One of the best Baseball games I have ever played.

User Rating: 9.6 | MLB 06: The Show PS2
Most people are always so focused on the pissing contest between 2K Sports and Electronic Arts that Sony's MLB franchise sneaks under the radar, yet it's one of the best baseball series ever made and a must buy for anyone who considers him or herself a fan of America's greatest past time next to eating. This year's version, MLB 06: The Show, is not only extremely enjoyable to play, but it's also been packed with a bevy of special features that exponentially improve the game both on and off the field.

To say The Show's "packed" with features is actually quite an understatement because there's so much stuff to check out that at times it's extremely overwhelming. On the field, the game excels for a plethora of reasons. The new Batter's Eye (accessed by clicking the right analog stick) allows you to catch a first person view of the field, letting you see how the other team's playing you. You also have access to a special Power Swing, which is activated by pressing Square, so you can literally swing for the fences any time that you'd like. But I'm actually more impressed with the Zone Control Batting, a feature that enables you to take high, medium, or low swings by combining the hitting button (X) with the left analog stick. It just allows for a more precise swing.

Then there are the little things. This year, you can slide head or feet first, you can order all of your runners to steal at the same time, and if you guess the pitch as well as its location the batter will receive a huge bonus in his overall power rating, which makes a home run more likely.

Scoring is sweet but playing defense is at times just as enjoyable because the controls are excellent and the animations are a hell of a lot more fluid. Instead of watching some bozo running towards the crowd and making a catch while not even looking at the ball (I'm looking at you, 2K Sports), players will make gravity defying leaps and somersaults and it all looks fantastic. Furthermore, the developers have done a wonderful job with the cut scenes in the game and it's rare that you'll see the same one replayed over and over again. Struck out batters stare down the umpire, players hit with the ball will charge the mound, others will snap the bat over one of their thighs, and others will go back to the dugout and knock things over. All of this just adds to the game's personality and further blurs the line between actual reality and video game. Thankfully, the improvements don't stop here.

There are two very important things that are often botched in sports games, those being the commentary and the crowd reaction. Sony still has some work to do with the crowds (more on that in a little bit), but let me tell you, the developers positively nailed the commentary. The three man team of Rex Hudler, Dave Campbell, and Matt Vasgersian deliver what is without question the best performance in a sports game. They're quick to react, have lots of knowledge about the game, and feature so many phrases that, much like those animations I spoke about earlier, you'll rarely hear the same thing twice in one game. It's just absolutely phenomenal, the benchmark by which all future sports games shall be judged.

Off the field, MLB 06 is a monster. In addition to the standard Exhibition, Career, Season, Home Run Derby, and Franchise modes there's also Rivalry and King of the Diamond. Rivalry allows you and a friend to basically customize an 83 game rivalry between any two teams, tweak a hell out of a lot of options, and basically battle against one another for bragging rights. And the game will track all of your stats including the overall record, injuries, fatigue, and numerous other numbers/information. As for King of the Diamond, it's in some ways very similar to Monkey Baseball, as seen in Super Monkey Ball 2. The only two people on the field are the pitcher and the batter, and there are all sorts of icons representing the other players. So the goal is to basically run up your score within a time limit while avoiding stupid plays. For example, if you hit a ground ball towards the icon representing the second baseman, you're out, but if it drops into center field all alone it's a single or a double depending on location, and there's a whole lot of power-ups and icons to aim for. Also, on the defensive side the pitcher is required to throw the ball within 3 seconds, so that guarantees that the game will be fast paced, and, if both players are skilled, full of scoring. But the best thing about King of the Diamond is the fact that it can be played off and online, yet that's another welcome addition to this game, which is improved online play.

Unlike most of Sony's online enabled games, MLB 06 feels like it was carved from the Xbox Live mold. Not only is it easy to keep track of your friends and jump into games, but the game keeps track of all your stats. And to make things even sweeter, Sony will provide roster updates each week and they're much, much more than simple player shuffles. It'll actually take into account trades as well as player slumps and hit streaks, so Derek Jeter may be really hot one week and his in game persona will reflect that, but if he's sucking it up the following week, expect him to do the same exact thing in the game. Plus, you'll be able to talk to people playing the PS2 and PSP versions of the game, though you won't be able to play anyone using a different system. And if that wasn't cool enough, you'll also receive scores from actual MLB games.

MLB 06 shines like a diamond in the sun but there's still some little things that bug me, one being the player faces, some of which are a little off. A bit lifeless, they look a bit first generation. In particular, A-Rod's face doesn't always look so hot, yet I'm sure that won't bother all of the Yankees haters out there. It's not that big a deal since the game plays so well, but still, it's a bit of a shame considering the work that 2K Sports does.

I'm also disappointed with the crowd, which will at times cheer when the away team makes a big play. It just sucks watching my ball sail into an opponent's glove and hearing my crowd...the Yankee faithful, explode with enthusiasm. At least they boo whenever the other team scores a homerun, though it's not cool how they wait until the ball's in the stands to celebrate. Furthermore, it's weird how they cheer a little bit and then fall silent. The developers did a nice job with the crowd overall, but these errors need to be improved for next year's MLB title.

Say whatever negative things you want about Sony's basketball games, but don't let me catch you bad mouthing MLB 06. It's brushed away EA's college baseball game and now stands atop the mound waiting for 2K Sports to walk up to the plate, but regardless of the outcome of this soon to be epic confrontation, I wholeheartedly recommend that you pick up Sony's game. Enveloped by the sweet smell of polish and more feature rich than most of its rivals, it'd be a crime to miss The Show.