It’s a 3-2 count, the bases are loaded, and Johan Santana is sweating. He shakes off the call for a fastball – too obvious – and instead goes with his best pitch, a devastating slider. Devastating, that is, when he gets it right. Which he hasn’t been doing much of today. As the former Cy Young Award winner tucks into his stretch then releases the pitch, all we can do is say “Wow.”
Note, however, that our post-release assessment of the online multiplayer is dismal - which can be found here.
There are several reasons for our exclamation. The first one is obvious; as we look around the stadium and soak in the atmosphere, it’s apparent that MLB 11 The Show is the best-looking and -sounding baseball game we’ve ever played. From the stadium-specific camera angles to the exhortations from the crowd, The Show is more immersive than ever. This is no surprise, though, since this franchise has been able to make that claim for years now. Nothing short of letting a monkey loose in the game’s engine would have prevented that from being the case.
The second “wow” reason is less obvious – and it’s the reason that in our opening scenario the bases are loaded in the first place. More than ever, The Show challenges you on each and every pitch, thanks to the new analog controls that eschew the traditional three-tap mechanic (although that’s still an option). Beyond a simple learning curve, the new controls demand focus and proper game management; even if you’re up to the task, your pitcher may not be.
Hitting is also a challenge, but for different reasons. We found that the new controls actually make it a bit easier to hit consistently. Make no mistake, though - racking up big offensive stats with regularity remains an elusive goal. Patience and practice is the only way you’ll score runs.
The third “wow” reason is because it’s no one’s fault but yours that you’re in this bases-loaded mess. The Show may be tough, but few games have ever dedicated as much to teaching you how to play it and give you quality feedback. There are good training videos, plus the Road To The Show mode is upgraded to provide a better guide to being a good player. If you struggle in particular areas, you’ll be led to specific exercises designed to help overcome those weaknesses. Whether you’re good enough to succeed is another story.
So MLB 11 The Show is a marvel – that’s no surprise considering its lineage. There’s an impressive array of improvements small and large that will put plenty of existing complaints to rest (but never all of them), even a fun Move-enabled Home Run Derby that’s especially good with your buddies. So why aren’t we ecstatic again this spring? It’s not because The Show fails in what it delivers; far from it. There are more than enough high quality modes online and off to keep you busy for months.
No, the reason we’re not feeling The Show quite as much this year is the Jordan Effect. Thanks to NBA 2K11, we’re looking for compelling experiences we’ve never had before. We’d love to step into Jackie Robinson’s shoes his rookie season and deal with opposing pitchers, umpires, and fans to overcome adversity. How cool would it be to spend September of 1961 as Roger Maris as he tries to break the Babe’s single season home run record? What about being Orel Hershiser in 1989 as he attempts to set the scoreless innings record?
In many ways, MLB 11 The Show is a victim of its own success. It succeeds completely as a baseball simulator – the best we’ve ever played. We’re spoiled, though, and would love to use it to dive into something completely new. Especially since Santana gave up a Grand Slam on that 3-2 slider.
Note: We didn't have access to online play before the review. Our post-release assessment of the online multiplayer is dismal - which can be found here.
Mar 7, 2011