Thanks to Sony's dubious track record when it comes to first-party sports games, its excellent MLB series hasn't always received the recognition it deserves. But after the outstanding MLB 06: The Show, people are taking notice of SCEA's yearly baseball efforts. MLB 07: The Show doesn't mess with success, and in many ways it feels like a slightly enhanced version of last year's game. However, its one big addition, road to the show, is a good one and offers a whole new way to progress through a professional baseball career. MLB 07: The Show is a great value if you're looking for a hardcore simulation or just want to play a few quick games here and there.
MLB 07's game modes will be familiar to anyone who played last year's game. You can play a quick game, call the shots in manager mode, take on a friend and track your stats in rivalry mode, hop online, embark on a career, run a franchise, play a season, take part in a home-run derby, or try to become king of the diamond. The king-of-the-diamond mode is a timed game where you pick a pitcher and hitter and duel the opposing team on a field that's filled with obstacles and targets that penalize or reward you for where you hit the ball. It's not all that deep, but it's a fun diversion if you're looking to play a quick, stress-free game. MLB 07's online offering is extremely deep for a PlayStation 2 game. You can create an online persona, play a single ranked or unranked game, play in and create leagues, upload and share your own game-setting sliders, check MLB news, and even participate in message-board discussions. A few issues arose getting an online game started, but other than some lag making it difficult to hit, the game ran smoothly. Also, the game inaccurately reports wins, losses, and disconnects, which could severely hamper your enjoyment of the online component, depending on how important your record is to you. SCEA has posted an announcement on the game's online front page saying that it has "fixed these issues," though other than the disconnects, it never mentions exactly what issues have been fixed.
Without a doubt, MLB 07's biggest new feature is the road-to-the-show mode, which is an evolution of last year's career mode. It's great for anyone who doesn't want to play a franchise mode but still wants a game mode that offers a lot of depth. You create a ballplayer (and can even use the EyeToy), pick a position, and find a team you think you can make, but instead of playing every pitch of every game, you only play when you're directly involved in the game. For example, if you're a right fielder, you'll only play when a ball is hit your way or when you're at bat. When your turn is over, the game simply fast-forwards to the next time you're involved.
Your player improves by reaching goals that are given to you before each at bat. Pitchers will be told to do things like strike out hitters or induce double plays, while hitters will have to make contact, get a hit, or drive in a run. It's pretty tough to succeed as a hitter because you're given such few opportunities to succeed and also because your performance on the field doesn't seem to have a whole lot of bearing on your value to the team. You earn points for reaching goals, and these can be spent on training your player. If you're a pitcher, you can focus on improving your stamina, ability with specific pitch types, and more. If you're a hitter, you can improve your prowess against left- or right-handed pitchers, as well as improve your speed, strength, and more. If you play well enough in the preseason, you'll be offered a contract, which means you get to keep playing and reaching new goals while trying to win awards and championships. And if you're not happy with your team, you can request a trade. If you don't get a contract, well, you're free to try out again next year, and the year after that, until you catch on with a team. It's very rewarding to work your way up from a nobody to a big star, and in a lot of ways it's refreshing to not have to deal with every aspect of a team--all you have to worry about is yourself. It would have been nice to play a shorter season, since you pretty much have to play all of the pre-season to make sure you get a contract offer and then the entire season after that, but other than that minor gripe, the road to the show is great.
Franchise mode is largely unchanged, but that's OK because it's probably the deepest franchise mode in all of sports video games. You're given complete control of the franchise of your choosing, and it's up to you to reach the franchise's goals. If you're with a high-profile team like the Yankees, expectations are higher and your goals will be more difficult to achieve. Take over the mess that is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and your job requirements are a tad less lofty. Not only will you be in charge of roster moves, but you'll also need to manage the budget, improve team facilities, arrange promotions, sign television contracts, set vending prices, monitor players' and fans' moods, negotiate player contracts, draft players, and keep tabs on your organization's farm teams and scouts. This sounds complex, and at first it is, but you're able to delegate as much or as little of this responsibility to the CPU as you'd like. The mode has gotten so deep that it can be a little difficult to find information quickly, but for the most part, the menus are well organized and pertinent information is disseminated clearly.
As good as franchise mode is, there are some things that could be improved and some significant bugs that you wouldn't expect to find, especially since it's so similar to last year's mode. You can, of course, play the games or simulate them in whole or in part, and it's nice to be able to jump in and out of a game as you see fit, but there's no option to play anything less than a full season, which is disappointing if you want to play all of your franchise's games but not necessarily 162 of them. While you're free to trade players, it doesn't seem that the CPU has the same luxury, as there's a bug in the game that keeps CPU-controlled teams from proposing and completing trades on its own. There's also an issue where your coaching staff simply vanishes after you play a game but not after you simulate one.
MLB 07's pitching mechanic has gotten some attention, but the basics are mostly unchanged and still great. To throw a pitch, you press the corresponding face button, pick your location with the analog stick, press X to start the meter, X again to set power, and then X a third time to determine accuracy. Your pitches are organized onscreen by your ability to throw them, and they each have a small meter that raises or lowers depending on how effectively you're throwing that pitch during a specific game. Throw strikes, and the meter fills, which makes it even easier to throw that pitch; throw balls, and the meter empties a bit, and it's even harder to find your spots. The effect feels a bit exaggerated, but it does a nice job of getting you to pitch realistically and not throw garbage all of the time. You'll need to throw a variety of pitches, not only because you get better with each throw, but also because your catcher will call for specific pitches and locations based on the current game scenario. Sometimes your catcher asks for some questionable pitch locations, but for the most part, if you hit your spots, you'll have success. Hitting your spots is also key because you never know exactly what will or won't be called a ball or strike, thanks to umpires that have their own specific strike zones. While this is certainly realistic, it's more frustrating than fun when you strike out looking at a pitch that was clearly a ball. This can be turned off, though, so it's not a big deal if you don't like it.
Hitting is once again outstanding. You can choose to take a normal swing with a press of the X button or a mighty hack with the square button, and you can even influence where you hit the ball with the right analog stick. To improve your chances of success, you can guess the pitch type and location before the pitch, and if you're correct on the pitch type, the strike zone flashes red. If you're right about the general location, the ball's outline appears where it's going to cross the plate. However, MLB 07's hitting really shines because it finds the perfect level of difficulty. The pitches are fast enough that you've got to be quick when deciding whether or not to swing, but they're not so fast that you simply don't have time to react. If you pay attention, it's not terribly difficult to judge whether a pitch is going to be a ball or a strike. You never feel like you're just guessing, and you really feel like you can work a count because you can actually see the pitches clearly. There are quite a few home runs--probably too many--but it's not an absurd amount, and you'll need to learn how to manufacture runs if you're going to win regularly.
Many baseball games have a hard time getting fielding down, but MLB 07 does a pretty good job here. It's easy to maneuver outfielders under fly balls, and it's just as intuitive to control the infielders. The only thing that's sometimes difficult is figuring out who you're controlling. Sometimes you'll be controlling the pitcher after a short bunt, even if the catcher is closer to the ball, and sometimes you're given control of an infielder who has no chance of making a play on a ball when there's another infielder who does have a chance. It's a piece of cake to control all of your base runners at once, but controlling them individually is a bit too complex, especially before a pitch. Between setting leads, telling people to steal, and then guessing pitch types and locations, there's just not enough time to get everything done.
As great as the gameplay is, there are a few problems that are simply unforgivable from a series that has been around this long. We saw a player take off for first base after a dropped second strike, and on more than one occasion fielders seemed oblivious as to what was happening on the field. For example, Ken Griffey Jr. hit a grounder deep in the hole, and the shortstop dove and knocked it down but wasn't able to get much on the throw, so Griffey was safe at first. With the ball in the first-baseman's glove, Griffey takes off for second base, a sure bet to get thrown out...except the second baseman was in center field and the throw to second base went to the right fielder. Similar situations occurred every couple of games. Sometimes players won't make an effort to scoop up the ball and a player from far away will have to come in and try and make the play.
MLB 07's graphics haven't changed much since last year. The game still looks great, but it doesn't support progressive scan and the frame rate has gotten worse. The game routinely stutters when switching from the hitter's view to the overhead fielder's camera, which often makes it difficult to field sharply hit ground balls. The frame rate and camera are also a hindrance when you're running the bases or fielding in road to the show. There's a nice variety of player body types, and player likenesses are pretty good but not outstanding. Fielding animation is particularly well done, and players will gracefully execute double plays, dive for balls, or apply a tag. There are a solid number of individual player animations, be it on-deck routines, swings, or pitch deliveries. One nice thing about all of the player-specific animations is that they're not overdone. Sure, it shows tremendous attention to detail if a batter steps out after every pitch and adjusts his gloves and taps his bat on his cleats, but it makes the games take forever and doesn't add a whole lot to the overall package. There's even a fast-play mode that skips all the little stuff and lets you just play. MLB 07 keeps it simple, and it works. That doesn't mean that it couldn't use more in the way of conveying player emotion, and it might also benefit from a more TV-style presentation. As was the case last year, the stadiums are all accurately re-created and look fantastic; there are a ton of little details to notice, right down to how the grass is cut. The crowds are another story; they look poor, even by PlayStation 2 standards.
MLB 07's audio lives up to the same high quality as the rest of the game. San Diego Padre's announcer Matt Vasgersian calls the play-by-play. His commentary is accurate and timely, and for the most part he does a fine job. Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler provide color commentary. They're OK, and thankfully Rex isn't as overbearing as he used to be, but they repeat themselves fairly often and don't always have the most insightful comments, though they occasionally offer some in-depth team- or player-specific nuggets. Even without commentary, the game would sound great. Fans holler at players from the stands, umpires emphatically call players out, organ music plays between pitches, players have walk-up music, and there's a PA announcer that introduces hitters and makes general announcements.
Even though it doesn't have a flashy presentation and there are some bugs that probably should have been caught, MLB 07: The Show is the best baseball game on the market. There's a seemingly endless number of ways to enjoy the game, and the new road to the show is a fantastic addition to the series. Be it king of the diamond or the deep franchise mode, there's something for every type of baseball fan here.