Disclaimer: This review is based entirely on extensive demo play, which showcases the most important part of the game, the actual game. I have no knowledge of in depth season, career, and other modes.
You know what’s fun? Baseball.
Okay, well…it’s fun to play. And for a long time there were fun baseball video games on consoles, each of which managed the complicated structure in different ways. The Atari 2600′s Super Challenge Baseball had one button and a joystick, but everyone knew to hold a direction during the pitch to influence the ball, and the simple “point and click” method worked for throwing the ball.
Possibly the best baseball interface of all time, intuitive, simple, and effective, Intellivision’s Major League Baseball. Batting and bunting on the side buttons was simple, and fielding was even easier. Every position had its own key on the 12 key pad, correlating right to where it should be on the field. Control runners simply by pointing with the disc. Easy stuff.
Later consoles with fewer buttons would go back toward point and click, but add pitching options. Tommy Lasorta would put his name on a fair share of games, and we’d even go into sci-fi with Super Baseball 2020.
And yet like so many games, baseball has had trouble making the transition to the third dimension. The addition of swing locations really threw a wrench into things, but it started to get worked out by World Series Baseball 2k2. Mostly the challenge was making pitches visible enough for players to read, without becoming more obvious than they would be in reality. Anyone who’s spent 2 minutes at a batting cage knows hitting a ball is hard, but hey, if we can make reliable hail mary passes in football games we should be able to hit a fastball.
So now we’re 10 years past the first baseball game of the modern era. We’ve had the arcadey titles and the sim titles now, and the latest among them is The Show, Sony’s series. 2010 is freshly out now, and…well, it’s a downgrade.
The simplest way to put it is that it’s too inconsistent. What you do, what the AI does, what the crowd does, how the ball moves. Maybe I’m wrong here, but sports games should be past the RPG stage, and that’s just where The Show is.
At the plate or on the mound it’s obvious that there’s dice rolling going on under the hood. Sometimes a pitch goes wild for no reason. Not just a little, a fastball, dead center at moderate speed released at the sweet spot, will shoot far off to the side. Pitching also suffers from a poorly designed meter. The confidence meter is a good idea, as is the variably sized sweet spot. The problem comes in the form of the speed being very inconsistent. Speeding the meter up or down as a whole to show being shaken, exhausted, or somehow affected is fine, but the wind up and the release speeds can vary tremendously. The system is a three press system. Once to start, once to set a speed, once for the release point. Simple, it’s like most golf games. Meter goes up, set power, meter goes down, release.
But the release can be three times as fast as the windup, completely disabling the ability of a player to get any sort of timing down. Naturally, the AI pitchers are unaffected.
There’s also the apparent use of batting averages to determine just how bit someone’s swing influence is, but it’s never properly shown. The size of the representative circle doesn’t change, but players with a high average will often swing well outside of the zone players aim for, to the extent that a completely missed swing, if player influence is any factor, can be a home run.
Now, it’s expected the stats of the real players are a factor, but they’re only that, a factor. A player making bad plays should pay the price, and vice versa for good plays. It just never seems to work that way, though. Throws routinely go high for players, runners stumble, fielders drop a ball. There’s a real bias toward the AI in The Show, particularly in terms of the umpire calling strikes. It’s even more obvious with the power hitters, who get clear favoritism from umpires, at least on the AI team.
None of this is helped by the awful controls for baserunning, or how non-responsive the swing controls feel. There’s also the poorly thought-out mechanic for swing checking, where you simply let go of the button. Sounds great, but in a video game where you can’t really see the proper depth or direction of a pitch, or where we’re used to just tapping the button to swing, it results in a lot of strikes or a lot of unchecked swings that you wanted to stop.
Stealing bases, going for extra, or just leading off, all of those require odd combinations of buttons and stick presses, easily done improperly or just not quickly enough to save a play. So you set the baserunning to automatic, but that results in players often NOT running when they should because of AI errors.
The camera angles just never quite work for the batter. It needs to be up or down a little to provide some idea of depth perception, rather than memorizing the timing of a pitch. They also never work for the fielding, often switching to an angle that reveals where a ball is going too late to react properly. The fielder selected is often counter-intuitive, leaving players to turn on assisted or automatic fielding. Another part of the game slips away from their control.
The sad statement of MLB 10:The Show is that it’s at it’s best when players do the least. If it played the whole game itself it’d be pretty damn good, but frustrating batting and pitching, the core of the game, just provide too much trouble. The fielding is fine when it’s working as it should, but when something goes wrong, and it often does, it’s just a frustration.
There are, of course, bugs aplenty, usually related to clipping planes. The screen behind the plate to save fans from getting a Liberace blocks balls (this website is classy) and nothing else. A pop-up foul straight back can go up and over the screen, dropping back right behind it, where most of us would call it “out of play.” But not The Show, or the catcher, who can and will stick his gloved arm right through the screen. Does he go through a gap at the bottom? Does he have superhuman powers to allow himself to shrink his arm to fit through the wire mesh? Does he have superhuman strength? Judging by the throws he’s made to stop a base stealer, I’m going to go with the shrinking thing.
Players routinely run through each other, both teammates and opponents. I’d complain about umpires, but to be fair they’re supposed to be out of the way. Still, for a simulation, once in a a while one should take that hit. The home plate ump does sometimes, but apparently it’s based on a forcefield he wears. Replays reveal that the ball’s impact on players, umps, bats, and fences is around three or four inches away from the actual object. Maybe everything is actually made of rare earth metals, it’s just a magnetic effect we’re seeing. That would make sense, right?
There are plenty of miscellaneous complaints to be had, really. Players don’t look like their real life counterparts, the animations are terrible to mediocre, particularly when it comes to errors, and there’s absolutely no clipping planes in the game. Balls often move right through the backs or sides of gloves to be caught. Sometimes they even make 90 degree turns to the left, moving two feet into Jeter’s hand, clearly visible both live and in the replay.
Balls will bounce through the fans, be that the fans leaning over the fence to catch a foul or the ones in the stands. No kidding. It just passes through them. Sometimes a ball can hop over the fence on a bounce and nobody moves at all, but the ball bounces like it’s hitting a trampoline. Again, I’m going with the “rare earth supermagnets” theory here.
When players are angry, they all look exactly the same. Their noses flatten like they’re shihtzus, they all have a kind of snouty-pig look, and appear to stretch and become two-dimensional, which is a constant problem with the game’s FOV anyway. Some players look like middle-aged men for no apparent reason.
The real shame is that at first, the game is fun. And sometimes there’s an urge to play, but not at the price of buying in. The demo is long enough and provides enough content to just play it. At least that way when a bug causes you to lose you didn’t pay for it and long term, it doesn’t really matter. It’s fun for about 30-45 minutes, maybe for 8 innings (aka, two full demo plays), but after that, it’s just gotten frustrating.
It is, ultimately, less of a sports sim and more of a baseball RPG given the constant stat-checking under the hood and the fact it’s better to just let most functions automate. There’s plenty of bells and whistles and extra touches. It’s nice to have the replays, the player reactions, the fully realized stadiums, but with the core game having the deep flaws it does, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a budget title promoted as a flagship.