Mar 17, 2011

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Review: MLB 11 The Show

Review: MLB 11 The Show

Every year SCE San Diego always finds a way to improve on what was an already great game, but this year they’ve added more new features to MLB 11 The Show than they have in some time. New pure analog controls, Challenge of the Week mode, co-op mode, and revamped player models highlight the new additions. Some of these are welcomed ones, while others, mainly the analog controls, need some work. Even though some features didn’t work out as SCE San Diego might have hoped, it’s still the small nuances in MLB 11 The Show that continue to make it the best baseball game on the market.

It’s always tough for a sports title to switch controls from one year to the next, because there will always be some community backlash along with the issues that come along with the implementation. MLB 11 The Show isn’t immune to these problems, but luckily, there hasn’t been that much backlash from the community. One of the reasons why is because you can always go back to the original timing controls, but more importantly, the analog controls work for the most part.

Analog pitching is the only way to go now. Switching back to the timing method just frustrates me too much to even bother with that control style anymore. Though MLB The Show isn’t the first baseball title to implement analog pitching, it’s the first one to get it right. Pitching using the analog stick is pretty simple: you pick which pitch you want to throw, pick a location on the plat,e and pull back on the stick, then push forward. Depending on the location you want it, you’ll have to either push slightly right or left. A yellow line and a ball marker on the meter help guide you, and if you hit those perfectly, more often than not your pitch will go where you want it to go. It’s simple and fun; even on harder difficulties I found that I had much more control over where the pitch was going. Some people have said the pitching is too easy, having come from the previous control scheme, but I say it’s “easy” because it actually works.

Fielding controls and hitting controls on the other hand could use a bit of work. The analog controls for fielding are pretty simple; hold in the direction of the base you want to throw to, and the longer you hold it the harder the throw, but doing so also increases the error rate. This year, SCE San Diego put more emphasis on fielder ratings, which means reaction to the ball, arm accuracy, arm strength, throwing on the run, etc. With the new fielding AI, any errors that occur are because of the user, rather than the game. Outfielder reactions are also more realistic this year. Take, for example, a player like Vlad Guerrero and compare him to an outfielder like Andres Torres. If a ball is hit to Vald, he’s going to take awhile to get there, and his first step isn’t going to be the fastest, but Torres will be quick to the ball and have a great reaction to fly balls.

While the user has more control over errors in general, which is nice, frequently when playing on higher difficulty levels, errors occur far too often. It seems that some players will always throw high or in the dirt even on routine grounders when throwing the ball at medium strength. This can easily be fixed with an update, and I hope it does, because some players just can’t seem to throw the ball with any speed without throwing an error.

Analog hitting is absolutely my least favorite addition to the franchise. It simply doesn’t work as well as I would have liked. In principle it seems pretty simple. Pull the stick back to start the players stride and then forward to swing. You no longer have to worry about using the left stick to move the sweet spot, either. But it’s definitely harder than it sounds. Analog hitting revolves around timing and the player’s batting stance. For a player like Buster Posey, who has a longer stride, I could never seem to get good contact with him as opposed to say, a Prince Fielder, who has a shorter stride. Since analog hitting puts an emphasis on timing and getting the front foot down before the swing forward, some players are just easier to hit with.

From playing online, I also found that a lot of people would accidentally bunt instead of swing, because bunting is simply a push forward on the stick. It seems the analog hitting is just too sensitive; if it’s not one fluid motion, then you might end up bunting. Yes, this makes hitting incredibly realistic, and there is something to be said for that, but there’s also something to be said for the fact that I’m playing a baseball game because I actually suck at hitting a baseball in real life.

While the new control system changes the feel of The Show’s gameplay, the game modes are where I would like to see more improvement. Franchise mode is still great, but nothing has really been done to the mode that distinguishes it from previous iterations. Road to the Show also can use some updates, though the one change they made did work out well.