When we were last talking about baseball video games on this here site, the general tone of several worthwhile comments demonstrated malaise with a hint of ambivalence towards the current offerings available to folks who adore America's pastime. A few weeks ago, I couldn't have agreed more. The last baseball video game I bought was MLB 2K7, due to the wholly underwhelming reviews that dominated the subsequent releases in the 2K franchise and the fact that I didn't own a PS3, and thus, couldn't play The Show. After jettisoning my 360 onto a willing friend, I found myself owning a PS3 and wanting to get back into the baseball video game market. Of course, I gravitated towards the series that I had never played before, and bought the game featured in the title of this post. I have not been disappointed in my brief experiences over the course of four days. This game is nothing short of amazing.
Others have spoken about the ridiculous graphics that this game offers, so I won't try to elaborate on their musings, save to remark that they are absolutely right; the game, from the menus to the actual gameplay itself, is visually impeccable. If you need further confirmation, just got check out some of the videos of gameplay on Youtube. Rather, I'd like to deal with what I feel really, truly sets this game apart.
Immersion Is Your Friend (But Also A Very Cruel Mistress)
To put it plainly: this game is hard, folks, and that's what makes it awesome. Based on a very limited first impression, I'm fairly certain you can toss out the undefeated-with-a-guy-who-hits-95-HR-season that you often get in other video games. This game has no qualms about treating you like an unruly spouse at times, but if you can get past the frustration, you'll find the successes in the game that much more rewarding. Huh, that's almost strangely like real-life baseball! Spooky.
This is the game's strong point: it's unbridled ability to have you, the player, wholly invested in what's going on in the virtual game via a remarkable attention to detail that can be traced all the way back to the game's development. The pitching meter, pictured below via my hilariously inadequate attempt to attain a screengrab by taking a snapshot of the TV with my cellphone, is no small potatoes. Like a real pitcher's delivery, it is incredibly sensitive to timing. Miss the ideal yellow sliver (not pictured, but trust me, it's tiny, check out the videos above) and you'll miss your target. Sometimes you'll get away with this, other times you'll throw a ball... or your opponent will punish your mistake without remorse. The emphasis on timing is equally true for hitting, although the game does constantly offer feedback on your swings to tell you what you're doing wrong. I was flat out terrible at hitting in my first few games. What'd I do? I went to take BP off virtual Roy Halladay until I got better, of course. "Art" mimicking life? Just a tad.
Mastering the pitching meter doesn't guarantee success. No sir. Not when the umpires decide to constrict the strike zone, which they seem to do with reckless abandon. Why the virtual umps feel the need to be such cruel mistresses is like my right hand on a Friday night, it beats the fuck out of me. But you will know what it's like to be a major league pitcher getting squeezed by an umpire. Guess what! It's totally frustrating! And damnit all if the game is making me care! I've leaped out of my chair slinging profanities at an AI ump that doesn't even know who I am... and that's when I realized that this game has accomplished something, and it's done so in a fun, challenging way. Well played, Sony.
Update! My Photoshop started functioning properly again. Thus, I was able to add the Walkoff Walk Seal (and some other friends) so you know it's official!