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March 12, 2010

MLB 10

The Show Review

by Marc Normandin

One thing that you can depend on with Sony's MLB: The Show franchise is that it will deliver an entry worth purchasing each season, even if you aren't the kind of person to buy every edition of a sports game. Each year, Sony's San Diego studio releases the best version of the game—this isn't a mere roster update, as customer criticisms are addressed without compromising the offers of the previous games—by adding on to what, at its core, is the best baseball game on the market—if you aren't familiar with The Show, check out reviews from the past two years to get a feel for the core game.

What The Show strives to do each season—and it gets closer every year—is to provide you with an experience as authentic as watching a game on your television. If it happens in the games, then chances are good that it happens in the latest edition of The Show. New to the game this year are real-time presentations: a broadcast camera is employed, so now everything is in real-time. If the camera pans to the dugout or bullpen, you will see interactions and movements of the players and coaches like you would on television, not static or robotic AI characters sitting around. Since the same engine is used for these moments in real-time as in gameplay—there's no disconnect between cut scenes after a play and plays anymore—everything moves fluidly and fits in realistically. Players no longer just stand around dumbly after a play is completed, as they continue to walk around, toss the ball—there are over 1,250 new gameplay animations to go along with 400 additional personalized pitcher and batter animations. This from a series that already prided itself on a successful replication of player movement. You will also notice improvements to the slow-motion replays, as players do not move around as awkwardly as in previous editions of the game—motions are much smoother and keep you immersed in the experience more in MLB 10.

These additional animations allow for more realistic fielding as well, as you will now see more varied outcomes for balls in play. There are more choppers this year, and dives where you miss the ball will follow real physics: you'll see it kicked, deflected, or smothered by the player's body as it should be. The physics logic is not the only thing to see improvements, as the AI reacts better to run downs now, and fielders seem to only field as well as their attributes allow them to—while not a problem in the past, you can see the difference between last year's fielders and this year's when you play.


You will also see more realism in the stadiums and in the overall experience of a game. Previous editions of the show used day-to-night transitional lighting for afternoon games, but now there is also daytime transitional lighting, meaning you will notice the sun's position and the length of shadows shifting as 1 p.m. starts move toward 4 p.m. finishes. This is a subtle change, but it enhances that feeling that you're doing more than playing a video game. In a game that has already delivered a very tight, very realistic baseball simulation experience, these additional changes are welcome. You will get to experience this in 11 new parks as well, with five new minor-league parks in addition to six classic locales (Forbes Field, Crosley Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park, Sportsman Park, and Griffith Stadium).

The realism also extends to umpires, as they have their own personalities. You can turn this feature on or off, but it keeps things fresh when you have to determine whether or not an ump is calling the high or outside strikes, as that matters to both hitters (you don't want to be caught looking, do you?) and pitchers (you want to freeze someone with that Glavine-esque boost to the zone they are giving you—you know it).

The three-man announcing team of Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler, and Dave Campbell continues to excel. Progressive commentary allows for the chaining of topics and events occurring in the game, which makes the audio commentary sound more like conversation than simply pre-recorded, canned lines. You will hear Campbell or Hudler talking about specific moments that occurred in the game and how they relate to the current situation—I'm paraphrasing but, "He breezed through the early innings with a low pitch count, but the hitters are working the count here in the fifth," or, in reference to a line drive at the pitcher's head, "I'll tell you what, that pitcher is 6-foot-4... if he was 6-foot-6, he would have lost his head. Chuck and duck!" This helps the broadcast feel significantly more realistic, and it also means you will hear repeated lines far less often.

The core experience of The Show is the Road to the Show mode (commonly referred to as RTTS). This is what helped to separate Sony's MLB offering from the rest of the pack, and they have a head start on the competition because they have been doing it for so long. In RTTS, you create a player and set their attributes, and then you are either drafted or select a team you want to play for. You play in Double-A, Triple-A and the majors, fighting for playing time and contracts in order to become a major-leaguer and, if you play your cards right, a storied career you can play to its completion.


The central experience is similar to past iterations, but that's a good thing. You are given goals by your manager within games—say you're a pitcher, you would hear things like, "The leadoff man is up to start the fifth inning—get ahead in the count," or "There's a runner on first with one out—get a ground ball out here." By successfully completing these goals, you earn points that you can spend on your player in order to enhance their abilities. Don't worry though, if you get a fly-ball out when your manager requested a ground-ball out, you won't be punished—you will earn points for a "Positive Result." You also pick up points for your performance overall, so if you strike out five in a game, you get some points. Keep your ERA to a certain level (this scales, so 0.00, 3.00, 6.00) over a certain number of innings, and you earn some points.

You can spend these points however you like, but be warned—your manager also has goals for you to reach over the course of a few weeks. Maybe you're a third baseman who can hit, but you field poorly—your manager may want you to spend time working on your arm accuracy or arm strength, or maybe reaction time. Maybe you want to increase your power, but having power won't matter if your manager is upset with you and benches you and your poor fielding. This can become frustrating on occasion, but unless you fail your goals three times in a row you probably won't lose your starting gig or see a demotion, either, so there's some leeway.

To help you score some extra bonuses, The Show added training drills for you to complete during the season. These drills return in 2010, but with a few more to help you out as well. There are now pitching and fielding training exercises as well as hitting ones—for fielding, you can work on throwing with the new throw meter (the closer you are to perfect timing, the more accurate and powerful your throw will be) or practice your defensive decisions. For pitchers, the training is a bit more fun, as you get Knockout (aim your pitches at different zones in the strike zone in order to "knock out" that zone) and Simulated Game, which you should be able to figure out the meaning of. These are great for adding some extra zing, control, or break to your repertoire, all without sacrificing your precious training points.

Exclusive to MLB 10 is the new catcher RTTS. As the catcher, you can call all of the pitch types and pitch locations for your staff, and also block pitches in the dirt to keep passed balls and wild pitches from getting through. It's not as simple as picking a spot and letting your pitcher hit all of them, though, as, just like in real life, the guy on the mound isn't necessarily going to do what you want him to with every pitch. Things will go awry, and you will need to formulate a plan to get each hitter out. Expect to learn a lot about what works and what doesn't on every count possible. The added bonus to this is emotional investment—yes, the pitcher can screw up, but there are also times where you will call the wrong pitch and then have to watch a shot into the bleachers, and subsequently feel the responsibility of that hiked up ERA of your teammate. That's on you, Mr. Backstop, and you'll have to learn from your own mistakes in order to form a working relationship.

Maybe you don't want to play RTTS though—there's still plenty for you to do. The All-Star break gives you not just the All-Star Game, but also the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Futures game. You don't have to play a season to enjoy the derby, as you can play at any time from the main menu, but it's very satisfying to see your created player reach either the derby or the Futures Game on merit. Online play has been improved significantly—whereas the past two editions had some problems as far as connections and the like go, Sony has done a better job of matching up Internet connections in order to provide smoother, faster experiences for everyone.

You don't have to play just exhibition games online, though, as you can play a full season online. You have 40-man rosters, trades, and everything else you would expect from a single-player mode at home, but now you can do all of that online with real people. You don't have to be around to play every single game, either, as matchups can be simulated, just like in single-player franchise or season modes.

Rosters will be updated weekly via the PlayStation Network, so you don't have to worry about the rosters being out of date following spring training, or the trade deadline, or any time of the year. There will also be updates to attributes throughout the year, so that breakout or declining players will be treated as such, even virtually.

As proven by previous editions of The Show, this franchise has the best core gameplay available on the market. The fact that Sony continues to add to the game by overhauling modes that don't work, improving those that do, and giving you even more to do and experiment with is an added bonus. Of course, these improvements are not meant to alienate those familiar with the series.  If you're familiar with and comfortable with previous control schemes, they are available—hate the new baserunning controls? Switch to a different setup that you're used to. The fact that you don't have to re-learn the game each year is a positive that some other sports franchises could learn from. When you combine the core gameplay with the fourth edition of Road to the Show, online leagues, improved online functionality, the most authentic and realistic baseball experience on the market, and a series of updates that will ensure the game reflects reality as best as it can, you have yourself the best baseball game on the market.

Grade: A-

MLB 10: The Show is available on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation 2 systems. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version, which retails for $59.99 and was released on March 2, 2010. Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment America, San Diego, and published by SCEA.

 A grading system of F, D, C, B, A, with applicable plus/minus, is used at Blast Magazine. Games scored with an "A" are considered elite, must-buys.  

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