MLB 09 The Show Online Impressions

Posted March 4th, 2009 at 9:02 pm


SCEA has always struggled in the area of online play with their MLB franchise. Whether it was the “traffic delays”, lag plagued outings, or questionable design decisions there has always been something severely wrong. Early reports heading into release were not encouraging. Now that the game is out I’ve had additional time to evaluate the online play. Continue on to read through my observations and watch some video examples.

The biggest thing to worry about going in was the lag. Last year connections were incredibly inconsistent. On some occasions you were able to get smooth games yet in others they were flat out unplayable.

Once again I’ve had mixed results. The first game I tried paired me up against someone and said we were fluctuating between a “great” and “good” connection. It was so terribly laggy that he quit before the first out was even recorded.

In other instances I’ve gone up against opponents where we had “great” connections and the games have run relatively smooth. But that doesn’t make them perfect or acceptable even considering other issues that come along with it.

Often times you don’t see the bat swing, or it may delay seeing the bat swing, or it may appear to have been swung twice. This doesn’t just make the replays look odd but it also really affects making adjustments at the plate. I never get a sense of how to adjust my timing. I can look at the feedback (if my opponent lets me by not pitching right away after) but it isn’t the same as recognizing what you have done wrong on the fly based on feel.

Add to that how the pitches coming in seem to have frame loss. They never come in completely fluidly. Usually it seems like the ball jumps at the last split second. All in all it becomes extremely difficult to judge the type of pitch and where it is headed. This is especially the case with low pitches. Low strikes look almost exactly the same as balls in the dirt. That means more strikeouts, less legit hits, and the end result is relying on the lucky home run.

Check swings are, for all intents and purposes, non-existent online also. I tend to commit to borderline pitches offline and rely on the check swing to hold back. But you’re incredibly lucky if you actually are able to pull it off in an online game. Instead what I’m forced to do is decide that I’m probably not going to swing based on the situation and my opponent’s tendencies even before the pitch is delivered.

Pitching has the clear advantage online. Not only do the hitters have to deal with those problems, but there is little to no delay in the pitch meter. So you can be practically as accurate as you are offline when you’re online.  I do wish though that you could have a behind the pitcher view and hope they get that in next year.

Because of all of this it is really difficult to consistently perform well at the plate online. It becomes more a game of luck than anything. Who can hit the most home runs? Almost all the runs that myself or opponents have scored have come via the HR. There just isn’t much opportunity to string together a series of hits.

I’ve never minded the guess pitch feature in single player. I rarely use it but I think it is actually a neat option to have that does a decent job of replicating how a batter might be focusing on a pitch type. Online though this is extremely frustrating to go up against. There is nothing I can think of that compares to getting ready to pitch and having no affect over it because my opponent guessed it. Plus people just guess fastball every time so you become hesitant to throw them. I basically only throw fastballs out of the zone hoping they’ll be anxious enough to swing at it. Seriously. SCEA. Turn off guess pitch for ranked games.

Steals seem to be a problem again this year. Last year people took advantage of a flaw in the game that allowed them to swipe every bag they wanted (even home) pretty much uncontested. I have not been able to throw out a single runner in 09 yet. Even when they didn’t have a good lead and I threw a fastball it hasn’t been close. 2nd and 3rd are basically automatic if they get going. This was apparently something that was going to be fixed. Maybe it’ll be in the upcoming patch? I hope so.

I’m either missing something or I don’t believe you can do mound visits because when I’ve attempted to do them the option has been grayed out. If that is the case it’s another disappointing omission. We should have all of the offline options and features available for these games.

I’m not sure I’m really comfortable with being able to see my opponent looking at the pitch history. To me it influences what I’m going to do knowing that we both just saw it. I know utilizing that is part of the strategy, but it makes you second guess or at least consider doing so just because your opponent pulled up a visual display.

The graphics have clearly been downgraded to try and help online performance. Not a big deal since you’re not really focusing on it during the games anyway. Most everyone skips through the cut-scenes and replays.

It is a great thing that the Replay Vault is available for online games too. Because of that after the game is over you can go back and watch any play from the game, take screenshots from the replays, or save the highlights of your choosing.

The online leagues have received some improvements though I believe they still don’t track player stats. This isn’t something that can actually be looked at now since they still have the time wait and star rating restrictions on being the commissioner of a league. Hopefully they remove those completely in the coming days.

I really don’t like the rating system that they force on you. Does anyone actually take it seriously? People just down-rate anyone who beat them out of spite. It makes the whole thing pointless.

Just like last year the SportsConnect website offers some great info. You can watch any of the current online games via an updated box score. Last year though you also got a to see the current situations with a ‘gametracker’ type application. For some reason that hasn’t returned. You’re also able to check up on your player profile to see your record and stats, find your hosted leagues, and view the leaderboards.

You’re also apparently able to listen to the commentary of games in progress. I have yet to find a way to do this. It may be limited to only people on your buddy list. This is a pretty neat addition though and represents some progress towards a spectator mode.

Online play continues to be what holds back this series from greatness. Could it get better? Possibly. But there is little reason to believe it will be improved to where it should be. They’ve had years of trouble with online play and as I pointed out a while back didn’t seem to have much confidence in the potential performance heading into this year.

So it looks like it will be another disappointing season of having some really nice online features but having the desire to play eaten away at because of the poor and inconsistent performance. The time has come for SCEA to put the proper resources into fixing online which is really the only glaring weakness the series has. For as great as MLB 09 The Show is it may very well end up offering the worst online experience of any sports title released this year.