Baseball is a boring sport. It has its merits, of course, but exhilarating action is definitely not one of them. The great thing about old baseball video games like “Ken Griffy Junior” was how much they diverted from the live sport and created a surprisingly fun and arcade-like experience. But rather than going for an enjoyable video experience, “MLB ’11: The Show” aims too close to the real sport and scuttles itself in the process. Instead of a streamlined game that pits the batter against the pitcher, offense and defense become disconnected in a slogging mess of mechanics that amount to a frustrating and vapid game.

MLB ’11: The Show

Playstation 3
Sony

The first thing that greets each power-on of “MLB ’11” is a skipping audio track indicative of the prevailing lack of care and polish that was devoted to the game. The intro video is a live action replay of clips from the previous year’s baseball season and it feels wholly out of place. Even the menus and font are obtrusive and nicely compliment the outdated nature of live action in a video game.

The big new feature of “MLB ’11” is pure analogue pitching and hitting. The pitching system is an intricate and complicated use of the analog stick and is totally disconnected from the hitting system. Pitching is its own minigame, and its intricacy doesn’t mesh with the simple batting style. Hitting is all about the positioning of the joystick and timing, but there is no feedback for what is going wrong. Hours of play aren’t enough to decipher if missed balls are the result of swing that was too late or early. Even when contact is finally made, it seems more like a random coincidence than an improvement in skill.

The analog play style is only one of the multitude of features “MLB ’11” is now packing. It has accumulated so many new features and additions over the course of its annual releases that it’s impossible to keep track of everything. Offense is so congested with baserunning, leading, stealing and slide positioning that when it comes time to do one of them, it gets lost in the excess information your brain is trying to process and the umpire will yell “Out!” before its even clear what has transpired.

The online play compliments the generally miserable experience of “MLB ’11.” Playing at the mercy of a slow opponent is grueling. Waiting for pitches can take far too long, and a game that is concerned with the minute details of timing is thrown off by incredibly laggy online play. Even when the game is played offline, the downtime is brutal. There is so little actual gameplay in “MLB ’11” that its negative characteristics make doing nothing seem like a more enjoyable alternative.

Mastering “MLB ’11” might be a more feasible goal for experts of the series, while average gamers will be left scratching their heads. The new analog systems might even be a fresh change for those too familiar with other baseball games, but it’s hardly enough to make up for its other pitfalls. Seasoned players would do well to steer clear of this title and newcomers beware: A truly dreadful experience awaits.

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