Thanks to Sony's dubious track record when it comes to first-party sports games, its excellent MLB series hasn't always received the recognition it deserves. But after the outstanding MLB 06: The Show, people are taking notice of SCEA's yearly baseball efforts. MLB 07: The Show doesn't mess with success, and in many ways it feels like a slightly enhanced version of last year's game. However, its one big addition, road to the show, is a good one and offers a whole new way to progress through a professional baseball career. MLB 07: The Show is a great value if you're looking for a hardcore simulation or just want to play a few quick games here and there.
To speed things up, the only time you field in road to the show is when the ball is hit in your direction.
MLB 07's game modes will be familiar to anyone who played last year's game. You can play a quick game, call the shots in manager mode, take on a friend and track your stats in rivalry mode, hop online, embark on a career, run a franchise, play a season, take part in a home-run derby, or try to become king of the diamond. The king-of-the-diamond mode is a timed game where you pick a pitcher and hitter and duel the opposing team on a field that's filled with obstacles and targets that penalize or reward you for where you hit the ball. It's not all that deep, but it's a fun diversion if you're looking to play a quick, stress-free game. MLB 07's online offering is extremely deep for a PlayStation 2 game. You can create an online persona, play a single ranked or unranked game, play in and create leagues, upload and share your own game-setting sliders, check MLB news, and even participate in message-board discussions. A few issues arose getting an online game started, but other than some lag making it difficult to hit, the game ran smoothly. Also, the game inaccurately reports wins, losses, and disconnects, which could severely hamper your enjoyment of the online component, depending on how important your record is to you. SCEA has posted an announcement on the game's online front page saying that it has "fixed these issues," though other than the disconnects, it never mentions exactly what issues have been fixed.
Without a doubt, MLB 07's biggest new feature is the road-to-the-show mode, which is an evolution of last year's career mode. It's great for anyone who doesn't want to play a franchise mode but still wants a game mode that offers a lot of depth. You create a ballplayer (and can even use the EyeToy), pick a position, and find a team you think you can make, but instead of playing every pitch of every game, you only play when you're directly involved in the game. For example, if you're a right fielder, you'll only play when a ball is hit your way or when you're at bat. When your turn is over, the game simply fast-forwards to the next time you're involved.
Your player improves by reaching goals that are given to you before each at bat. Pitchers will be told to do things like strike out hitters or induce double plays, while hitters will have to make contact, get a hit, or drive in a run. It's pretty tough to succeed as a hitter because you're given such few opportunities to succeed and also because your performance on the field doesn't seem to have a whole lot of bearing on your value to the team. You earn points for reaching goals, and these can be spent on training your player. If you're a pitcher, you can focus on improving your stamina, ability with specific pitch types, and more. If you're a hitter, you can improve your prowess against left- or right-handed pitchers, as well as improve your speed, strength, and more. If you play well enough in the preseason, you'll be offered a contract, which means you get to keep playing and reaching new goals while trying to win awards and championships. And if you're not happy with your team, you can request a trade. If you don't get a contract, well, you're free to try out again next year, and the year after that, until you catch on with a team. It's very rewarding to work your way up from a nobody to a big star, and in a lot of ways it's refreshing to not have to deal with every aspect of a team--all you have to worry about is yourself. It would have been nice to play a shorter season, since you pretty much have to play all of the pre-season to make sure you get a contract offer and then the entire season after that, but other than that minor gripe, the road to the show is great.
Franchise mode is largely unchanged, but that's OK because it's probably the deepest franchise mode in all of sports video games. You're given complete control of the franchise of your choosing, and it's up to you to reach the franchise's goals. If you're with a high-profile team like the Yankees, expectations are higher and your goals will be more difficult to achieve. Take over the mess that is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and your job requirements are a tad less lofty. Not only will you be in charge of roster moves, but you'll also need to manage the budget, improve team facilities, arrange promotions, sign television contracts, set vending prices, monitor players' and fans' moods, negotiate player contracts, draft players, and keep tabs on your organization's farm teams and scouts. This sounds complex, and at first it is, but you're able to delegate as much or as little of this responsibility to the CPU as you'd like. The mode has gotten so deep that it can be a little difficult to find information quickly, but for the most part, the menus are well organized and pertinent information is disseminated clearly.
As good as franchise mode is, there are some things that could be improved and some significant bugs that you wouldn't expect to find, especially since it's so similar to last year's mode. You can, of course, play the games or simulate them in whole or in part, and it's nice to be able to jump in and out of a game as you see fit, but there's no option to play anything less than a full season, which is disappointing if you want to play all of your franchise's games but not necessarily 162 of them. While you're free to trade players, it doesn't seem that the CPU has the same luxury, as there's a bug in the game that keeps CPU-controlled teams from proposing and completing trades on its own. There's also an issue where your coaching staff simply vanishes after you play a game but not after you simulate one.
MLB 07's pitching mechanic has gotten some attention, but the basics are mostly unchanged and still great. To throw a pitch, you press the corresponding face button, pick your location with the analog stick, press X to start the meter, X again to set power, and then X a third time to determine accuracy. Your pitches are organized onscreen by your ability to throw them, and they each have a small meter that raises or lowers depending on how effectively you're throwing that pitch during a specific game. Throw strikes, and the meter fills, which makes it even easier to throw that pitch; throw balls, and the meter empties a bit, and it's even harder to find your spots. The effect feels a bit exaggerated, but it does a nice job of getting you to pitch realistically and not throw garbage all of the time. You'll need to throw a variety of pitches, not only because you get better with each throw, but also because your catcher will call for specific pitches and locations based on the current game scenario. Sometimes your catcher asks for some questionable pitch locations, but for the most part, if you hit your spots, you'll have success. Hitting your spots is also key because you never know exactly what will or won't be called a ball or strike, thanks to umpires that have their own specific strike zones. While this is certainly realistic, it's more frustrating than fun when you strike out looking at a pitch that was clearly a ball. This can be turned off, though, so it's not a big deal if you don't like it.