Review: Bonds can't break any records here, since he's not in the game and all...
Due to a Madden-like exclusivity contract, the amount of baseball games has been trimmed mightily. EA countered with college baseball, but as solid as that game may be, it's not the same. However this contract has a small quirk; it only applies to 3rd party publishers, leaving the hardware guys capable of making their own licensed game. Though neither Microsoft or Nintendo has bothered (Nintendo's Pennant Chase Baseball simply vanished one day), Sony has used this to their advantage, as their MLB franchise has come into its own since all this exclusive contract business began. MLB 06: The Show is the latest result, and demonstrates why Take Two made a critical error in their attempt to gain some measure of revenge on EA for stealing the NFL; without The Show out there, it would be the best baseball game around, but now it simply can settle for 2nd best behind Sony's hardball powerhouse.
The Show has been hyped up and based around a dedicated Career mode where you guide a created player through the ranks of a professional career. This has been in MLB games since the PlayStation days, but the version presented in MLB 06 is much more in-depth, as you'll rise the ranks from the minors all the way up to the big leagues, without the 'movie like' business from NBA 06: The Life. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, the Franchise mode returns with even more depth. It's like Madden's Owner Mode, in that you deal with issues like player personnel, but also adding new facilities for players, advertising, concessions, and those crazy billboards you see on the empty walls. For those without the sort of dedication required to get the most out of playing season after season, MLB 06 introduces King of the Diamond that serves as a unique take on the Home Run Derby. This time though, you deal with both pitchers and hitters, and points are awarded for playing well in either position. It's pretty fun in short bursts. Of course there's also single games for single or multiplayer action and online for that audience. Finally there's a new Rivalry Mode where you match up teams who hate each other (such as the Red Sox vs. Yankees or White Sox vs. Twins).
Generally MLB 06 will be very familiar to anyone who played last year's version (also called MLB 06, just without The Show subtitle). The basics are the exact same, from the MVP styled pitching meter to the traditional pitch and location guessing 'mini-games' when you're batting. Everything scales to your 'difficulty' level; on the basic Rookie option, the hitting is simple, with only the pitch guessing available, and pitching is simple ? choose, aim, and fire. As you move up the line all the way to Hall of Fame, the game piles on more difficult tasks, like guessing the location of a pitch to pinpointing exact spots in a strike zone while setting up a pitch and all sorts of tweaks in-between. While everyone is getting into the analog batting now, MLB 06 sticks with the traditional button press system, which is probably a smart move. Pitching is momentum based ? if you get hot and start getting batters out, your accuracy and skill improves, but if the guy on the mound gets shelled it goes the other way and suddenly even the pitcher is rocking triples off you. Though basic in nature, both hitting and pitching is solid without being overly complicated or difficult to learn.
Getting into fielding and running bases is a whole different story, and that's where MLB 06: The Show begins to fall apart. It's possible to pre-load throws if there's an upcoming play at the plate, and the buttons are pressure-sensitive, but many times the game simply won't recognize the pre-loading and the result is frustrating infield hits or screwed up double plays. In the outfield it causes chaos when trying to make plays; either it won't leave a fielder's hand fast enough or the throw will be waaaaaaay
off from its destination no matter who is playing out there. It's nigh impossible to actually make a fantastic play to save a run or throw a guy out for getting too greedy because the aim of the fielders is horrific. Running the bases is normally fine, at least if you want to advance individual runners by using the traditional methods of pointing the d-pad in the base direction and pressing a runner's corresponding direction. But if you want to advance a whole set of them by using the left shoulder button, you get unresponsive action resulting in players getting caught for an out or blowing scoring chances.
The problem is, you'll need all the help you can get because MLB 06 can be pretty challenging on the default. The difficulty level is pretty even no matter which one you select ? it has more to do with the various batting and pitching setups than the skill of your AI opponents. Even on rookie it's pretty easy to get battered unless you're very good at mastering the pitching engine. It's almost required to pitch the ball out of the zone from time to time or everything will get hammered ? fastballs most especially. In the later innings it seems like there's a bit of catchup AI, as they can suddenly go on a tear after being shut out for numerous innings no matter what you throw at them. In many ways this is disappointing, but you can adjust a set of sliders to compensate for your own abilities though you still earn most of your victories throughout the season.
MLB 06 hasn't received much of a visual upgrade from last year, but it still looks nice enough. There's plenty of player animations featuring dozens of motion captured batting stances and pitching motions. Stadiums are as authentic as possible, whether its the Brewer mascot going down his little slide after a homer to the infamous right field pool at Chase Field (formerly known as Bank One Ballpark). The fans that inhabit these stands are cardboard cutouts and would be right at home...in MLB 98 for PS1. The familiar booth from MLB returns with one new member, the annoying Rex 'Wonderdog' Hudler, who practices his craft as color man for the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem of Orange County of California of United States of America of Earth of the Milky Way. There's a lot of recycled stuff from the last game, but plenty of new stuff too, mostly coming from Hudler. The crack of the bat, umpires calling the pitches, and roaring crowds round out solid, if again recycled, sound effects. But then it's hard to 'innovate' these sorts of things.