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MLB 09 The Show
Score: 96%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studio
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Baseball)

Graphics & Sound:
Damn it Sony, why do you have to consistently make MLB: The Show so good? By now, I've settled into the yearly cycle of sports games ("This year is an improvement with this feature... blah, blah, blah..."), but with MLB: The Show, every year has delivered to the point where I could almost just repeat myself from last year and say, "...this is the baseball game to get, even if you need to buy a PS3 to do so," but (as was the case with Persona 4), my editor probably wouldn't let that slide.

MLB 08: The Show nailed presentation, giving MLB 09: The Show the luxury of tightening up smaller details and refining elements. Capturing the feel of a "real game" has always been the Holy Grail of sports developers, and MLB 09: The Show has found it. The game can effectively be viewed through two "modes," Quick Play and not-Quick Play. Both look like a TV broadcast, but playing with Quick Play turned off gives you an experience that is true-to-life right down to close-ups and signature walks.

MLB 09 also manages to skirt one of the issues I had with 2K Sports' baseball game; players looked "realistic," but still looked off. The players in MLB 09 are so detailed that you can actually tell individuals apart at a distance. There's a certain sense of photorealism here that very few sports games, or games for that matter, have managed to capture. Of course, this level of realism does come with a few awkward looks when players actually begin to move. The animation is great, right down to signature batting styles, though there's still a lack of decidedly human "ticks" that remind you that you're playing a game - even if you brain insists you're watching one.

Matt Vasgerian, Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler handle all the play-by-play and do a great job. The commentary isn't as amazing as 2K's offering, though it is still enjoyable, even with the numerous cliches'.


Gameplay:
MLB 09: The Show retains just about every feature found in MLB 08 to the point that I could cut-and-paste parts of that review and you probably wouldn't know the difference. Nearly every mode found in last year's game is here, including an incredibly smooth online experience and phenomenal Road to the Show Mode. This, of course, begs the question as to why you should invest in MLB 09, if you already own 08. Well, again I have to turn to my Persona 4 review and say that MLB 09 is everything MLB 08 is, but better.

All of the modes from MLB 08 are here, including Road to the Show, which is as addictive as ever. Here you create a player and try to earn a spot on a team. Although you still take part in games, the catch is that you only play when your created character is on the field. If you are a pitcher, you can only pitch when the manager decides to put you on the mound. The same goes for other positions as well. After doing your thing on the field, the game goes on until your next turn.

Franchise mode is just as deep and is your opportunity to unleash your inner micro-manger. Manage rosters, upgrade facilities, buy lots of super-expensive trinkets for the team -- there's nothing you can't do in Franchise Mode. The only real issue is player salaries. You can get really good players to sign for next to nothing, which has a way of "breaking" the reality of the experience. Then again, it does give you the opportunity to build a "Dream Team" if you really want to.


Difficulty:
MLB 09: The Show continues the upward trend of changing player A.I. for the better. They aren't perfect, but are much less mistake-prone than last year or other games currently on the shelf. The pitching A.I. is particularly tough. Opposing pitchers will constantly switch up their pitches and locations and are really good about exploiting your weaknesses. It can be a bit demoralizing when the A.I. has its way with you, but over the course of an entire season, you'll actually notice some improvement in your game, which is always a good thing. This isn't to say you'll go on a hot streak of home runs (homers are actually pretty rare), but you'll eventually get really good at figuring out how the A.I. works.

If you're really intent on getting better but would rather not go through a franchise or four, MLB 09 offers a series of practice sessions. Only base-running and hitting are targeted, but the feedback offered in each session is invaluable.


Game Mechanics:
The match-up between pitcher and hitter is a core dynamic in the game of baseball and something MLB 09: The Show manages to deliver in an amazingly realistic way. The pitching interface hasn't changed much since last year; press (X) to start a meter, press it again to set velocity and once more to throw. You can also control the direction of your pitch with the analog stick, though you can usually get away with just hurling the ball down into the middle of the plate. It isn't a bad thing, but painting the corners can be tough.

Fielding is usually one of those features in a baseball game that I have a really hard time with. I still think Bases Loaded on the NES did perhaps the best job with fielding mechanics, but MLB 09's system is slowly growing on me. The system's underpinnings are solid; there's no jerk in speed or any sort of speed-up to make fielding seem like more than it is. The result is a fun system that just works. It's easier to hit crucial double-plays or stops, though it never feels like the game is compensating for any shortcomings. The only major issue is clipping, which has been an issue since MLB 07. It isn't game-breaking, but still noticeable enough to stand out.

It isn't uncommon to say that a sports title has built on its successor, but MLB 09: The Show does it in so many ways that it is really hard to pick through the smaller details and knock it for anything. This isn't to say that it's a perfect title, but when a game gets so much right, it is really hard to knock it for the smaller things.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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