MLB 07 The Show
For awhile, I really didn't enjoy sports games. I mean, I was an RPGer and, on occasions, an FPSer. I wasn't supposed to enjoy sports games since the only people that played them were the jocks and those “evil” college frat guys, right? I stuck to my hatred of most of these until, oddly enough, I got to college myself. Early on, my brother (who happened to play baseball for our school's team) and I talked about how Sports games can be boiled down to a basic RPG. It was then that I decided to try the newest Madden game. I actually really had fun with it and saw where he was coming from. Your players all have “stats” you have to improve, the battle system is the sport you are playing and, based on the sport, your goal is to do something like win the Super Bowl.
Interestingly enough, though, sports games went even more RPGish when Madden added in the Superstar mode. Instead of following a whole team, you were now placed in the shoes of a single player and had to guide him through his career, going through a basic version of the steps a real football player may go through. You had to practice, had to go to training camp and had to perform in games. However, I was also a big baseball fan and wanted to see something similar for that set of sports games. Sure, I could create my own player, but it just didn't have the same feel to it. Enter Sony's MLB series, exclusive to any system whose name starts with “Playstation”. While not a new feature in MLB 07 The Show, this is my first experience with the system.
MLB 07 The Show is the only other baseball game to be released with an actual MLB license, thanks to Take Two's exclusivity agreement with the MLB. I'm not sure exactly how it works to allow Sony to make games, but it does. Anyways, the game itself was just released on the PS3 after being delayed from releasing along with the PS2 and PSP releases a couple of months ago. It was supposed to be a way for extra time to be spent on the PS3 version to really help it use the system's full potential, or some such. I'm not sure if the stuff like SIXAXIS control was already planned or was added in during this time.
First things first – this game doesn't “look” as next-gen as World Series Baseball 2K7. The player models are often off from their real life counterparts, for one. Sure, some guys look like they should, but some are way, way off. Outside of the accuracy of player faces, the rest of the graphics are decent. They do look better than the PS2 version of the game but are significantly worse than those in MLB 2K7. However, the graphics in this game are much brighter, something that has made the game more enjoyable for me. Also, and I know it seems like a small issue, the ball is much easier to see from when it leaves the pitcher's hand until it gets to the batter. Most baseball games until this point had stadiums that, from most camera angles, made it hard to see the ball and where exactly it was coming from after the pitch. In MLB 07, though, I can see the pitch from the time it leaves the pitchers hand until I take a swing at it. It makes hitting a lot more engaging and less of a game of guesswork.
As for hitting, one thing that players of other baseball games will notice missing is a swing stick. While newer baseball games have allowed you to use the right thumbstick for swinging, MLB 07 still uses an old school style of aiming an area over where the pitch will come in and swinging for either power or contact with different buttons. One feature I did like, though, is the ability to, pre-pitch, guess the location and type of pitch. If you got the pitch type right, the box would flash. If the location was right, a target would show up. If you got both right, you're probably about to blast the ball out of the park if your swing is good. Oddly enough, I actually enjoy this system as much as the swing stick one – the ability to guess the pitch type and location adds an interesting element to batting and forces you to study the way a pitcher pitches. Some of them will throw lots of low balls in an effort to get you to swing, then go high and outside with a fastball. Others will pitch lots of pitches high and inside, then toss a changeup elsewhere. They'll also change what they do as the game goes on and adapt – I had a pitcher stop throwing my guy balls in the lower inside part of the zone after I smashed a 450 foot home run off of a low inside fastball. I don't know if it was coincidence or not, but I found it neat.
Fielding is the only place where I can find any actual gameplay faults, and even those are only minor. For one, there are an absolute buttload of diving and jumping plays. You will, more often than not at the major league level, get robbed of far too many hits. Thankfully, you don't also get robbed of tons of home runs like in other baseball games – if the ball is gone, it is gone. I'm not too sure how much this has to do with some of the batting stats, though, since the game really doesn't explain what many of them do (though there are a ton of FAQs around the net that do and are pretty easy to find). Actually fielding yourself is pretty interesting once you can get used to the reversed throwing controls (square, for example, throws to first base instead of third when you're playing any position but catcher).
One of my favorite positions to play at was pitcher. Your catcher will actually call a pretty smart set of pitches, giving you a variety of pitches and locations. You can throw different ones if you want to – sometimes, that ends up being the best option. You'll get to pick from a wide variety of pitches when you create your guy, though working on your basics is much more important at first. I really liked that aspect most, particularly after talking to my brother – you can throw the fastest fastball or the biggest breaking curveball ever, but if you can't locate it well or pitch well in the clutch, you're still going to be a bad pitcher.
OK, there are other modes than Road to the Show. I'll be honest, though – while I played them all for a bit and they played well in general, I was so horribly obsessed with the Road to the Show mode that none of the others got any real time beyond my playing them to make sure they weren't fundamentally flawed. Rest assured, everything else in the game does work and work right, which is a plus if Road to the Show isn't your cup of tea.
The Road to the Show mode, though, is the best implementation of a player-focused game mode in a sports game yet, bar none. Madden's Superstar mode or NCAA's Race for the Heisman mode don't come close. Road to the Show mode, though, really makes you feel as if you're in that tense situation with the player, it makes you feel like you need to get this batter to hit into a double play or you need to drive in that one run to win the big game. That, in the end, translates into a lot of fun for any PS3 owning baseball fan. If the PS2's mode is similar to this, it also comes highly recommended.
Overall, MLB 07 is one of, if not the best, baseball games ever made. Sure, the graphics may not be on par with those from the MLB 2K7 series. Sure, there might be a couple of minor flaws with fielding. However, the game does one thing right and it does it exceptionally well – it makes for a ridiculously fun experience. I rarely obsess over games lately – I'll play them enough to review and then move on to the next one. MLB 07, though, has me hooked like you wouldn't believe. Just one more game (because, hey, it's fast since the game fast forwards through stuff your player isn't involved in) ends up being “I'll quit when I finish this season” at like 1 AM. Then it ends up as a “crap, I want to try out a new position”. And before you know it, it is 4:30 am and you have to be up in five hours. This is one of the first games that truly makes me glad I own a PS3.
I can't recall having this much fun with any sports game in a long, long time.