I've been playing The Show series since it's inception, and have previously offered my reviews concentrating only on the baseball gamer who enjoys playing through a full MLB season vs: the CPU. This review will be much the same, emphasizing the pros and cons of this game, largely compared to previous game versions. I'll only mention the other available game modes in passing (Road To The Show, Home Run Derby, etc), as I don't play those much, if at all. I'll start with my background, since I think it's helpful to know where a reviewer is coming from, in terms of specifically baseball experience/interest, and also in baseball gaming experience- particularly since with this series (Road To The Show), it should be clear by now that this is NOT a game for casual gamers, or those with only a passing interest in baseball. I'm 55 years old, played competitive baseball up to a college level, and have remained an avid fan since hanging up the spikes about 33 years ago. I've played just about every variation of baseball games down through the years, starting with (and still with) the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game (more on that below), and then through most (if not all) the videogame versions, from the earliest pc versions to the present console games. Every year, I play through an entire season (Spring training and all 162 games, and playoffs) with one team vs: the CPU (my home-town Chicago White Sox). What I like in a baseball videogame is much the same as what I enjoyed about Strat-O-Matic baseball as a board game: fun gameplay, challenging to win (I don't want to "master" any game, since the best MLB teams rarely do better than a .600-.640 win percentage),steeped in strategy, and perhaps most importantly, realistic stats/outcomes. This review will likely appeal most to gamers who share a similar background and interest in gaming. The following is my take on MLB The Show 2010, PS3 version, concentrating mostly on playing a full season on Franchise mode with one team, vs: the CPU. As with my review last year, the comments section will provide more details, for those interested.
Graphics: the best yet, in both this series, and in any current sports videogame, for that matter. The player models are spectacular, with many more individual batting stances, pitching motions, and mannerisms than even last year's excellent game. The stadium graphics are still a bit bland, but also better, with more individuality in crowds from park to park, and the addition of variable lighting effects as the game progresses (stadium shadows, etc) is not only spot-on, it also adds an element to gameplay (picking up a 96mph fastball as it goes in and out of a shadow around the plate, for example). Player uniforms get realistically dirty with play during a game. Crowds tend to be thin in parks where the home team isn't doing too well, and appropriately huge (and loud) in big games, with contending teams.Only complaint here is sometimes during day games (particularly in Spring Training parks), it can be VERY hard to pick up the ball off the bat (too much glare).
Animations: I consider this separately from the graphics. A game can look real nice, but that doesn't mean too much, if the player motions on the field aren't right. In most respects, this game captures player motions quite well. The main exceptions being: Many animations for swing-and-miss are still pretty awful (when you miss a pitch badly, the animation rubs it in your face); representations of fielder throwing errors are still hokey (most often , the guy still takes his time winding up, then calmly heaves the ball 10 rows back into the stands); and tags of baserunners in close plays at the bases seems to bear no correlation with the outcome (player beats the throw by 5 feet, yet is called out, etc). And once again : NO COLLISION GRAPHICS (other than the pivot man getting upended on some double plays), which could add so much to not only the visuals, but gameplay as well (influencing outcome of the play, injuries, etc). It would be nice to make you choose whether or not you want to risk colliding with another outfielder going after a ball in the gap, for instance- but since those kind of collisions still don't occur in this game, you can go get everything. Missed opportunity for more challenging gameplay there.
Sound: sounds of the ball hitting the bat, the glove, the crowd noises- all of this is excellent, and creates a very immersive and believable stadium experience. The announcers, however (same trio again) are still stale, and pretty awful- though you will notice this most only if you play a lot of games. Many instances of where the commentary doesn't match up with what happened on the field, and way too repetitive in what they say.The two "color guys" are particularly awful- pretty irritating to even have to be insulted by these repetitive bozos too, when you are having a bad game. It seems as if almost NO upgrade was even attempted to the commentary this year, and it shows- those who have been playing this series the last few years will be particularly irritated by this: same old thing as last year, almost to the letter. What desperately needs to be added here, is more individual player info by the commentators, as is done very well in the MLB 2K series, for instance. Unfortunate, too- since good gameplay announcing and color commentary can add so much to a sports game experience- I always point to the NHL game series an an example of how well it CAN be done. While the MLB 2K series remains an inferior overall product compared to The Show, it does continue to have superior game announcers. Come on, Show developers: get this right!
Gameplay: the Big item in any sports videogame. Get all the rest right and mess this up, and any game will stink. Most serious baseball fans want a game that just FEELS RIGHT, especially with gameplay. Major ongoing complaints about "CPU control" in this game, where humans feel like gameplay results are ultra-pre-programmed: see my comments section about this, if interested (many definitely are). The most outstanding gameplay element of The Show series, this one included, has always been the spot-on physics of how a baseball travels. The Show perfectly captures the realistic feel for the variety of batted balls that occur in any game: dribblers, line shots, Texas Leaguers, towering pop ups, bad hops (a particularly new good animation), and best of all, the way individual pitches move coming out of the pitcher's hand. It's a major rush to blow 96mph high heat past a hitter for a K in a tight situation, or to snap off a knee-buckling Uncle Charlie for a called strike three, or to freeze their big hitter with an unexpected 3-2 changeup, with the bases loaded. And here's something that many reviewers to this site find irritating about this game, that I find ultimately gratifying (though still VERY frustrating, at times): just because you do everything right with your gamepad does NOT mean everything will go just right on any given pitch. See my comment section on this, as space does not allow me to do this topic justice here.
Gameplay excels particularly in the batter-pitcher duels, where knowing your baseball is paramount to any success. This isn't just a chuck it and slug it game- as a hitter, you have to always be aware of the game situation, the pitcher, the count, the tendencies of what to expect in any given moment of play on the field. This game, needless to say, requires total concentration, if you expect to succeed. This is NOT a game for someone who just has a passing ineterest in baseball, and/or who wants to just play a game every now and then, and wallop the CPU every time, while you are eating chips and listenting to your I-pod tunes. The game rewards the hitter who works the count to his advantage, and who is patient and selective at the plate. Appropriately (though many who like TOTAL gameplay control of results may disagree), the game rewards you with a hit more often than not, IF you are hitting ahead in the count- and punishes you, also quite realistically, if you swing at everything, and are always in a 0-2, 1-2 count at the plate. I've found that if I work the count to my advantage (and this IS very hard to do, especially against the better MLB pitchers), even swings that I don't locate or time perfectly will often go for hits, and if I'm hitting 0-2, even a perfectly timed/placed swing will result in an out more often than not. I think the game developers HAVE introduced a major "pre-determined" element in gameplay with that, but that I also don't mind, since it IS realistically reflective of MLB averages, when hitters are either ahead or behind in a count.
Fielding and baserunning, on the other hand, are still only mediocre in this game. The worst aspect of baserunning is pickoffs: no matter what you do with your gamepad, you will get picked off a lot, and this seems to be very random, and not even just with your worst rated baserunners, either. No matter how quickly you react to a pickoff move and hit the return-to-base button, your runner will randomly just freeze, and get picked off. VERY frustrating.
Fielding still is way too UN-interactive, too. You move your fielder to get in the circle to catch the ball, then you press the base button to throw it. That's it. On the plus side, more balls get past fielders (based on their fielding ratings) than they used to, and bad hops do occur, and the number of spectacular plays by the CPU has been toned down somewhat. The disappointing thing about fielding to me is it hardly seems to matter what I do with the gamepad, particularly with errors- these also occur very randomly, without anything that I have done wrong with the gamepad to blame for it. Slider bar adjustments have allowed me to reduce the number of silly throwing errors, so how often they occur is at least more realistic- but the animation for them is still pretty silly (see above).
Pitching, like hitting, requires more than just good button-mashing ability. As before, each pitcher has his real repetoire of pitches, and reasonably good ratings for all the same (which you can also edit to your heart's delight)- you choose which pitch based on what you'd like to throw, but also by what your catcher is calling for, and what pitches have been most effective for you, in any given game (and this may vary, from game to game, and inning to inning). You have the choice with each pitch to throw easily, or "reach back" for some extra- the trade off being that if you like to overthrow every pitch, your pitch accuracy/location will also suffer. Less power on the upswing of the pitch meter means more accuracy on your release, provided of course you are reasonably accurate in timing your release. Pitchers fatigue realistically (which, like just about everything else in this game, you can modify/edit if you like), and you need to be quick to get a tiring pitcher out of there in time, or the CPU will light you up. And again, what many find frustrating with pitching (just like hitting), even if you do everything right with your gamepad, there will be some days when even your ace just "doesn't have it", and most of is pitches will be fat, and you'll get clobbered. But that's just real-life baseball, folks: even Cy Young LOST over 300 games.
If I had to say what I appreciate (I didn't necessarily say "enjoy") most about the gameplay is the realistic VARIABILITY. Some of that is determined by whether a given player is on a "hot" or "cold" streak, but a lot of it is just what happens in real-life baseball. Some days you have it, some days you don't, and some days it won't even matter all that much what you are doing with your gamepad either- but that's not to say this game is "pre-determined", as many critics would have you believe. The better teams will still generally come out on top, over the long season, just as the better players will do so, over the long season. Play just a random game every now and then, and you might conclude this game is unrealistic, and not under your control. But play this game over 162+ games, and you'll come away feeling two things: you had plenty of influence over how your team did, and the statistics come out pretty believable too. And btw: the game tracks a huge variety of stats, too- which I dare say is an absolutely vital part of any game that wants to call itself a serious baseball sim.
As always, the Franchise mode is very deep in giving you the option to either micro-manage every aspect of your team (right down to setting hot dog prices), or you can choose to automate as much of team management as you want. The continued irritation here is that they STILL haven't got player movement options down right, so you'll find yourself having to use a player option just to move a guy in and out of the MLB lineup, in SPRING TRAINING!!! Why this hasn't at least been fixed with a patch, beats me. Only hard core baseball fans will probably even notice this, but there it is. Still.
Once again, MLB The Show also incorporates a nice save game feature (which for some reason Madden and NCAA football games, basketball games, hockey games do not), so you don't have to set aside an hour of uninterrupted time to play this game. You can also fast forward within any game, to either sim the entire game, or inning by inning- which sometimes comes in handy when I am getting my brains beat out by the CPU, and I just don't have it in me to finish.
As with previous games in this series, there are several difficulty levels of play to choose from, and then slider bars to adjust numerous individual gameplay facets, so you can find a level of gameplay that is right for you. Some critics maintain that, even on the easiest difficulty settings, this game is just too hard. I guess all I can say to that is : I don't agree. I'm hardly a videogame whiz, folks, and I'm getting the results I mentioned on one of the higher difficulty levels, with all the visual aides to hitting and pitching turned "off". Like just about any sports game I've ever played, though, I think most will find that you get better at this particular game the more you play it (especially with hitting, which you can also PRACTICE, btw, in a batting practice mode). If you have little baseball experience, don't get into the strategy in the game, aren't very patient, want instant winning results, and just don't get it that the best teams lose about 4 out of every 10 games, then you certainly will not enjoy this game too much.
I think I'll confine the rest (plenty more) to the comments section, since otherwise this might rival "War and Peace", in length.
Final conclusion: if you have owned/played MLB The Show for the last few years, this year's version is a mild upgrade; nothing too much has changed, but the subtle changes still make it worth buying (but mainly only for those fans who are in it for an entire season). So far, after playing about 100+ games (on All Star Level, with the White Sox vs: the CPU, Franchise mode, with slider bars generally set to favor me slightly, compared to default settings), I have experienced very believable results: team batting average around .290, team ERA around 4.20, average around 10 hits, one+ home run, and 5 runs scored per game, and have a winning percentage right around .600. I've experienced every variety of game, from low-scoring pitcher's duels, to big time blowouts, on both the giving and receiving end of the deal, too. This is, by far, the most challenging game in the series, but also the most fulfilling, for the die-hard baseball fan/gamer. There is currently nothing even close in the videogaming market, when it comes to the competition. For those picking up this game for the first time, however, with only a passing interest in playing a game every now and then, this game will be too hard for most (especially hitting). To be successful with MLB The Show 2010, you not only have to know some baseball, you have to be "in it" for the long haul.
Recommended for anyone who loves baseball, but probably best enjoyed by those who want a good (but realistic) struggle.
I'll tack on a few comments over the rest of my season, to expand on the pros/cons of this game, but if you are a baseball fan who has always been looking for a game that comes pretty close to the real thing, this is it.