MLB 11: The Show Demo Impressions

Posted February 24th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Many gamers had seemingly been on the fence regarding MLB 11: The Show heading into its demo release on Tuesday. I certainly fell amongst them, and in the end I could end up being disappointed yet again if the online play remains dismal. However after having spent a good deal of time with the demo I can safely say that what had been largely stale is no longer thanks in large part to the new analog controls.

Overall I am pleasantly surprised by how much I have enjoyed the demo. Aspects that I expected to dislike, such as the analog hitting, I’ve come around on. I credit some of that to having gotten used to it in the competition the last few years even though I still preferred button hitting. That preference may shift now after feeling comfortable with the analog hitting in The Show. The key is to push down on the stick at the end of the pitcher’s motion and then decide whether to push up or not. Don’t try to do it all in one motion there simply isn’t enough time to read a pitch and complete the full down-up mechanic.

I was just swinging though when at the plate. Not using guess pitch, not using power swing, and not consciously trying to push the stick up-and-in for an inside pitch or up-and-out for an outside pitch. It will be difficult to really go beyond just swinging and relying on timing with an analog system which is one reason I’ve never favored it. I was pleased with the ability to check swing though which has been an issue in the past. My positive feelings about the hitting scheme may stem primarly from being successful at the plate, having hit a home run and gotten close to a hit an inning on average, which is similar to if not a little better than the output at the plate I’ve accomplished in past years of the franchise.

The analog pitching is excellent and implemented incredibly well. It isn’t just about a down-up motion but there is more nuance to it in being able to place pitches left or right or losing them if the stick isn’t pushed up straight. This has made pitching much more involved without making it difficult or a “process”.

SCEA seems to have made a critical mistake by not including tutorials in the demo. In fact the in-game instructions only detail the button based schemes. It took me a while just to figure out how to bunt with the analog controls and there are any other number of things that could frustrate those who don’t have the same level of knowledge on the new schemes at the outset. Even something that could be an afterthought, say where on the pitching meter to start the upward motion, may not come across immediately or even at all to novices. I wouldn’t be able to explain what is going on with the analog fielding even now. This sort of frustration could immediately turn off those who are trying the game for the first time.

One area of concern stems from the analog fielding/throwing and a high rate of errors for both the user and CPU. The analog based throwing is tough to judge and often very routine throws (that were not gunned) are not handled properly. Several soft tosses in from the outfield, even by the CPU, inexplicably got past the infielder allowing runners to advance. Other errors could be chalked up to user-fault when throwing too hard but the former situation described will need to be looked into and possibly patched.

The demo unfortunately does not allow the user to make any substitutions, that meant I was stuck with Tim Lincecum for the entirety of one of the games which ended up going 10 innings. I had him up to 144 pitches and he went through the last couple innings at zero energy but still was able to pitch effectively. Maybe the run he gave up on a double in the tenth could be partially attributed to fatigue, but that I continued mowing batters down while having little to no control issues with no energy is something of a problem. I even got a tweet from someone who had gone 282 pitches deep with Lincecum and didn’t give up the losing run until the 21st inning so this appears to be an issue that will need to be addressed.

The lack of contact animations continue to stand out as problematic in The Show. A play at the plate had the catcher tag the runner by passing completely through his arm. Even though the final outcome is the same it just looks awkward in a game that is so detail oriented. There are of course the other routine situations, such as players walking through the first baseman after an out, that are seen frequently. The announcers also made numerous mistakes along the way which when combined with the stale nature of the commentary in general damages the experience somewhat.

I found myself having a great deal of fun with the MLB 11: The Show demo and I wouldn’t describe my experience with last year’s demo (or even the full game) in that manner at all. That is a good sign, especially as I have adapted quickly to the new analog controls and found a preference with the pitching and hitting system (not the throwing system) when compared to the competition’s. The Show may not seem like it has advanced much in a year but if that fun factor continues to be present at this initial level then it will be significant enough in itself to make all the difference.