MLB 11: The Show Hands-On

New analog controls and a Home Run Derby mode where you let 'er rip on the Move controller are the new features we spent some quality time with at CES 2011.

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The Consumer Electronics Show might be filled with more advanced computing technology than the average sports fan knows what to do with, but there is solace on the show floor if you know where to look. Sony has a demo of MLB 11: The Show tucked into the PlayStation corner of its booth, which is where we strolled on over to this morning in an effort to see what's new with the publisher's next baseball sim. We managed to hog the controller for a hefty length of time and got to try out two big new features: the new analog stick controls for hitting and pitching, and the Move controls offered in Home Run Derby mode.

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We really enjoyed the new analog controls for hitting and pitching for the way they make you feel more invested in the movements of your players without substantially increasing the difficulty. Hitting and pitching work similarly. When you're at the plate, you pull down on the right stick and then push it up to complete your swing. The trick is twofold: you need to make sure your timing is in sync with the pitcher and also that your upward push on the stick is angled just enough to the right or left that you catch the correct break of the pitch. We hacked our way into a few quick outs before getting the hang of it, but once we settled into the right groove--it's critical to start pulling back when the pitcher's arm is at its highest point during the throw--we had a lot more luck. It's all about getting into a good groove with timing, much like real hitting--which is precisely why our swing got completely thrown off the first time we got someone on base and then had to deal with a pitcher throwing out of the stretch.

Pitching works much the same way. You pick your pitch and aim where you want it to wind up, and then a little gauge appears onscreen that's shaped sort of like an ice-cream cone. You pull the stick down until the meter gets to a little yellow line toward the bottom, and then you push the stick back up. The trick, like with hitting, lies in what angle you push the stick back up at. If you originally spotted your pitch on the right edge of the strike zone, you'll need to push the right stick back up at a slight rightward angle. Mess up, and you run the risk of leaving a meatball right in the middle of the plate. Like with hitting, there's a learning curve involved, but you wind up feeling much more invested in the on-field actions without having to feel like you're suffering through advanced field training drills. You'll also be using the analog stick for fielding controls, but here you're just pushing the stick toward the correct base. This ends up feeling identical to pressing one of the four face buttons, but the change is ultimately harmless. And with all this being said, you can still disable the new analog controls and go back to the more button-oriented controls found in previous versions of MLB.

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Finally, we also had a chance to check out the Move support for Home Run Derby. This works more or less exactly how you would expect: you hold the Move controller, and you swing as you would a baseball bat. It works great in its simplicity, and the controller is accurate enough to make you feel like you're really the one responsible for a successful dinger or a disheartening foul. But it's between pitches that you can really see how accurately the Move controller registers your motions. On the screen is a semitransparent bat meant to show you how you're currently holding the controller. You can take a few of those classic baseball warm-up swings where it looks like you're pointing at something on the ground with your bat, or you can rest the controller above your shoulder and shake it violently for that trademark Gary Sheffield batting stance. But overall, it seems like a nice little addition. The only bug we encountered was the need to recalibrate the controller when jumping between a right- and left-handed batter, but with two months to go until the game's release, we have no reason to believe that won't be fixed.

MLB 11: The Show is looking like a great game. We really like the brief time we spent with both new features, and we're looking to see what else is going on in the next version of this baseball sim. In the meantime, you can expect to see it released on March 8.

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