It's baseball season again! The smell of fresh cut grass and the sight of a perfect green field are ahead of us. What better way to celebrate the greatest season in sports than to take a side-by-side look at the top two baseball video games and help you decide what to play. Both games have differences but in the end, they're both are baseball and are done extremely well. Strap on your cleats, throw on those batting gloves and get ready for some baseball!
Featuring simply surreal graphics, a top notch announcing tandem, stellar gameplay and great peripheral options, 2kSports' MLB 2k7 is outstanding. Alongside the high-quality game is an excellent soundtrack and visuals that make you feel as though you are watching a real game on TV versus a video game.
The detail in the game is nearly staggering. Baseball addicts will notice that the batting stances of their favorite players are truly accurate, the pitching styles of the star players life-like and precise, but that is pretty standard for most recent sports games. However, it is the extent of the detail that is so impressive. Sure, it is easy to make sure the top stars of the game are well-represented, its even more impressive in making sure that the utility infielder's batting stance is correct. Add in the extreme attention to detail that the development team put into the faces of each of the players and once more you'll find yourself wondering if it is a real game or a video game.
Built by the developers of the now defunct and all-time greatest baseball game MVP Baseball series, MLB 2k7 has everything that you would want in a game, and other features you didn't know you wanted but do. Trade a star player from one team to another in the franchise mode and watch the newspaper headlines announce that player's big debut for his new team. There are over 200 different events that can trigger unique headlines within the franchise mode! Look at the players and see their personal characteristics registered in the game, Manny Ramirez's braids or Bronson Arroyo's rocker hair, every aspect of the players is covered.
As for gameplay, you will not be disappointed. The pitching controls take a little while to get used to, but no more than a game or two. The most interesting aspect of the pitching controls is that the break of the pitch is extremely important. Instead of setting your aim for where the pitch will end up, the aim is for where the pitch's movement will start. Anticipate how good your slider will be and be ready for a no-hitter, miss that sinker and watch the ball get crushed and your postseason dreams evaporate into the ether. With a double-tap system (one tap for the power of the pitch and one for accuracy) the timing of pitching takes some getting used to but is familiar to anyone who has played a baseball game in the last few years, and if you haven't you'll pick it up fast.
Batting is just as well managed. With power swings and normal swings you can swing for the fences or just try and jumpstart a rally. The biggest drawback is that checking your swing can be difficult and lead to you swinging when you really didn't want to. Add in the Inside Edge, an advanced scouting report that you can "purchase" using credits in the game-earned for various achievements, turning a double play, striking out the side, back to back homers, etc-and take advantage of knowing what and where the pitcher likes to throw. Key into that and take him deep and your team into glory.
Within the game the fielding is well managed, you can control manually the placing of all your fielders or allow the AI to set it up for you and the players will move hitter to hitter depending on their tendencies. The control of cutoff men and their animations has been tweaked and looks and works phenomenally.
Included in the game are a bunch of mini-games, including a Home Run Derby, trivia and air hockey, there are other things to do in between games. Unfortunately there is not any pitching mini-game, which is a big disappointment, but hey, chicks dig the long ball. The game also maintains extensive stats on your performances, from first pitch strikes to OPS to how many steals you attempted compared to the league average. In the team clubhouse you can unlock retro jerseys, mini-games (like the air hockey and darts) and even classic teams like the 1995 Cleveland Indians or the 1986 New York Mets.
For the first time in a sports game, the soundtrack is almost all kick-ass and even more importantly, aren't just the same 6 songs over and over. Also for the first time, Nirvana has a song in a video game, throw in songs from Sublime, 311, The Stooges, The Pixies and Wolfmother to name a few and it makes for good if not totally current mix. To provide the pregame commentary 2k tabbed Jeannie Zelasko from Fox' baseball show and in-game commentary from ESPN's John Miller and Joe Morgan. The audio recorded is pretty true-to-life, so if you dislike Joe Morgan's real commentary be prepared. Even still though, it is entertaining, usually pretty accurate to the goings-on in the game and certainly adds another element to the realism of the game.
Taking full advantage of the Internet, MLB 2k7 has updated rosters available for download and even better, online leagues where you can challenge players from across the globe and see who really is the best. As well, within the franchise mode you can have up to 4 different players controlling teams and battle it out to see who comes out as champion and who loses and has to clean the bathroom.
While the game is available for almost every system out there, including for the first time on Gameboy Advance and the DS, get it on one of the HD platforms (Xbox 360 or PS3) to truly take advantage of the stunning graphical quality. There is one aspect of the game that is simultaneously good and bad. You are able to edit a player's name, so players not in the Players Association when the game was finalized had their names changed. Stars like Barry Bonds or replacement players like Kevin Millar or new players to league including some rookies and players like Daisuke Matsuzaka are not listed as their real names. Being able to edit them though makes it much better because those of us who love realism will be able to change their names but the audio vault within the game will not change and so Matsuzaka will forever be "Miles" according to Joe Morgan and John Miller. As well, the rankings of many of the players seem to be extremely low and inaccurate but those can be changed as well.
Having challenging pitching controls, providing the full experience of batting in the big leagues and with audio that blows everyone else out of the water and that is a pretty good recipe for a game that will entertain you for hours and months ahead. While there are some slight flaws and a few bugs within the game, none of them take away from the game enough to change that it is an awesome game to play. Baseball is here, and baseball can be in your living room. Get it today and play alongside the 2007 season.
Learning Curve: approximately 2-3 games
MLB 2k7 is currently available for the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360, Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS
MLB 07 The Show
MLB 07 The Show offers the complete baseball experience. Realistic gameplay and true-to-life commentary provide a solid backdrop no matter what mode you choose to play. But there are some problems of note: the home-run trot is clunky and awkward, the CPU apparently will not perform transactions during Franchise mode. All told though, the good outweighs the bad.
First, what's good - the pitching and hitting system prove satisfying and only takes a short time to learn, even though they're slightly advanced. You'll no longer be able to point and pitch your way to a complete game shutout - the game factors in break on the ball, making it tougher to throw curveballs or sliders for strikes. In order to place your pitch perfectly, you must stop the accuracy meter in the middle of the confidence bar. As you throw a certain pitch more and more, your confidence increases, making it easier to paint the corners. However, if you get knocked around early, expect your confidence to drop quickly. To make things easier, your catcher will call your pitches depending on the tendencies of the current hitter. Stick with his calls or shake him off, if you think you know better than he does. Balls and strikes are judged subjectively, which is an improvement over past-baseball games: some umpires do call a game tighter than others, thanks to the new Umpire Personality feature, and it's a welcome addition to a baseball simulation.
Batting has also been improved from years past. Guessing right on the type and/or location of a pitch will key you into the zone and give you a better change of getting a hit. Think about it, a hitter looking for a fastball low in the zone will be much more likely to smash it over the fence, and the same goes for the game, guess right, and you'll see where the pitch is going much quickly than if you guess wrong. To be a good hitter in MLB 07, you need to learn baseball - whether the pitcher you're facing works in and out or up and down, how they change speeds, and what they like to throw as their strikeout pitch. This makes homeruns and gapper-doubles extremely satisfying - be forewarned, you may fist-pump afterwards.
Fielding also proves to be designed with true gameplay in mind. Charge up your throwing meter as you field the ball and release to beam the ball to whichever base you like by pressing the corresponding shape button - triangle is second base, x home plate, etc. The computer chooses accurate animations for each throw - lob it softly to second to start a double play, or double clutch from 3rd to nail the runner in a bang-bang play. Each feels just like it looks on TV.
There are tons of fun game modes to choose from, too: try the homerun derby or King of the Diamond mode (think baseball on a pinball machine). Each ball is a walk, and strategically placed targets around the field will decide if the rope you just hit is caught for an out, or through for a base hit. And there's considerable improvement in online play. The MLB ticker updates you on real-life MLB games while you play, and downloads from MLB.com updates your rosters and provides box scores, as long as you're connected to the Internet.
The all-new Road to the Show mode seems modeled after the Hall of Fame mode in this year's Madden game. First-person cameras let you watch yourself try and achieve short-term goals through the minors and onto the Majors. The deepest way to play is franchise mode - you'll have to sign a TV contract to generate income, set vendor prices, plan promotional giveaways, and arrange transportation for your club. A big complaint from gamers is that the computer will not perform transactions during the season, and if you play a game (rather than simulate it) your management staff will disappear. These are notable problems, but overall they seem like afterthoughts compared to all the stuff that the game gets right.
Most of the animation is solid, which makes the game extremely fun to watch. This may have to do with the speed of baseball - it's slow enough to allow each animation (slapping your bat on your cleat, tugging your jersey, wiping your brow) to seamlessly flow into the next one. The stop and start seems perfectly timed to mimic real-life MLB action, and you can speed the whole thing up by tapping X so each game doesn't take a few hours. But the home-run celebratory trot seems strange - your player's arms hug his sides in a way that barely resembles a true-life trot. And the crowd, as always on PSII, is nothing more than six or eight recurring figures, placed throughout the stands to create the illusion of different people.
Three announcers perform realistic commentary, using regular game updates to keep you updated on the on-field situation. You'll hear Matt Vasgersian say, "two on, two out, full count," and smile, because that's just how a TV play-by-play guy would do it. His partners, Rex Hudler and Dave Campbell, provide deep commentary based on the game situation, which proves to be insightful and relevant. You may actually keep the sound on because they help recreate the baseball experience so well. True company sponsorship also add to the backdrop realism of the game. Check out the Majestic and New Era ads, as well as the "Hurts Donut" ad in Dunkin Donut's style orange and pink letters.
In the end, the game is great: it's fun to play, resembles real MLB baseball (down to the "overrated" chants when you're star player is up to bat on the road), and doesn't take too long to learn. It's definitely worth a pickup if you're still playing your PSII and you need a companion for baseball season.
Learning Curve: 9.0
MLB '07 The Show is now exclusively available for the Playstation 2, Playstation 3 and PSP.