A little bit more than a month ago, we had the opportunity to check out MLB 11: The Show at a demo day. We stood there with our Move controller and after a couple of minutes became truly adept at bashing the ball out of the park in the home run derby (the only portion of the game which supports the Move). The other big innovation to the title for this year is the addition of analog controls, something we got to see but weren’t terribly proficient at during the demo day.
We left the demo impressed with the graphics of the title, liking the utilization of the Move for the home run derby, and being somewhat befuddled by the “Pure Analog Control System.” We were pretty sure that it would add a great dimension to gameplay, but without having the opportunity to really sit down for hours and get used to it, we couldn’t be certain.
Well, now that we have sat down with the final version of MLB 11: The Show, we can say unequivocally that the Pure Analog Control System, while it may not be an unbridled success, does in fact add a lot to the game. It will also, as we discovered at the demo day, take a whole lot getting used to. The system is all about timing and until you work out the timing, you’re going to have a lot of trouble doing anything right.
Starting at the beginning, what this analog scheme lets you do is utilize the right analog stick of the PS3 controller in order to pitch, swing, and throw. The throwing and pitching takes a whole lot less time to get used to, it’s getting that hit timing right that will take most of your energy.
For pitching, after selecting a pitch and a location, a meter, well two meters but they’re attached, appear on screen. One of these meters shows how far down and then back up you need to move your right stick in order to release at the correct time and the other monitors your side-to-side movement during the same period (so you know if the ball will go left or right of your intended target). Different pitchers have different timing, and pitching from the stretch also times out differently than with a big wind-up, all of which means that you’re going to have to pay attention to what you’re doing and that your warm-up throws before entering the game are important.
Hitting is both more simple and more complicated. It is far more of a back and forward motion on the stick (back to cock the bat and forward to swing), and getting the timing right proves far more difficult than it does with pitching. With pitching, even if you don’t hit your exact target you can be okay. You can also give up a massive homerun, but that’s not a guarantee whereas with hitting, if you’re not timing it perfectly the best you can really hope for is a foul ball that doesn’t get caught (outside of whiffing, the worst you can hope for is an embarrassing little roller and being an easy out).
Yes, there’s fielding too with the analog system, but we’d be lying if we said that we’d been able to work out any drastic changes between your movement of the control stick in one way versus another as it relates to throwing. Some balls were thrown hard, others lightly, and while there is an indicator to let you know how hard your throw will be, it’s exceptionally difficult to get the indicator where you want it. Whether it’s there or not though, the ball still goes to the right base. There are unquestionably nuances that are supposed to exist with the throwing scheme that don’t, but it’s certainly a good first effort.
The analog settings definitely takes some time and some practice (less practice if you lower the difficulty setting), but do add a lot of fun to the game, making the title more interactive than just pushing a button. For those who prefer the traditional button-pushing that is still available as an option.
As for game modes, MLB 11 brings back its signature Road to the Show this year. The new iteration of the create-and-improve-your-own-player mode is deeper than previous versions. Amongst other things, there is some new training stuff and you no longer are required to get help with fielding. But, as you don’t actually play a full game in Road to the Show – you just get to be your guy during “pivotal” moments – it has never really intrigued us all that much.
While Road to the Show is obviously one of the highlights for many people, if you’re like me what you really care about is the franchise mode. I play sports titles so that I can take over the reins of my favorite team and make things work the way I think they should work, and MLB 11 sports a great franchise mode. You are put in charge of everything and control your own destiny. If you start that franchise mode without having worked out the analog system and get blown out in those first few games because of it, you are going to hear about in the papers the next morning (you’re also going to hear about it with the in-game commentary, but that’s a different story).
Then, of course, there’s the true meat and potatoes of the title – playing a baseball game. We’ve talked about the controls already, but the truth is that even when you don’t have the control scheme down, a game is a whole lot of fun. MLB 11 does absolutely everything it can to bring you into the heart of the game, the graphics are truly outstanding and while you can customize camera angles to your liking, we really loved the stadium specific broadcast cameras. For this year they’ve actually gone out, looked at the camera angles you get in each stadium during a broadcast, and replicated them within the game. It’s an odd level of realism to think about, but it makes for a great inclusion.
The biggest problem we ran into in terms of actual gameplay is the length of each ballgame. Games can regularly run about 45 minutes for nine innings which means that it takes a whole long time to progress from April thru October. By our rough estimate, if you play 45 minutes a game, 162 games will take over 121 hours… and that’s if you’re not making lineup changes, altering the price of popcorn, and trying to get a great deal just before the trade deadline. Start doing lineup changes, swapping out a lot of pitchers late in the game, or tweaking the price of a soda and you’re looking at a really long season. It’s going to take dedication for folks to get through a full season, and while individual games are fun we do wish the overall season could be executed more swiftly (without having the computer manage games).
The new version of MLB 11: The Show also features the ability to play a co-op game (offline or online), as well as being able to have A.I. manage your online team. There are also weekly online challenges which put you into specific situations to see how you fare and an online leaderboard to keep track of how well you do in them.
But, we’ll say it again, the meat and potatoes of any sports game is how well actual games are played, and MLB 11 does an absolutely fantastic job on that score. The play-by-play team of Eric Karros, Matt Vasgersian, and Dave Campbell actually manage to sound intelligent and like the player animations, don’t repeat themselves on an all-too-frequent basis.
If you’ve been a follower of MLB 11: The Show for years on end, you’re not going to notice a ton of new stuff this year, obviously the big highlight is the not quite ready for primetime analog system (we can’t wait to see what it morphs into next year), but you are still going to enjoy the game. For those few folks out there with a 3D TV, the game is 3D compatible, but even without that, The Show really makes you a part of a baseball game, delivering an excellent in-game experience and what more could you really ask for than that?
MLB 11: The Show is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.