All of the little improvements, and there are tons of them, make MLB '06: The Show a masterful follow-up to last year's game.
- Intricate controls and realistic physics
- Numerous play modes offer as much depth as you can digest
- Online play is more stable this year
- Largely clean visuals and an overall lively presentation
- Commentary is natural and dynamic.
- Minor graphical flaws
- Traitorous Johnny Damon is on the Yankees now.
Sony really turned its MLB franchise around last year by scrapping its old code and starting from scratch to create a wonderfully crafted baseball sim that many considered superior to the competing products put out by EA Sports and 2K Games. Wisely, it didn't try to reinvent the wheel again with MLB '06: The Show. Instead, it took what was already a great game and made it better. The developers have fleshed out various play modes, added a few new features, fixed a couple of nagging bugs, and spit-shined the presentation, thus producing a masterful follow-up that should appeal to newcomers and should also entice owners of last year's game to upgrade.
The list of play modes is exhaustive, in a good way. Offline, you can play full games in the exhibition, rivalry, career, season, and franchise modes or distill it all down to the batter-versus-pitcher matchup in the home run derby and king-of-the-diamond modes. Online, you can use your PlayStation 2's network adapter and broadband Internet connection to play head-to-head, participate in tournaments, follow leaderboards, and download roster updates. Buddy lists and instant messaging are also available, as is an MLB news feed. On top of all that, you can create your own players and shuffle the rosters any way you like using the various editing tools. The game even supports Sony's EyeToy camera so you can insert your own face onto custom players.
Of course, the game includes all 30 Major League Baseball teams and stadiums, thousands of actual players, and a decent assortment of alternate jerseys and spring-training ballparks. Two all-star teams are available, as are two legends teams, although those need to be unlocked by winning games in the various play modes. Triple-A and double-A clubs are also available in the career and franchise modes, but the only real players included in them are those who have already had previous major league experience.
Fans who want to follow their team for multiple seasons have a number of options with which to do so. The season mode is perfect if you just want to shuffle lineups, make trades, and play some ballgames. One step beyond the season mode is the career mode, which lets you create a rookie player and guide him through an entire career, beginning in the minors and hopefully hashing out numerous seasons in the bigs. You'll earn training points to upgrade your player's abilities, based on his day-to-day performance, and you can access interaction and contract menus to get playing time and negotiate better deals. At the end of the spectrum is the franchise mode, which lets you micromanage literally every aspect of a ballclub. In all modes, the game tracks statistics in more than 75 individual categories and doles out all of the necessary year-end awards.
The franchise mode in MLB '06 is pretty much identical to how it was in the previous game, which is to say ridiculously comprehensive. Besides handling lineups, drafting players, making trades, and playing ballgames, you have to manage the development, facilities, and marketing aspects of the ballclub. On the development side of things, you can hire scouts, coaches, and medical staff, and then you can assign them to specific research areas or have them hunt for talent in various regions of the country. Facilities management is split into various subcategories, including stadium updates, vendors, training facilities, rehab facilities, and transportation. For example, the vendors menu lets you install different food and gear stalls and set the prices for the items they sell. On the marketing side of things, you can set up promotional giveaways, buy advertising in various forms of media, and sell ad space on the billboards and scoreboards inside the stadium. Variables such as budget, fan support, and player morale are also tracked on a daily basis, and you can access detailed reports to keep tabs on each of them. The goal is to build a successful ballclub and satisfy the contract goals that the owner has set forth so that you'll be hired back year after year.
New to the season and franchise modes this year is a feature called "game time decisions." In a nutshell, the players and coaches will voice their complaints and concerns to you prior to the start of each game, and you have to decide whether to solve their problems or ignore them. Perhaps Ichiro is in a slump and the hitting coach thinks he needs a day off, or maybe a hotshot rookie is tired of sitting on the bench and wants to be put into the lineup. Granting their requests will make them happy and bolster their stamina and confidence, but doing so may negatively affect your lineup for a game or two. On the other hand, not granting a request could lead to injury or discontentedness, which will negatively affect that player's play out on the field. Day in and day out, you have to weigh the pros and cons and make those game time decisions.
Thankfully, MLB '06 generally lets you adjust your level of involvement to suit your tastes. While playing through the season, career, and franchise modes, you can have the CPU automatically handle any aspect you don't want to bother with. That includes everything from lineups and injuries to business tasks and facilities upkeep. In all modes, you have the option to play games from the field, manage from the dugout, or have the CPU simulate all or a portion of a game. For instance, if you want to jump ahead a couple of innings, you can do that by selecting the fast-forward option from the in-game pause menu. Two different manage-only interfaces are available. One uses the standard 3D perspective, while the other resembles a fantasy baseball board game. In either, the CPU controls both teams while you watch from the dugout. Whenever you need to, though, you can interrupt the game and issue specific commands to your hitters, pitchers, and base runners.