MLB ’07: The Show is the latest Major League Baseball game from the folks at Sony of America.  Developed by Sony San Diego, the focus is on the career mode, with the addition of “Road to the Show”, where you take a young player, and try to build him into a hall of fame-calibur player.  Other new additions include heavy modifications to the pitching system as well as the catcher’s AI routines in how they call the game. 


Given that Take Two has killed all of the third party competition with their exclusive third-party agreement with the MLB, the only competition is MLB 2K7.  This means that it’s time to find out if MLB ’07: The Show is ready for the big leagues, or if it needs another year of seasoning in the minors.

Overall, the graphics in MLB ’07: The Show are definitely above average, showing a solid amount of polish, although given the fact that the PS2 is in its dying days now, there could be some more polishing done, as the game has both high and low points.


The players look mostly like their real counterparts, although it’s obvious which players have been motion-captured, and which ones really haven’t.  This is especially true of the created players, which tend to have canned animations which really aren’t that great to begin with.  The stadiums likewise look close to the actual stadiums themselves, although obviously the advertising isn’t accurate.  A nice touch is the fact that the scoreboards are all live, showing the actual games going on at that time. 


The detail breaks down after a while though, especially on the crowd, which look like nothing more than endlessly repeated cardboard cutouts of the same four or five people.  While some of this may be due to the limitations of the Playstation 2 platform, it almost feels like a second or third screen team was put on this game while the top crew was held back for the PS3.

Returning for commentary this year are San Diego Padres announcer Matt Vasgerian, along with Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler.  The commentary’s quality is overall very good this year, although there’s some of the repeating that any sports game features, which may also be a design limitation on the hardware.  What’s there is pretty solid, though, although in the case of created players it’d be nice to hear the player’s position instead of just their number a bit more often. 


The music is a mixed bag.  Sony seems to have taken a cue from EA, and loaded up the soundtrack with a large number of songs from various rock bands including My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and others.  Unfortunately, none of the songs really stand out, and after a while it was just easier to turn them off and concentrate on playing the game. 


The overall sound is solid, although it got annoying to have all of the menu options sound like a bat hitting a ball.  Honestly, why do menu options need sounds to begin with?  Not everything has to have ‘flair’, to borrow from Office Space.

The controls in MLB ’07: The Show are pretty familiar if you’ve played any baseball game on a PS2.  For the most part, you’ll have on-screen cues for your controls while batting and pitching, which helps for those who aren’t used to the gameplay. 


One major adjustment that needs to be made is when you play the Road to the Show mode.  When you’re fielding, the bases are reversed from what many games used.  Triangle throws to the plate, square throws to first, X to second and Circle to third.  To be honest, it only takes a bit to get used to, and is a very nice addition as far as your immersion goes. 


Really, the only problem with the controls is that sometimes they can be almost a bit too complex, especially while managing the games and baserunning.  Otherwise, everything works very well, and doesn’t really take you out of the ballgame too much.

MLB ’07: The Show features a number of new additions to the game over last year.  First off, you’ve got the new Pitch Command System and Adaptive Pitching Intelligence.  PCS basically ranks a pitcher’s pitches based on the situation, to help you choose which pitch might be most effective.  API allows the catcher to call pitches based on the situation, the batter, and your pitcher’s own habits.  These combine to add a bit of strategy to the game.


The game also adds a throwing meter, which has been a staple in baseball games for a few years now, and a swing analysis.  When you miss a pitch, if you hit L3, the game will show you where the ball was and how you missed it, be it by swinging too early or late, or just in the wrong position.  The ability to easily target baserunners with the left analog stick is in, as are unique umpire personalities, giving each game a bit of flavor as you have to determine how the umpire is calling the game, and change your playing style to take advantage of that.


The last addition is the major one, as a new career mode has been included.  Titled “Road to the Show”, it allows you to create a player and choose a team to play for.  You then begin in Spring Training, trying to make the team.  The way games work is that it simulates until you’re either up to bat or are in a fielding opportunity.  Before each of these, the game will either give you a goal that your manager sets, or just tell you to swing away or get an out.  The goals range from getting a run in, hitting the ball, not striking out, getting a specific runner out while on defense, and many others.  The better you do on your goals, the more points you’re given to increase your player’s abilities, although it takes at least 100 points to increase anything, and you have to increase every category at least once a month, or your stats will begin to decline.


One drawback to this, though, is that you know that while on defense, that the next pitch, if hit, will be coming in your direction.  Also, the fielding opportunities are only one pitch long.  This takes away some of the spontenaity from the game, and makes it a bit more predictable.   Once you’re signed to a team, you won’t have to play through Spring Training again.  As with the Franchise Modes, you’re given a set of goals for your contract period, which factor into whether your team will sign you later down the line or not.  Road to the Show includes it all, from getting called up from the minors a week before the Minor League All-Star game or playoffs, to being benched because you argued with the manager.


Other modes are included, such as a simple exhibition mode for quick baseball action, and a Manager Mode (the same as exhibition except you manage instead of play).  The Rivalry mode returns from 2006, as does Franchise, Season and the Home Run Derby, along with King of the Diamond.


Online gets a solid boost this year, as the game features online leagues from 6 to 30 players, the ability to read and respond to forums online as well as the opportunity to post your sliders online for feedback from other players, with the best sliders available for downloading.


While the game itself is quite fun, there are issues in the form of some near-gamebreaking bugs.  The first and foremost of these is the fact that the CPU does not trade.  At all.  Nor does it pick up free agents during the season.  This led to the rather odd happenings of Roger Clemens not signing with any team in 2007.  Or Lance Berkman being released by the Astros in 2011…and no one else picking him up, despite having high stats overall at the age of 35.  This also means that teams generally stayed the same except for free agents changing teams during the off season.


Another major issue is the general stupidity of the AI managers, especially during the Road to the Show.  Playing as a first baseman, I was called up during the season by the Seattle Mariners and played out half a year as their starting first baseman.  Returning the team’s belief in me, I signed with them at the end of the season for less than Boston or New York offered.  The next year found me in the minors while some OTHER first baseman had the starting slot.  Needless to say, I requested a trade, but was turned down, only to finally be let out of my contract at the end of the year.  My player’s stats for the previous year?  Only a batting average of .341 with 15 homers in half a year. 


The year before that saw me with the Astros, in their minor league camp.  I hit over .350 for the year, went to the Majors for the last month of the season, and hit .444 in spot starts.  I wasn’t even offered a contract the next year.  Or there was the time I was brought up to the majors, had one at bat, then was sent back down.  Or the time I was brought up for a week…only to ride the bench the entire time.  Or when I was put second in the batting order, then griped at because I wasn’t producing enough RBIs…


Then there’s the entire free agency issue, where teams let go of perfectly good players (Derek Jeter, Lance Berkman, Adam Everett) simply because they were hitting their mid 30s.  Their stats and abilities were fine, they just weren’t young enough.  


There’re also things that just feel missing, such as the lack of the entire single A minor leagues, much less the Rookie and Pre-Rookie leagues.  Or the fact that there are only 3-4 minor league and Spring Training baseball fields.  Or that you aren’t drafted as you start out in Career mode, but instead get to choose your team yourself. 

Even with the problems within the game, MLB ’07: The Show is generally fun to play.  There’s also quite a lot of depth, especially with the addition of online leagues for those of us who choose to play online.  The new Road to the Show mode is also quite fun, and I ended up yelling at the managers and keeping it as part of the game rather than just treating the game as being broken. 


Especially when you consider that there’s only one game competing with this, it makes this game much more worth it for baseball fans.  Also, there’s an offer out at most retailers where you can land an official MLB cap from any team with your purchase. 

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