MLB 09: The Show
Thank the makers for steroids and human growth hormones! As a Cubs fan, I owe Alex Rodriguez a debt of gratitude. All eyes will now be fixated squarely on him – not a team that deserves to be mocked for its 100-year streak without a World Series championship.
If you don't wear the colors of the loveable losers and are tired of hearing about ''juiceball,'' MLB 09: The Show opens up an avenue for you to vent. Players who own a PlayStation 3-compatible microphone can record their very own chants, yells, cheers, and jeers. Depending on how you record your tracks, you may hear one fan yell ''A-Rod and Barry sitting in a tree, R-O-I-D-I-N-G!'' For his next at bat, the entire crowd might mockingly chant ''A-Fraud! A-Fraud! A-Fraud!'' Don't worry; you won't have to round up every friend you know for the recording session. The game automatically turns your single voice into a varied group of hundreds. More impressive yet, if you have a ton of time on your hands, you can assign up to 12 tracks for each player and record up to 256 tracks for the entire game.
As minor of an addition as this may be, this year's game is all about the little details. For the core gameplay, interaction remains largely unchanged, but the experience feels quite different due to the minor tweaks. One big enhancement is how fielders read balls. They now play back angles and caroms, positioning themselves correctly to field throws from all angles on the field. Hard hit balls are accompanied by realistic fielder reactions, such as balls bouncing off of the body and misplays. The timing of base running has also been fine-tuned to accurately reflect the time on the base paths, as well as leaving the batter's box.
I can't quite place my finger on what changed with the pitching - whether it's extended pitcher stamina or a minor tweak to the timing meters - but I felt more in command over my destiny this year. This is a nice change from feeling like the pitcher productivity is run by statistical data. Batting is the one gameplay area that hasn't changed. The mechanic feels like a hold over from the last generation. There has to be a better solution than the ''power swing,'' especially when the remainder of the game explores nuances that I didn't even know existed.
Road to the Show, the mode I call the baseball RPG, is also bolstered by minor additions. Your user-created player now has to deal with 40-man rosters, September call-ups, contract renewals, wavers, and salary arbitration. When negotiating a deal, you'll learn that baseball is a business first and a game second. Your team may offer you a respectable deal, or they may try to undercut you, string you along until they can renew your contract, or slap you in the face with a buyout of your remaining years.
In terms of your player's development, if the coach sees a hole in your game, he'll pull you aside for extra batting and base running practice. These drills are no longer handled exclusively through menus; they are now interactive. Every swing made either adds or subtracts experience points from the field of note. Can't hit a changeup? You'll be asked to learn how, or you'll likely be looking for work next season. This expanded content makes player development a more enjoyable and varied process. I hope the interactive training is an even bigger focus next year – especially for pitchers.
Franchise mode features all of the roster bells and whistles found in Road to the Show. I found that I kept better tabs on my minor league player development, knowing that I could tap into that well come September. These additions mean more time spent in the menus and analyzing stats. If you loathe this aspect of baseball, the computer assistance makes some logical moves, but it doesn't explore every option when filling roster spots. This can lead to minor leaguers and useless free agents getting playing time on your squad.
Like this year's New York Yankees team, MLB 09: The Show is stacked with unrivaled gameplay, simulation, online, and presentation. With Major League Baseball 2K9 underperforming this year, the choice for baseball fans is easy. The only logical choice is MLB 09: The Show.