am sure there are some of you out there wondering if this does not allow you to push or pull your hits, but you can do with timing and making a right guess where you think the ball may be placed (Zone Controlled Batting system). For those worried they may not become accustomed to this new Zone Controlled Batting system MLB '06 allows you to learn the system with a new mode called King of the Diamond. This mini-game has cardboard players in the positions on the field and you get to hit balls to practice. During the two minutes you play this game you are rewarded for good hits and you are penalized for infield flies or groundouts. There are also bonus targets that are randomly placed in the field that allow you time bonuses to extend the game clock. This mini-game was much appreciated by this reviewer as it allowed me the chance to learn how much I could control the ball and it payed off dividends in my gameplay sessions against the computer.
Controlling your team is quite easily done. Throwing to specific bases is very intuitive and moving the ball around the bases is definitely not an issue. Controlling your base runners is quite easy too, especially using the Total Control Base Running System. Using the L1 button, you are able to indicate advancements of runners while the R1 button indicates retreat. It was really neat to specify which runners I wanted to get a lead, or retreat, by indicating the base along with the according button with ease.
The computer AI provides a formidable challenge and there are a total of four skill levels to play, up from three in previous versions. I noticed as I played various games against the computer that they were prone to throw balls now and then and even "pitch out" in an attempt to walk batters who may influence the outcome of a game. It was nice to see that the pitching was varied enough to keep me guessing as to what may be coming down the pipe next. However, that being said there are still some anomalies that will cause one's brow to rise. I had to laugh as the pitcher threw to a base in an attempt to throw out the runner, however there was no runner at that base to begin with. I also had to wonder how the computer AI fielders who are in midair catching the ball at the back wall are able to throw the ball like a rocket to the infield without getting set. Things like this disappointed me as the MLB series has had a long time to iron out such issues and quirks and these things shouldn't be in the game anymore.
Finally there is also eyetoy support as well as online multiplayer. I have to be honest that I didn't play with too much of these features so I may update this review after I try these out on a long term basis.
Baseball pickings on home and portable consoles are going to be slim pickings due to the 2K Sports agreement with the MLB and MLBPA. However Sony's latest version of their long running MLB series manages to be a pretty good game. Baseball fans who own a PS2 (and a PSP for that case) can rest assured that Sony didn't rest on its laurels and put out a pretty decent baseball game.