Developer: SCE Studios San Diego
Release Date: March 3, 2009
Ever since the first PlayStation console hit the shores of North America, Sony has been trying to create its own series of sports games that would rival the ones published by Electronic Arts' sports division. While the football and basketball series had their shares of ups and downs during the life of the original PlayStation, the MLB series has been a strong contender against EA Sports' Triple Play series. Things changed once the PlayStation 2 appeared, however. For the first few years of the system's life, all of Sony's sports games were abysmal at best. Things looked so bad that the company decided to overhaul every sports series it had in order to turn things around.
While this overhaul has yet to grace the NBA series with a much-needed boost in quality, it has certainly done wonders for the MLB series, which is constantly beating the games from 2K Games in both critical acclaim and fan adoration. With the PlayStation 2 reaching the twilight years of its existence, Sony has once again called the series to step up to the plate and deliver for MLB fans who have yet to migrate to the newer consoles. The question on their minds is whether MLB 09: The Show can still deliver the goods or if it would be better to simply let this one sit it out on the bench.
There are plenty of game modes available here, about half of which are available for up to two players. Exhibition and Home Run Derby are modes expected in a modern baseball game. If anything, these modes serve as a great gauge on how one of the most important parts of baseball is played: the pitcher/batter duels. Just like last year, the pitching system plays like a hybrid of the more recent baseball titles and a golf game. You can still choose your pitch and exactly where you want the pitch to go to thanks to an aiming cursor. Once all of this has been decided, though, a meter appears where you follow the three-click system from golf games. You start the pitch, determine your strength, and then determine accuracy as you let the ball fly. As the batter, you can either go in for a regular swing, bunt or power swing, just like the older baseball titles before batting cursors muddled up the game. For those looking for extra power to their swings, you have the option to guess general ranges where the pitch will land as well as what type of pitch is thrown. Guessing incorrectly will make you miss badly, but expert players will really benefit from this feature. The whole system works out nicely and gives this the depth that veterans crave while still keeping things simple enough for casual fans to enjoy.
Season mode is another standby from most sports games. The objective is to simply take your favorite team from the beginning of the season all the way to the World Series. You can choose to play all of the games in the season schedule or simulate things if you don't feel like playing. Aside from actually controlling players, you have light management skills that are limited to whether players get activated, put on the bench or traded to another team.
Franchise mode lets you step into the shoes of a general manager as you try to run every aspect of the team. Think of it as Season mode, only expanded to more than one season. The actual management of the team beyond the diamond also comes into play, as you have to worry about things like finances, making deals in trades, and trying to get the best draft picks for the year.
Manager mode takes Season mode and boils it down to the most basic elements. Instead of actually becoming the players on the team, you're the manager calling all of the shots. Think of it as a strategy game where you have to anticipate how the opponent will react to your calls and hope that your commands pay off. For the non-sports fan, this mode can actually get quite exciting since the same calls will have different reactions, depending on the team you pick and who you're facing.
The big mode this year is Road to the Show, where you get to live the life of your created player. Aside from creating his look and build, the position you designate also determines how much play time you get per game. You start the mode by getting drafted to a random team. Once drafted, you have to prove yourself in Spring Training to ensure a spot on the team. Succeed, and you'll earn that spot on the bench or, if you get lucky, become a starter. Fail, and you have to earn the right to get back on the team through the minor leagues. Once you get back to your team, your job is to keep performing well in order to stay with them or with whatever team you get traded to until you retire. Since you're only playing as your created player, the game will automatically fast-forward to the points in the game where you will actually do something. During these times, your performance on the field will determine how well you improve or falter in between games. Your progress will also receive boosts through special objectives, such as getting a groundout if a guy is on first base. The mode is still as good as it was last year and makes this portion worth playing over and over again just to see how you can perform with different positions on the team.
Online mode is also here, a surprise to those who thought online gaming was dead on the PS2. Once an account is created, the user will see a plethora of online features that are usually reserved for next-generation sports games or PC sports games. You instantly have a text-based chat room that uses either the on-screen keyboard or USB keyboard. A message board is also available for those wishing to have long conversations about the status of a team or other topics. You can choose to download the latest up-to-date rosters or option sets other players have provided. Exhibition games can be chosen and so can online leagues, for those who are really hardcore baseball fans. MLB news can all be read here, and you can also have the game display stats for games currently being played in the league. You even have gamer cards that show off stats like your win-loss record as well as how often you tend to disconnect in the middle of a game. Once the game begins, it runs smoothly. There is barely a hint of lag, even if both players use voice chat. New to this year is the option to concede in a match instead of just quitting out and letting it negatively affect your game. All in all, the mode is deep and much more satisfying than the competition on both the previous- and current-generation consoles.
The controls are a pretty nice combination of simple and deep. As mentioned earlier, the controls for both pitching and batting are simple enough for anyone to pick up, but the options are there for some fine-tuning that expert players will appreciate. The same goes for baserunning and throwing. The controls are simple enough since the face buttons correspond to the bases you're running to. About the only thing hurting the controls is the fielding. The controls themselves are fine, but since the game relies on player statistics to determine exactly how fast a player should move and how well that person will make a catch, players used to other games where every fielder moves the same way will not be accustomed to the way things work here.
The graphics do a fine job of showing off the power the PS2 still has. The character models are pretty sizable and look nice, and their movements are smooth and look pretty natural as they go from base to base. Despite the eyes seeming dead on some players, the faces look nice, and some of the major players in the game are rendered rather well. The stadiums also look great and even sport some details, such as stadium-specific banners. The only thing that looks bad here is the scenery that surrounds each stadium; from the trees to the sky, everything looks blurry and very static. It's not something you'll really pay much attention to, but when you see something like an airplane touching down near Petco Park, you'll snicker at how bad it looks, especially while it's still moving.
The sound in MLB 09: The Show is good. The sound effects are the typical ones you would find in any baseball game. Cracks of the bat are crisp, and the ball hitting the leather mitts sound as real as ever. The voices are what really impress, though. The crowds can clearly be heard heckling opponents while putting out stadium-specific chants when their favorite player is up to bat. Having all of this output in Dolby Pro Logic 2 with THX certification certainly helps immerse the player in the moment. The commentators deserve special mention as the reason why the audio experience succeeds. The three-man commentary team runs smoothly, calling each play correctly and even giving you a bit of baseball education in the process when slow moments occur. The best thing, however, comes when the player starts skipping certain scenes in order to get to the gameplay. Unlike other games where the current sentence is simply muted to get to the next one, the announcers will actually continue what they have to say then get told to hold their thoughts while another major play happens. This is handled well and is something players wish would happen in other sports games.
Based on the performance of the PS2 version of Major League Baseball 2K9, MLB 09: The Show is the default choice for PS2 baseball fans this year. Even if the 2K series had improved this year, Sony's version of the game would still be considered the better title. The graphics are more polished, and the sound is much better. The gameplay simply outshines the competition, and not only is there an online mode here, but it's also thriving at the moment. Gamers who have not yet upgraded to the current generation of consoles and pick up MLB 09: The Show for the PS2 can feel confident in a solid, if not excellent, baseball title.
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