Sony already ensured that I (and every other Boston critic) would be inclined to give this game a favorable review before even playing it, by putting David Ortiz — 2005’s real MVP — on the cover. The competition, 2K’s MLB 2K6, opted for Derek Jeter. Which would you rather be seen walking out of Best Buy in the Fenway with?
But regardless of your personal rooting interests, MLB ’06: The Show is a great game, an ideal combination of arcade-style gameplay and realistic baseball simulation.
Thanks to a battle between EA and 2K last year over exclusivity to each sport, this is the only game other than the 2K series to feature an MLB license — which means the rosters are up-to-date through the end of January. What’s more, Sony went out of its way to re-create players’ individual personal touches: everything from Jim Thome’s trademark batter’s-box preparation to the big hook on Roy Halladay’s curveball made it in.
Pitching is done with a simple power/accuracy meter. Strike zones are broken into nine different areas that indicate a hitter’s “hot” and “cold” areas; you can guide your player’s swing to aim for pitches with the left analog stick and try to direct the batted ball with the right analog stick. Fielding and baserunning are both smooth and intuitive. And if you have trouble with any aspect of the gameplay, there are options to enable the CPU to make these things easier for you.
Not to say that there isn’t some human element. Player confidence changes in each game situation, and with it performance. Also, the play-by-play from Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Rex Hudler is the least robotic-sounding video announcing I’ve heard. It adapts to game situations, something you won’t get from Al Michaels and John Madden. The crowd heckling is dynamic; the rendering of Yawkey Way is almost perfect.
Beginners can practice in the King of the Diamond Mode. Season Mode allows you to follow your team through the course of a 162-game season. The more interesting Franchise Mode does that and also lets you set budgets, scout the waiver wires, and try to figure a way to get Andy Marte back from Cleveland.
But the mode the game is showcasing is “The Show,” or Career Mode. You know the drill: create a player, show up at spring training, hope to stick with the big club. My guy (creatively named “Ryan”) wasn’t hitting for enough power, so he got sent down to Pawtucket. Unlike the EA games, though, MLB ’06’s Career Mode doesn’t have you sorting through 50 different hoop earrings or picking your second cousin’s DNA. Instead, you interact with your teammates and coaches — you can call a team meeting in the middle of a losing streak, confront the manager about strategy, request a trade, or go behind everyone’s back and take your complaint to the local media. (No word on whether the reporter you talk to has curly red hair.) The opinions of your teammates and coaches affect your ability to climb the ladder almost as much as your play on the field. And though they still haven’t introduced the “HGH engine,” you can put in “training hours” to increase your skills. Not suspicious at all.