I've been playing The Show since the 2006 iteration, and have purchased every version since. Last year marked the biggest changes to the series by adding full analog controls, Move support (if only in the Home Run Derby mode), and completely revamping the Road to the Show mode. They also replaced Rex Hudler (bleck!) with Eric Karros (yes!) which appealed quite a bit to my Dodgers blue blood. While this year's version doesn't offer the same type of sweeping changes, the game continues to improve on the functions added last year and continues to strive for realism.
Here's a breakdown of the game with strengths and weaknesses.
GAMEPLAY: The biggest change this year is the pitching format. Pulse pitching replaces the meter with a pulsing circle that you place around the strike zone. Time the circle so that it's at its smallest point, and you get the most accurate pitches. The better the control of the pitcher (and the particular pitches), the slower and smaller the circle will be. Erratic pitchers will have fast pulsing circles. And as the pitcher tires, the pulsing increases. It's a neat innovation that does solve the problem of never having walks. It does also give you less control over the pitches and may feel unfair at times. Sometimes you'll feel that you've pinpointed the circle exactly at it's smallest point, and the ball will still manage to find the edge of the circle that's outside the strike zone. However, it does increase the realism, that you may want to pinpoint your pitch exactly, but in reality it is hard even for the best pitchers to place the ball exactly where they want it to go. Overall, I think it's a good addition, but if you feel it's unfair, you can always switch back to metered pitching.
Other than that, most of the gameplay remains unchanged. Analog batting now has the option to add left-stick zone control, but if you're uncoordinated like me, that becomes difficult to manage. Analog batting does seem a little more forgiving this year, but it's still a steep learning curve for beginners. Fielding remains mostly unchanged, as does baserunning. Again, if you're not a fan of the analog controls, all of button/digital controls remain in the options. In terms of Move Support, pitching and hitting are ok, fielding and baserunning are subpar. It's neat to try, but you'll most likely switch back to the dualshock after a few at-bats.
ROAD TO THE SHOW: Much of this remains unchanged. The point evaluation system implemented last year is back, and seems much more accurate to the situations than last year (and a little less forgiving). Your player begins as a Double-A starter instead of a bench player which is a plus. And there are a lot more customization options this year for aesthetics. Overall, nothing major different here, but still one of the best aspects of the game.
AUDIO/VISUAL: The graphics have been a selling point for this game for quite awhile, and this year is no different. Player models are much more accurate (I had to do a double-take the first time I saw Kershaw in the game). The stadiums look great, the crowd is a bit more diverse, and the player movements are more fluid than in previous years. I did notice some frame rate issues here and there, not enough to be a deal breaker, but enough to be noticeable.
The sound is still great. The sound of the bat crack is a little different, but overall the ambient noise and the sounds of the game make you feel like you're at the ballpark. The broadcasting trio are once again great, though many of their lines are rehashed from previous years. Still, Eric Karros took some more time in the studio this offseason to add good commentary, and it does bring the game to life. The broadcast presentation is definitely more realistic, but this will also add more time to a game. In previous years with full broadcast mode, I could get through a game in 45 - 60 minutes, but if you plan on taking in the full effect the broadcast mode this year, expect your games to last over an hour, even if you skip through some scenes. Still, this is a stand-out part of the game.
ONLINE: (UPDATED) The access to the online features has changed a little bit this year. In order to access the online features, you have to have an online pass which enables these features. Your online pass code is printed on the back on the manual in the box (not sure if you have to buy it separately if you buy from PSN, but that's outside the scope of this review). So there's no extra cost, though one hopes this isn't setting up a precedent for future releases. If you're planning on borrowing a friend's game to play online features, prepare to be disappointed. All of the online modes are immediately available from the main screen now, rather than being in a separate login area. The game rooms seem a little better organized than in previous years, with leagues and game rooms getting their own separate areas rather than being in one big online lobby.
The new online feature for this year is diamond dynasty. You create your own team and customize it, start with a group of 25 random players, and then purchase, sell, and trade player card packs (much like baseball cards) to improve your team. You can also spend points you earn to upgrade players in all their various aspects. It's a fun aspect, but it is also very time consuming, so a casual fan may not want to put in the extra effort to improve their team. But for those who enjoy taking a team of low-ability players and turning them into a super team, this will provide hours of new gameplay.
LOAD TIMES: This has been the worst part of this game for years. Especially last year, the load times were oppressively long, even to save games. This year, this aspect has been improved, but still only comes up to about average. You now have the option install 10 GB of game data instead of 5 GB onto the hard drive, and that does make a significant difference. Saves take just a couple seconds, while loads still take 10-15 seconds, sometimes a little longer. If you have the space (and unless you have a ton of games or an old PS3 model, you should), use it to install that extra game data. It makes a difference. Don't expect it to be lightning fast though.
OTHER: The updated stadiums and Marlin uniforms look good (well, good in the game; I personally am not a huge fan of the Miami Marlins uniforms, but to each his or her own). The little details are still what makes this game standout. There are now different options and styles for batting gloves and cleats. Your players can now wear the new giganto-helmets that have been sported by some players (such as David Wright), and all minor league players in the game wear them. The mascots, the grass, the random crowd members, all continue to bring the game to life.
CONCLUSION: This was more of a "one small step for baseball video games" moment for this series rather than the giant leap from last year, but the improvements continue to make this the must-have baseball game. The learning curve is still steep, though moving from meter pitching to pulse pitching is an easier jump than digital-to-analog controls. Load times are still excessive but more bearable, and the realism is still there. If you want to get the most realistic baseball experience you can without going outside and playing a game, this is your game. Have fun and play ball! (And since I'm a huge Dodger fan: It's tiiiiiiiiiime for Dodger baseball!!!)