If you believe in the sayings "less is more" and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," then you will likely have a more favorable impression MLB 10: The Show. Apparently, confident that it's the best game on the block, the developer did not introduce anything substantial to this year's installment, which for the first time since the series began on PS3, should give even hardcore baseball fans some pause. The result feels more like an enhanced remake of 2009's version than a full-fledged release.
If you're familiar with earlier installments, MLB 10: The Show's game types will give you a sense of deja vu with Road to the Show, Franchise, Season, Manager Mode, Rivalry, Practice Mode, and Home Run Derby. The home run derby returns after a one-year hiatus, and there are a few enhancements to certain game types. The road to the show mode, where you can create a custom athlete and follow his career from the minors to the majors, now has an option to call the game from behind the plate if you select a catcher. This is little more than a gimmick.
All it's doing is transferring the decisions you make on the mound to behind the plate. You don't actually hold out your mitt to catch the pitch, for example, so you can't try to help your pitcher by framing your glove closer to the strike zone on outside balls. Instead, you select a pitch, choose a location, and just watch the throw. Once the ball is put into play, you can watch some more. You don't even earn training points for your time squatting behind the plate, so there aren't any interesting goals like keeping your team ERA under four or calling a shutout. Why in the world would anyone want to call pitch after pitch, effectively slowing the game's pace to a crawl, without any incentive for doing so?
Despite being a focus of this year's installment, online play is still not up to the standards you'd expect from other sports games. Approximately one in three games suffers from some annoying lag, which makes trying to react to pitches or playing defense frustrating. You also don't have the option to switch viewpoints like you can in an offline game, the pitcher's meter doesn't fade away while you are batting, and win-loss records are not being tracked correctly. As with previous versions, opponents will take away your best pitch by repeatedly using the guess option, increasing the likelihood of a home run if you decide to throw what should be your out pitch.
The new design elements are more sizzle than steak. You can create movies from recorded highlights, which is nice, but hardly the stuff to make stick-swingers swoon. There's also a team audio editor for those who want to create custom stadium and entrance music; some pitching and fielding training exercises in the road to the show mode; and an option to watch complete road to the show games instead of fast-forwarding through to your created athlete's appearances. The most significant change is the option to control and play as all 30 teams during a franchise. Yet franchise play appears to have suffered as a result, as there are occasional freezes and lock-ups.
The good news is that The Show plays a great, realistic game of baseball. You'll notice a nice variety of hit types, and on the higher difficulty settings, the computer AI will work the count, hammer bad pitches, and play to the strengths of its team. The bad news is that if you weren't impressed with the Show's pitching, fielding, or hitting mechanics, nothing has really changed. Pitching offers a choice between a hypersensitive, arc-shaped meter to determine accuracy and velocity, or the traditional system of selecting a pitch type, its location, and then watching as the player executes to the best of his ability.
The latter option is more realistic, since it relies on a pitcher's real-life attributes rather than your reflexes, but it is less involving. Hitting once again simply involves timing your swing as the ball crosses the plate. It's still just a button tap, so there's no analog swing for those who appreciate 2K's system. From a gameplay standpoint, the only noteworthy new features are a throwing system that takes into account an individual's arm strength, and new pickoff options on the mound. You can also better tailor your defensive alignments to exploit each opposing hitter's tendencies, but that's basically it. The gameplay is otherwise identical to MLB 09: The Show.
The Show is once again in a league of its own in terms of capturing the look of professional baseball. Everything is crisp, colorful, and fluid. Stadiums have exceptional detail, athletes move with stunning realism, and games are filled with small details, such as fans recklessly lunging over walls for foul balls, batters having words with umpires after called strikes, or hitters trying to steer potential home runs fair. The in-game sound effects are just as good, with the home crowd roaring as soon as a ball is struck, energizing organ music, and player-specific chants.
While some new camera angles let you see more of the action, the presentation isn't quite perfect. The commentary is beginning to show its age, lacking the detail and variety found in MLB 2K10. The three-man team of Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler, and Dave Campbell spit out their detached lines without any banter, and while they are good at making situational observations during your game, they are rarely specific to a team or player. Broadcast-quality stat and factoid overlays are another area that could use improvement. A few batting stances, body types, and faces are also off, but the majority of athletes look like their real-life counterparts.
While still retaining its crown as the best baseball game on the market due to its realism and depth, that crown has lost some of its original shine. MLB 10: The Show's improvements since last year's version are more skips than strides. Online play is better but still needs work, there are no meaningful updates to the play mechanics, and the game modes are essentially the same, save for the home run derby. Factor in some occasional freezing glitches, and you are left with a game that struggles to clear the high bar set by the previous installments. Given the franchise's near impeccable record, it's hard not to expect more.
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3.