Something unusual in the videogame world of sports, Sony's MLB franchise is now the most lauded sports franchise around town. It's still a surprise to see Sony's sports efforts go from that of 989 Studios, to what it is with the MLB license. It is the Cinderella story that has blossomed into a series that topples EA's Madden games in terms of quality, attention to detail, as well as year-over-year polish and improvements, which is why we called it our 2008 Sports Game of the Year. Even though MLB started off well with the PlayStation 3, it's biggest competitor, the MLB 2K series, wasn't far behind. But with the second next-gen iteration of both games on the PS3, the gap widened considerably and Sony's MLB games ran away with all the praise, while 2K's game was left in the dust. And now, it's another year, and another runaway victory for Sony's newest.
Off the bat (hah, pun!), MLB 09 retains its signature authenticity that's made its gameplay such a massive success. Last year, it was hard to imagine how much more Sony could possibly add to the game's list of features. Everything about MLB 08 felt so well done and intricate, that it's an absolute shock to see how much more has been added to MLB 09. For starters, improvements have been made to the Road to the Show mode, MLB's signature core, where there are now interactive training segments that build your player's traits in the form of mini-games. Other improvements, such as a new steal and lead-off mechanic have been made, but the training games are certainly my favorite.
As far as the rest of the mode is concerned, you're still given that immense freedom in creating your athlete by using one of the most in-depth and flexible player creators in a videogame franchise. You will take your custom player from the bottom to the top, playing through a variety of events and situations, as well as positions. If you've yet to discover what the hoopla has been about regarding MLB's Road to the Show, make sure you find out with '09. Additionally, coupled with Road to the Show is the equally fascinating Franchise Mode that now boasts a 40-man roster, as well as salary arbitration, transaction waiving, and September call-ups. Combined, both modes alone allow MLB '09 to stand far and above the 2K franchise.
And that's when you get to the icing on the cake…and there's a lot of icing. Sony's San Diego Studios has toned the aggression of the fielders and their ability to catch the wildest and hottest hits with ease. Now, an in-game mechanic measures and calculates the possibility of a hit ball as being catchable or not. Fielders who are out of position are now more likely to make mistakes in not being able to glove a ball with too much hop or speed, as will players with low fielding attributes. Gold Glovers, while less likely to make errors, are still susceptible this mechanic, as well. Playing the game now eases some of the frustration over last year's game, where fielders had miraculous reflexes and skills to make absurd catches.
If, for whatever reason, you still feel as if MLB '09's mechanics can be toned up or down, you are free to enter the game's eternal list of sliders and tweak them all to your content. The sliders continue to rely defy the overall flexibility of the MLB franchise, not limiting you to simple on/off toggles and a few difficulty settings to choose from. Of course, the online component is still as strong and engaging as ever, so fans will be happy to hear that (although not surprised). Online Season Leagues are a new feature for MLB '09, as gamers can hold drafts and even use Flex Schedules.
The amount of changes and enhancements made to MLB '09 are absolutely sensational, and just like last year's game, it'd take far too long to talk about them all. Chances are if you're reading this, you've played or heard about how amazing Sony's MLB games play. Well, this one is no different. If you're a proper baseball fan, this is the sim you will likely keep playing and replaying for a long time to come. The amount of little details in the game really make MLB '09 a winner.
Moving on to the topic of visuals, MLB '09 does something incredible that I honestly hadn't expected to see. You may or may not know this, but for '09 the engine now renders a 1080p picture at 60 frames per second. That's right, we've come an exceptionally long way from MLB 07's stuttery framerate, to MLB '09's perfection. Tons and tons of new animations have been added to the game, 700 of those for gameplay, 400 for player presentation, and 150 new pitcher and batter animations. Then there's the inclusion of every team's mascot and their respective signature moves. Furthermore, for those wondering, MLB '09 does have the Mets playing in their new stadium Citi Field. As far as player detail, I don't see any notable changes made, but seeing as how fantastic the players looked in MLB '08, I see no reason why Sony would want to change them. All in all, MLB '09 boasts a fantastic graphics engine that's truly worthy of its next-gen status.
Commentary duties continue to be provided by Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler, and Dave Campbell. Commentary remains exceptional for MLB '09, as the trio's ongoing banter is always up to speed and informative. Unless you play the game hours and hours each and everyday, you'll begin hearing the same bits of commentary from the game. But even when you do, the amount of commentary recorded for the game is still so massive that it'll be a while until you hear each bit repeated again. The depth behind the game's 3-man booth is extremely impressive, and the Progressive Commentary system, a trait that changes the tone and dialogue with the current actions, conditions, and events of the game, is superb.
Moreover, being able to upload your own crowd chants and yells and use it in the game is awesome. On top of that, being able to create your own custom soundtracks and define each tune for a player's walk-up is also great. As you can see, MLB '09's seemingly limitless options don't stop at just the gameplay, as they extend well into even the game's audio. It's quality stuff.
You probably saw this coming from a mile away; MLB '09 is yet another incredible entry into Sony's baseball sim franchise. The amount of modes to play through, the amount of options you have to sort through, the amount of depth, quality, and intricacy there is to experience is simply unrivaled not by just MLB 2K, but by any other sports game in general. Topping off the experience with pearly polished visuals, and brilliant audio options helps MLB '09 remain the best damn sports franchise in the industry. Last year we said MLB '08 was the year's best sports game, this year the consensus may swing that way again (review end pun!).