Great baseball players don’t get where they are without a ton of time in the batting cage or in the bullpen. Hitters and pitchers spend hours creating, refining, and jiggering their stances, grips, and movements, eventually arriving at a comfort zone which they're able to replicate in order to succeed. Similarly, the crew at Sony’s San Diego Studio has mimicked that process ever it they began development on the annual baseball simulator with MLB 06: The Show. Every year, they have taken up the tough task of appeasing both the gamer and sports communities (and, yes, the jock/nerd communities do overlap) by stuffing new features into their flagship sports title and refining existing ones in order to make them better. MLB 11: The Show is their latest attempt at doing so, and if we are allowed to speak freely a bit, we'd have to say that it may simply be the best baseball game of its time. Granted, it doesn't innovate as much as its predecessors—but then again, the sport of baseball hasn't changed much in its 100-plus years.

By Troy Mounis

THE WIND-UP
If there were a phrase that best distills this year's iteration of The Show, it's "If it ain't broken, don't fix it." Taking a step back and viewing the game as a whole, there isn't much here that screams novelty. Loyal fans of the series may be put off by the lack of that new-game smell that comes with each year's title—MLB 11: The Show is more about refining and massaging some of the popular modes of last year, like Road to the Show now making its fifth appearance, rather than creating brand new experiences. Again, it's not about how many times a hitter can redefine his swings; it's about how comfortable they make the swing they have so it produces memorable moments. That's what Sony strove for this year.

GAMEPLAY
In short, you simply will not find a better animated baseball simulation out there. It's pretty amazing how the developers have studied the muscle movements of players, from their reactions to home runs and strikeouts to how they maneuver to gobble up ground balls and flies. Even better, at least in our opinion, is that controlling these movements have been given a new coat of paint called "Pure Analog Controls." It essentially means that, instead of pressing the face buttons to throw to specific bases, the right analog stick dictates where a ball is thrown and at what velocity. Granted, we found that fielding became a whole lot easier, so much so that we simply could not produce a throwing error when fielding ground balls. (Then again, they do call them routine ground balls for a reason.)

All is forgiven once you get knee-deep into the game's various modes, especially Home Run Derby which is the only mode in the game that uses the PlayStation Move controller. We're not the most adamant of fans of motion controls, but if you've got the living room space (and insurance on that priceless lamp you'll probably break flinging the controller around), the Derby is fun with the Move. In fact, it turned a somewhat anti-party game into a party-starter where everyone clamored for a turn.

Moving on, this is the part where we're supposed to turn a bit nerdy and talk about pixels, camera angles and fielder ratings, but we'll put it simply: The game looks amazing once again. Retooled player renderings, stadium-specific TV broadcast cameras so you feel like you're watching a real game, and crappy outfielders reacting like crappy outfielders (which means Nick Swisher will continue to fail us defensively even in the virtual world).



THE GOODS
Being expected to reinvent the wheel every year puts a lot of pressure on developers to deliver brand new experiences for their audience. Does this year's The Show fulfill that promise? Perhaps, depending on who you are. If you're the kind of person who doesn't care too much about bells and whistles or, frankly, doesn't have the fancy hardware required for the bells to ring and the whistles to whistle, then you might not care about this year's offering. In short, there's just not that much different here for you, outside of a restructured experience points system for Road to the Show which (finally!) gets rid of negative point values on the normal difficulty and focuses on having good at-bats and positive results on the mound.

But, for others, you've got a lot to look forward to here that's well worth your purchase, including full stereoscopic 3D that makes the action in front of you literally pop out of your TV, a long overdue co-op mode that allows you to play with or against buddies online or offline, and a new Challenge of the Week mode that promises to award prizes (signed player gear and baseball tickets) to those who can complete any of the four weekly challenges. The latter is more of a marketing gimmick, but it'll give you fresh new content every week in an attempt to pique your interest.

(Note: As of press time, SCEA has yet to turn on the multiplayer servers. We will post impressions on that when we get a chance to hop on and play.)

DOWNSIDES
As we mentioned, MLB 11: The Show is spot on once again...save for one horrid misstep, and its name is Eric Karros. We get the need for a three-man booth commentary system, but Karros is simply not the answer. His bland, often out-of-sync characterizations do not bring a single iota of intrigue to the game, and it's strange that Sony decided to tap the FOX and KCAL-TV color commentator as the third man this year.

Also, we should note that the loading times present in the game are lengthy to the point of verging on unacceptable. There’s no reason why there wasn’t more effort to fill that time in—often in the 30- to 45-second range—with something more substantial, whether a quick preview of the upcoming game’s pitching match-ups or something similar to give you some value during the downtimes.



UPSHOT
Every March, we long for the start of baseball season, and every March, we're treated to a preview of it with Sony's baseball simulator. This year's version looks and feels better than ever, except for a few minor blemishes that are easily taken care of with the mute of the audio or just general avoidance. Nevertheless, MLB 11: The Show is still the king of the hill—or, rather, diamond—and, with its subtle improvements and additions, will have all players at the virtual ballpark rooting for the home team at Sony.

 

This game was reviewed on the Playstation 3.