Review: Watch as Reggie Stocker races to the home run crown!
If you want some proof of EA's twisted genius, it's how well they handled their exclusive contract with the NFL ? they made it so nobody could make another NFL game at all. Compare this with 2K Sports, whose MLB contract locks EA and other third parties out, but lets 1st party developers do their thing. At the time it seemed like a good idea, seeing that Nintendo and Microsoft weren't known for baseball games, and Sony was struggling with the now-defunct 989 Sports brand. So really, who cares if they have access to the license (of course Nintendo did try a baseball game with Pennant Chase but it got canned, probably because it sucked) Since then however, Sony's MLB series has matured and over the years has gotten many times better, and with MLB 07 The Show on PlayStation 3 it seems that everything has completely come together with the best baseball game we've had since Microsoft bought High Heat from 3DO and then buried it away in some closet of broken dreams, destined to make sports gamers cry. Loaded with features and tried and true gameplay that doesn't pull any gimmick crap, The Show is the sort of game a die-hard fan will play until next season's game.
Unlike the majority of next-generation sports games, MLB 07 comes absolutely loaded with features. Key to this is the giant Franchise, which places you in the ownership role, deciding not only callups from AA and AAA minor league affiliates, pitching rotations, and free agency, but also the price of hot dogs and the mode of transportation for your players. Ultimately the goal is to profit by both smart spending, fan appreciation, and of course, winning ballgames. Every team has their own unique goals over a 6 season period based upon their reputation ? fail to complete them and firing ensues. It's a lot to wrap your head around, but thankfully it's possible to just play a basic season instead without all the ownership duties. Those who do enjoy spending as much time tweaking every aspect of a team as they do actually playing the game itself, though, will find MLB 07 to be their own personal nirvana. For those into online play, The Show offers full (that is, all 30 MLB teams) online leagues along with the usual direct matchups.
For those not into any of that, The Show offers it's most addictive feature ? Road To The Show. Rather than simply take a team all the way, RTTS instead is all about creating yourself and going through an entire career, from the minors to hopefully the Hall of Fame. For those who played Madden NFL 07, it may remind you a bit of Superstar Mode in that you don't play the entire team, but instead only your at-bats, field plays, or pitches if you create a pitcher. In my case I created a starting pitcher, which is a bit frustrating because my initial skill attributes were very low, and thus major league hitters could hit pretty much everything. Thus I wound up being dropped into the minors, where little by little, completing in-game challenges (like inducing a ground ball, getting ahead in the count, preventing a run from scoring) earn points which are used to increase skills. In time, my in-game self could actually play baseball like a real big leaguer. Because of the fast pace of every game fast-fowarding to your at-bats or time on the mound, it's easy to blow through a career compared to getting through a single season of the Franchise or Season.
MLB 07 doesn't spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel, instead offering tried-and-true gameplay elements. Rather than using analog stick batting or even worse, Sixaxis swinging like its mediocre competition (there's only some minor Sixaxis action on the whole), it's the same old button pressing that longtime gamers are used to. And that's fine, there's no need to fix what's not broken. Like in the previous Sony MLB games, it's possible to guess the pitch and the location for a bonus and a better chance at getting a hit, with a minor side effect if you guess incorrectly, sorta in the same way a batter will make a fool of himself swinging at a pitch that he expects to be a fastball, but it's really a curve. It's basic, but hey, we're talking about swinging a bat here, no rocket science here. The only thing I'm annoyed by is the bunting mechanic, which allows for exactly...zero movement of the bat on your own. The hitter just automatically goes at it. Which isn't fun. At least institute movement with the right stick or something. Aside from that, the batting mechanics are simple but extremely effective.
Pitching hasn't change a whole lot either, but there is a nice addition to put emphasis on pitch variety. The three-button press pitching meter still works great, letting you put as much or as little on a pitch as you desire. But now, there's the quirk of variety and performance. Every pitch in the menu has a little stamina bar of sorts, and it's directly tied to both. If a pitch is working consistently, its effectiveness increases, but if it's getting beat up or just not used, that bar will vanish and if you do try to use it, it can sometimes not work well. Thus the key is to mix up pitches and have something to fall back on if a go-to pitch isn't going well. Also by default the game has a ?suggestion? for pitch and location, like a catcher giving a sign and holding his glove. You can do what he says or ignore it, or simply turn it off. However it's just another added layer of depth to an intense and enjoyable pitching mechanic.
The other intangibles, fielding and baserunning, are serviceable as ever. I'm pretty sure it's new this year, but when running bases, a flick of the analog stick in the direction of the player you want to move causes his on-base icon to flash, and then pressing the corresponding base button makes him go to that base. For example, if you want to get a triple, you flick the stick right to ?turn on? the player, and then hit Square which designates 3rd base, rather than going to 2nd, then third. But if you have to send the guy back, re-selecting the runner and hitting Triangle will send them to 2nd instead. It's of course possible to move multiple runners with one button, but it's slower and tends to prevent extra base hits, so just doing it manually is better off. Retreating multiple runners, though, is more effective with the one ?return all runners? button press. Stealing bases generally works the same way which makes it actually useful. Fielding is almost a joke of simplicity, as most crazy plays are automatic, and when a fly ball is in the air, a huge baseball places itself on the field where the ball's going to land making it easy to catch. But it at least works.
Unfortunately, while MLB 07 The Show is an outstanding baseball game, it is a beefed up conversion from PS2. Basically, PS3 owners have exactly two choices ? either you buy the prettier MLB 2K7, which features great visuals hampered by a cruddy framerate and far less enjoyable baseball, or MLB 07, which runs smooth as butter but ultimately is an HD recreation of the PS2 game of the same name, meaning if you already bought the PS2 or even the PSP version, you might as well save your money and just play the PS2 version on PS3 using the upscaling and smoothing features of the system. Still, The Show has its bright spots, like accurate recreations of players and their batting & pitching stances, and some of the best stadiums in the business. The audio team has remained, and they do a fine job even if many phrases have been recycled from at least three versions back, but a nice touch is the in-game menu audio, which includes some outstanding radio recalls of noteworthy games mixed into the usual hard rock soundtrack.