A Review of MLB: The Show 10

Now that MLB: The Show 11 has been announced for a release date of March 3, 2011, I figured it was a good time to finally craft the review I was writing in my head while spending hours and hours of relationship-killing Franchise mode in MLB: The Show 10 over the summer. I have a storied history with baseball video games, going back to RBI Baseball on the NES. For those uninitiated, I highly recommend a quick view of this:

After some dalliances with lesser games like Baseball Simulator and a seriously crippling addiction to Baseball Stars, I hung up my spikes and went to college like a real man (where I played Tony Hawk with Jon for no less than 7 hours a day). When I first got a PS2, I looked to see if they still made Triple Play Baseball. My brother had gotten me the PC version of Triple Play 2000 (with a vector-ized Sammy Sosa on the cover!) and I was pleased to learn that EA had kept it up on the consoles with a new name: MVP Baseball.

MVP came along at a dark time in my life. I graduated from college in 2003 with a degree in film production and moved to Chicago in 2004 after saving up money living at my mom’s house in Rockford. When MVP 2005 came out, I was pretty broke. Living in a basement apartment with no windows and no prospect of meaningful employment. I sank hundreds and hundreds of hours into MVP 2005- an addiction less of interest than of desperation. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I took my Cubs franchise through over 50 seasons. At time, I spent literally every waking minute playing the game. Neglecting food, phone calls and my own mental health, I eventually forced myself to quit cold turkey. But still, on some dark days, I think fondly of that franchise… wondering what those fake players on that memory card would be doing right now if I hadn’t abandoned them…

Okay, I got a little melodramatic at the end there, but playing baseball simulators is really addictive if you have a certain type of personality. So when MLB: The Show 10 came out, I decided I was ready to jump back into it with my more mature and less brutally depressed life guiding me safely away from unhealthy levels of addiction. In the 5 years since I had played a baseball video game, the game had changed both literally and figuratively. Next-gen technology has made the games look incredibly realistic and decades of feedback from superfans have made the play controls of the actual game extremely satisfying. I was immediately impressed.

Road To The Show

The Show has a game mode called Road To The Show wherein you create a player from scratch, apply some skill points in various categories (fielding, throwing, power, contact, etc.) and enter yourself in the draft. I chose to get drafted by the Cubs and started on my Road. In this mode, you’re given tasks to complete in exchange for more stat points. It’s a pretty basic system, which is both an asset and a flaw. Goals like “Don’t strike out” and “Drive in the run” should be things you get points for anyway. Luckily your skills also increase (though very very slightly) for simply doing things right- and the reverse is also true. Hack away like a regular Randall Simon and your plate discipline skill number decreases. How that affects your play when you’re controlling when your player swings or doesn’t is never explained. In fact, this is the first time I even thought of it.

Point is, this mode isn’t nearly as satisfying as I wanted it to be. I played through two seasons with my guy and made it to AAA before I got really bored with it. Not bored with how long it takes to get to the majors… just bored with the mode itself. I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes sitting through load times to earn 5 points after a completely random (and computer-chosen) error in the field cost me all my points I’d built up over the game. The mode is a really good idea but needs way better execution and more a satisfying reward system to be worth the trouble.


But playing the actual game wasn’t what interested me. As impressive as the gameplay and graphics and all that are, my only real interest in this game lie in Franchise Mode. For those new to sports gaming, Franchise Mode is where you pick a team and run every aspect of that team’s personnel from drafting to trades to development. MVP had a mode like this that sucked me in even though it was terribly flawed- I had a team of All-Stars within 3 years based on some shifty trades and, once my winning team was in place, a nearly unlimited payroll.

MLB: The Show 10’s Franchise system, while also flawed in many important ways, is the most complete and complicated system I’ve played to date (and no, I haven’t tried Out of the Park yet. The scouting, drafting, trading and contract systems in the game are engaging enough to keep me interested for hours. I love trying to wrangle quality players from other teams with my farm system. I love seeing how draft order and contracts shape the standings by the end of the season- it’s all very fascinating. And so SO close to being amazing.

But it just isn’t.

Not yet, anyway. I can still wrangle quality players for a stack of semi-scrubs in many cases. The game’s talent pool is feast or famine- some positions having only one “A” player while top notch starting pitchers are always readily available. That “A” rating I just mentioned is a bit of a problem too. The game gives players grades based on various abilities: speed, power, durability and the like. But there’s only one of those letters you really need to look at and that’s potential. The game shows you what players have high ceilings. Which would be fine if some of those players burned out, got injured or simply didn’t have the drive (I’m looking at you, Ben Grieve) before reaching their potential. But the game doesn’t allow for those possibilities so inherent in professional sports. So there’s no reason to trade an A level prospect for anything less than another A level prospect. You know that the potential grade of A for that 19 year old third basemen means he’ll be one of the best in the game when he comes around. And, while it’s very convenient to have that information, it kind of breaks the mode. Of course, the grading system is meant to reflect the scouting systems in real baseball- you choose which players to scout and, over time, their grades are revealed. You even get to choose your scouts! But the quality of scout only impacts how quickly he can scout a certain position of player. In the real world, good scouts see talent where others don’t. And bad scouts sign the entire 1st round crop for the Cubs from 2002-2007. Zing!

At any rate, I still played the hell out of this game. About 15 years of Cubs dynasty, in fact. For those of you interested, brand new Royal Alcides Escobar and middling Blue Jays slugger Travis Snider project to have monster seasons in the coming years so stock up on your rookie autos today! Also, A-Rod projects to about 814 homers in his career. Of course, that assumes that the Cubs steal all the quality starting pitching from both leagues for the next 5 years.

Point is, I had another unbeatable team within a few years. Eventually, my payroll maxed out and I couldn’t keep all three of my $20M starters. No matter. Just ship them off to someone else in exchange for a package of young A and B players. That A level third basemen I mentioned earlier? When his cheap contract is up and he’s asking for tons of money, simply offer a low ball arbitration. He’ll decline and sign with another team. Then you magically get that team’s top pick. No problem! You don’t have to worry about hurting the player’s feelings or damaging your reputation with players. Nor do you risk losing fans as long as you keep winning. On the flip side, there’s no home team discount (nor do your players really have a home town, families or agents). Want to backload a contracts, a la Jim Hendry? You can’t.

Now, the standard video game fix to these problems is “Oh, we’ll just add a ‘Reputation’ meter for you as a GM and a ‘Fan Loyalty’ grade!” Real life sports are far more fuzzy than that. And so much more complicated that I fear any attempt to replicate or emulate will always fall short. Every time I’d land a killer player for peanuts or ditch a bad contract for some young talent, I’d get a thrill, sure. But a thrill tainted by the guilt of not having accomplished anything but gaming the system. A system that bears only cosmetic similarities to the real thing.


After a month or two playing the game pretty religiously, I grew bored with always winning. It wasn’t even the lack of challenge that bothered me (I love easy things!), but more the disappointment with the game’s inability to draw me in with its nuances and attention to things that can’t be measured on a scale from A-F. I wanted this game to be more. And, while I enjoyed my time with it before selling it off (at a loss of only $15 I might add!), I suppose I had too much hope for it. Too many expectations that it would fill the same hole that MVP filled back in 2005. But it’s a far superior game in every way. So I can only assume that its failure is evidence that that hole no longer exists. And that’s nothing but a good thing.

I await the arrival of MLB: The Show 11 with the same anticipation that I wait for the Cubs’ Opening Day: cautiously optimistic and excited despite myself. I hope some attention has been paid to Franchise Mode (as it appears from comments on gaming sites that not many changes have been made to it the past few years), but I’ll play it for a couple months even if it’s the same old story. As with the Cubs (and my fantasy teams), there’s always next year.

1 comment to A Review of MLB: The Show 10

  • Jon

    A couple things. First – I love that RBI video. I could watch it daily.
    Second – 7 hours of Tony Hawk? Maybe on days we had class!
    Third – Awesome review. Submit that to IGN and get yourself a real job.

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