Developer: 989 Sports
Release Date: March 8, 2005
Buy 'MLB 2006': PlayStation 2
A Line Drive for a Base Hit
Baseball is relatively new to me. I grew up a Red Sox fan, but never really a diehard fan. I remember Buckner and the '86 World Series, I definitely remember Aaron Boone in the Eleventh. Being that this past year I have been without hockey, my attention and energy has been turned towards baseball and so when MLB 2006 arrived for my perusal I was happy. After playing MLB 2006 I was till pretty happy.
MLB 2006 is your standard baseball game. Produced by 989 Sports, MLB 2006 boasts some really cool features and nuances to the game. If you are someone who doesn't need to flash and glitz then you'll be very pleased with MLB 2006. There are certainly some rough patches to tread, but the game is feature rich in its game modes and player development.
There are several different ways you can work through MLB 2006. You can pick up a team and use their default roster to go for the Series or you can do the obligatory fantasy draft and put together your own crew. You can wade your way through building up a dynasty in franchise mode and, this being a new angle for me, you can build up a young prospect into a superstar with Player Mode. Player mode was the most compelling for me as your rookie definitely has to earn a starting spot in the lineup on any team he's contracted with. You can even be sent down to the minors for more playing time or to develop some more (MLB 2006 has licensed the Minor League so the teams and their affiliations are accurate). You can also make your presence felt during spring training where if you achieve certain feats your abilities increase. Franchise mode is very similar in depth and development but you are more focused on the club and you are actually limited to player decisions so if you boy sucks, don't expect to see him getting much time. This may annoy some people as you want to keep your created player on your favorite team, but that's the way the game goes. You can become even more attached to this future hall of famer by mapping your own face via Eye Toy which is a nifty feature I've always really liked. There are the regular game modes such as exhibition and home run derby but franchise and player modes are by far the most compelling.
In terms of gameplay, MLB 2006 is excellent between the pitch and swing. You can hurl a variety of pitches that match the repertoire of the pitcher you're using, so Curt Shilling's Cut Fastball is rather nasty as is his Four Seamer and Mariano's Slider is there too. If you play on the higher difficulty levels hitting becomes more of an art than a game. I was impressed by the depth of gameplay for pitching and for hitting. The count plays a big difference in your pitcher's composure as well. Give up a three run bomb and the next batter will see rattled pitcher who's liable to bowl a beach ball over the plate because he's shook. Bean the batter after a home run and you can find your way to an early shower too.
Out in the field it's a different story. I found fielding to be tough because switching to the right player and making throws seemed to be slow. Likewise base running takes on an artificial feel if you allow the computer to help you out or an exercise in micro management if you turn off the assist. There are a lot of things to manage between pitches and I found myself quickly overwhelmed with figuring out which pitch I was looking for, which base runner to lead off and which base runner should go depending on how much contact I made.
MLB 2006 shows its true muscle in the amount of depth to which you can tweak this game. Each player has distinct ratings for different traits and these can be adjusted. More importantly you can adjust just about every feature in terms of the player or the computer. You can adjust pitching strength, hitting power or the likelihood of an error. I suppose one could get MLB 2006 to behave just like the real thing with these features if enough time was spent working the settings.
Perhaps the most glaring weakness in MLB 2006 is the graphics. The textures are dull and muddy and the player models are very simple. Players resemble their real life counterparts vaguely even though they mimic their batting rituals and stances, but MLB 2006 looks drab. The animations are fluid and somewhat realistic but all the same, MLB doesn't dazzle. The commentary is generic 989 Sports voiceovers by some guy whose name I can't pronounce let alone spell. The sounds and crowd noise are decent but don't approximate the real thing. The multiplayer game is available both in two player mode and over the internet but with PS2 not leading the way in the online charge I'd imagine finding gamers online might be a chore (I would have tried it had I the broadband adapter, sorry my PS2 is nearly five years old).
All in all, MLB 2006 is a competent competitor. I would say this game would please the Baseball purist who is more interested in the drama at the plate rather than the bells and whistles and TV style presentation. The level of detail to which you can personalize and tweak MLB 2006 definitely makes this game one to consider if you are looking for a game that you can tailor to you preferences.
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