MLB '06: The Show Review
The sports games from EA Sports and 2K Sports make a lot of noise and receive a lot of hype, but SCEA’s San Diego Studios has quietly built itself quite the baseball series with MLB. With MLB 06: The Show it has created a top-tier baseball title that should please most baseball fans and is so packed with features that it will them playing it well after the big leaguers have hung up their cleats for the year.
First the basics. Pitching begins with selecting the type of pitch to throw by pressing the corresponding button on your controller. Next the analog stick is used to select the desired pitch location, which is made easier by a three-by-three grid that divides up the strike zone for you visually. The grid also displays the batter’s hot and cold zones so that you know which parts of the plate to target and which to avoid. The last step is to use the game’s golf game style swing style meter to throw the pitch. Pressing a button starts the meter and you need to press the button again when you reach the desired power level. This will start the meter moving in the other direction and you’ll need to press the button again within a marked zone to make the pitch accurate. It’s a pretty good system for pitching and is easy to pick up and get used to.
Batting is an even simpler affair. At the lowest difficulty level it’s just a matter of pressing a button when the ball crosses the plate. At higher difficulty levels more options become available. You’re able to select between a normal and power swing, use the stick to direct the direction of your swing, and you can also try to guess pitch type and location. Guess the pitch and you’re rewarded with a solid hit, guess wrong and it will be harder for you to connect.
The base running controls are pretty easy to use as well. L1 will advance all runners and the R1 will send them back. You can also use the face buttons to give the advance or retreat to a single base runner. These buttons are intuitively mapped to the diamond, so for example the Triangle button will give the command to a man on second while the Square will do so for a man on third. On defense a circle on the ground tracks the ball’s location with the size of the circle indicating the ball’s height above the ground. You need to move a fielder to the center of the circle to make the catch, and by lining the fielder slightly behind the spot and pressing a base button in advance you can “preload” the throw to get the ball into the infield quickly. Throwing to a base is just as easy as the base running with the face buttons again mapped to the individual bases.
MLB 06 plays closer to a baseball sim than an arcade game, with scores pretty closely corresponding to those that you see in the majors. Hits and batting averages seem to run a bit higher than normal for the players that you control yourself, with the numbers being closer to par for simulated games and opposing hitters.
As far as presentation goes, the game is really impressive. There are a large number of player animations which results in smooth movements that are appropriate for the action on the field. There are also plenty of batting and pitching styles that help give the game a more realistic look and feel. There is also an amazing amount of detail packed into the stadiums in the games. The audio is top-notch as well. The amount of audio that you’ll hear from the game announcers is amazing and it’s always dead-on appropriate to the situation on the field. You’ll even hear detailed commentary such as “he’s one for two today with a home run in his last at bat” when a player walks up to the plate. It’s almost as if you were hearing the commentary from a live broadcast of a real game.
MLB 06 has a number of modes from a single game between any two teams to a season mode that lets you guide your favorite team through an entire 162 game campaign. For those of you who dream about micromanaging every aspect of a professional ball club, there’s the intensive franchise mode. Not only do you need to handle the manager’s duties of setting lineups and the like, you’ll also have control over what the vendors sell in your ballpark and for how much, hiring of the support staff, facilities management, transportation, and more. You’ll even have to respond to dilemmas posed by your staff. For example, if your hitting coach recommends sitting a player down for a game or two, do you listen to his advice? Doing so will bolster the coach’s confidence but may negatively affect that of the benched player. And do you yourself think that the player really needs a day off?