MLB 11: The Show is another great baseball game, but it doesn't add a lot to last year's feature list.
- New analog pitching interface is both realistic and challenging
- Tweaks to Road to the Show add some realism to player progression
- Boasts a number of small, subtle improvements that make the game more lifelike
- Beautiful, almost photo-realistic visuals.
- Few significant changes from last year
- Steep learning curve for analog hitting and throwing.
MLB 11: The Show may be a victim of its own success. The best baseball game on the market has gotten so good the past couple of years (if you overlook some of the bugs that afflicted MLB 10) that it has built up huge expectations. And the latest edition of Sony's long-running hardball franchise should mostly meet with the approval of the hordes out there who mark the calendar up to Opening Day like they were kids waiting for Christmas. But this is a rather quiet release again this year, with the main additions to the boilerplate list of features being an analog control system and tweaks to the role-playing-lite Road to the Show mode. All of these additions do make for a better baseball game than last year's release, although you can't help but be a little disappointed that more isn't brought to the table than the hit-and-miss new control scheme and some tweaks for wannabes trying to make it to the bigs.
The feature set of MLB 11 is pretty much identical to that in both MLB 10 and MLB 09. It comes loaded with all the expected modes of play. Road to the Show lets you create a player and guide him from the buses of AA life to the bright lights and big cities of the major leagues. Franchise play lets you take over an entire team. Exhibition allows you to get into one-off games with the clubs of your choice. Online options support single games and leagues. Net play is largely the same as last year, with only some commissioner and schedule-editing features changing things up somewhat. The various connection bugs and glitches from last year appear to have been mostly ironed out, though. Online play certainly seems much more stable and lag-free in the first week after the launch than it was at the same time a year ago with MLB 10. An odd hitch occurs when net traffic is high in primetime, and the needle on the pitching meter still sometimes goes MIA when you're on the mound, though these problems are rare and easy to overlook. And you can also manage games, take on rivalry matches, and go for the fences with the Home Run Derby. The latter supports the Move controller, and it works pretty well. As expected, you swing it to take your cuts. Being able to use the Move for just one small part of the game, however, makes it little more than a novelty.
A few frills have been added to some of the above options, though nothing is going to stop any presses. Up to four players can take part in co-op action, both online and off. You team up on the field and can swap at-bats with buddies. Games can also be played cooperatively against the AI, giving you an interesting option when head-to-head action grows stale. Of more interest is the all-new Challenge of the Week, a solo experience where you try to clock points in specific situations, such as Joe Mauer hitting against CC Sabathia. Leaderboards are tracked here and prizes are awarded, so look to this feature to be pretty popular. You have to pay a quarter for each attempt after your first freebie, though.
Road to the Show has been fleshed out with tweaks that make developing a pro more realistic in subtle ways. You now adjust sliders at the start of player creation to set up what kind of major leaguer you want to create. You establish an archetype, which means you choose to set up the likes of a speedy center fielder or a hulking third baseman who hits moon shots. New training modes now pop up as you progress. These hitting, fielding, and pitching minigames are more purposeful than before and tend to deal with useful talents such as learning to take and recognize pitches. System depth is now a major concern as well. Get drafted by a team deep at your chosen position, and you might find yourself outplayed by a rival, which of course means you have to get used to riding a bus for a while.
Before, at-bats and innings on the mound were sort of all-or-nothing propositions. If you got a hit or an out, you would clock training points to be doled out to various skill categories. If you recorded an out or gave up a hit, you wouldn't clock any points. Now, everything is rated in a more nuanced fashion. Long, loud fly outs earn some points. Hanging in there for a good number of pitches before going down earns some points. Forcing a batter into a lot of cuts even if you eventually surrender a single earns some points. And so on. Overall, this new system is a more realistic way to showcase player development. But it's a little overly generous in some regards, giving out points when you mess up. Earning points for a good at-bat by hitting a weak dribbler that turns into a double play doesn't seem worthy of praise, even if you took a pitch or two during the at-bat.
One issue that hasn't been addressed with Road to the Show is lengthy loading and saving times. Expect at least 20- to 30-second delays every time you start a player appearance and then the same again when you end it. Since appearances for most position players generally amount to no more than a few minutes with a few at-bats and a handful of fielding attempts, this means that you're sitting around waiting for a good part of the time spent "playing" the game. This can be quite frustrating, and as a result, getting through a season or three in your player's career takes much longer than it should. Road to the Show would be a lot more entertaining and addictive if you could quickly move from one game to the next without the lengthy breaks. These delays are as annoying as waiting for pitching changes in the majors when a manager starts flipping righties and lefties in late innings.