The baseball season is upon us, and that means that it’s also the season of baseball video games. Now up to bat: MLB 2006 from 989 Sports, and while it may not knock one out of the park it does get a base hit. Baseball can be as simple as you want it to be or as complex as you’d like to make it, so the good thing about MLB 2006 is that it is very flexible so that anyone who wants to can just jump into the game. Later if you so desire you can pretend to be a big league General Manager for your favorite team making trades, calling up players from the minors, and sending down players to the minors if you feel they’re not performing at the major league level. If you’re into baseball, you’ll find a decent game in MLB 2006, but you may also want to read on to see just how much you’d enjoy it.First off the graphics in MLB 2006 are really good, and the players are all modeled very well. Each has their trademark batting stance from Gary Sheffield’s wild waving of the bat to Jim Thome’s one handed warm up swing to Moises Alou’s knee-knocking stance, it’s all there and it looks really great. Even in the field the characters look awesome. They can jump up to catch line drives and dive for grounders to make some wicked double plays. Players will dive on a one hopper, throw to second base from their stomachs where the man covering the base will then throw to first to complete the double play. Plays like this make the game look great and help give it a real Major League feel. Plus, it can’t hurt when you have animations for broken bats. The stadiums are also modeled very nicely with added touches like planes flying by in the background at Shea Stadium just to name one. Visually there’s not much more to want here as MLB 2006 does a very good job of portraying their real life Major League counterparts as accurately as possible.
Normally, the audio found in a baseball game would be no more than a crack of the bat, the sound of a 95 mile per hour fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt as it blows right past you and some dull commentary, but MLB 2006 actually does a good job with their audio presentation. The commentary (as in all sports games) can grow dull after a while; especially if you’re playing franchise mode and you’ve heard everything there is to hear from the announcer’s booth because you’re playing through your third season. What is good to hear is that there is a lot of commentary and while you will hear a lot of repetition you will hear them updating calls (in season and franchise mode) saying things like such and such player leads the league in batting, or they’re on an eleven game hitting streak or things like that. These calls almost make you feel like the announcer actually knows what’s going on in your living room. Also, the crowd noise and various background noise that normally goes on during a game is here. You will hear the umpires making the call of fair or foul balls down the lines as well as the usual balls and strikes. Plus, that plane you see flying by at Shea, you can hear flying by also. There is some licensed music here, but it’s only heard when navigating the menus, not while actually playing the game. The music is good for the most part, but was a little too hard rock for my taste. Aside from the commentary there typically isn’t much going on in a baseball game, but MLB 2006 does a good job with the commentary and other little touches to make it stand out amongst the rest of the pack.
Play in MLB 2006 is pretty much the same as it is in every other baseball game, you throw the ball to the batter, he hits it, you field it, throw him out at first, it’s standard stuff. MLB 2006 adds a little bit of difficulty to the mix with a meter similar to those found in golf games where you choose how hard to throw the ball then you must push the button once more to hit that magic sweet spot, if you’re off of that mark the pitcher either releases the ball to early or too late and this makes the pitch less effective. This adds a little bit of challenge to the pitching game and this way the better pitchers are not automatically more dominant than the no-names of the league, though it is indeed easier. Another facet to that is that as they go on longer or lose confidence the cushion zone of where a good pitch might normally be gets smaller and therefore harder to hit, forcing you to go to the bullpen sometimes earlier than you might want to. All of this adds to the strategy of the game which can also increase the fun.
On the flipside is the batting mode. The strike zone is comprised up of nine small boxes, each corresponding to a direction on the analog stick, and those are what you’re swinging at. Making it that much more difficult to hit the ball means no more 90 home run seasons. Pitcher’s have a distinct advantage as long as they can find their location the batters will really have to work at anticipating a ball’s flight path. You can also guess what exact pitch they will throw to you and where and if you’re correct you earn a power bonus, it’s just like in real baseball, if they know what’s coming at them next they’re going to lay some serious wood on the ball.
Fielding has remained the same since the day the shadow was discovered. Get under it and catch the ball. You can also choose to have auto-fielding with auto-throwing, but beware the computer somehow manages to forget to throw to certain bases at times, especially when they can score a run and advance a runner. The auto-fielding is great though in a pinch because they do a good job of fielding those line drives through the middle that would probably be a base hit with a human controlling them.
One drawback for many people with a baseball game is all the menus. If you want to perform any sort of action with a player you’ve got to work through many menus and figure out who to replace the player with or otherwise. A game like baseball is so numbers driven that the sheer amount of statistics kept could turn a lot of people off of the game entirely. Luckily, the computer can automate much of this for you giving you the best lineup for facing a right or left-handed pitcher and with or without a designated hitter. You don’t have to be overwhelmed by all the numbers, if you want you can leave that to the stat geeks, so you can just concentrate on playing the game. MLB 2006 does a good job of recreating the games look and feel even if it does stumble a bit here and there.
Like most baseball games MLB 2006 packs in a Home Run Derby challenge for some extra fun when you and a friend want to just belt some out of the yard. That’s basically the only extra in the game. There are, however, other ways to play aside from the standard single player or versus modes. MLB 2006 lets you take control of your favorite franchise and run everything from the price of admission to what facilities you have for the players and even all the way to what type of pattern you have on the field.
In career mode you create a player and take him from spring training where he’s trying to make a spot on the roster all the way to the ultimate goal of earning a place in the Hall of Fame. In career mode you get to negotiate for contracts, get promoted from the major league to the minor leagues and even request a trade just like a real life ballplayer might do. If you have an EyeToy camera you can even use your own likeness for your created player.
There is also a season mode for those not interested in creating a franchise which will take you through all 162 regular season games and further if you’re lucky enough to make it that far. If you choose you can also just manage your team’s games, where basically you get a view from the dugout and you decide who is going to bat, how the pitcher is going to pitch every batter and every other nuance of the game.
The other mode is SportsCast Manager mode where you watch the game in a similar manner to how you might follow a game on the internet, players are represented by blips on the base path and a still photo of each player will appear next to them when they come up to bat, and if you choose you can enter the game at any point. You do not, however, have any control over what decisions are made during the game while watching it, only when you decide to play the game. While there are many modes to play, the most fun will obviously come from versus match-ups and the deep franchise mode.
Of course what’s a sports game these days without online play? There’s plenty of challenge waiting for you online or at least in theory there is. You can set up tournaments or play standard one-on-one, whatever you fancy is up to you, but 989 has let you do both. You can also build up your rankings and get to challenge better players as you do. Another thing you can do is download the newest rosters, so that if a huge trade is made later in the season you can download the new team rosters to reflect those changes. The game is also accessible to both dial-up and broadband players, which is nice for those who keep getting left out in the cold when it comes to online games because they don’t have broadband.
The thing about baseball that probably gets most people is that the games are long and often boring and the season lasts seemingly forever. MLB 2006 does a decent enough job of adjusting for gamers with short attention spans. You can eliminate walk-ups and any rituals the batter might have. For some it’s tapping the plate for others it’s a stretch prior to entering the batter’s box. If you don’t want to you don’t have to see it. Little touches like this make the game seem realistic, and the ability to remove them makes the game more enjoyable for those looking to play a game in under four hours.
Unfortunately, MLB 2006 couldn’t do everything right. There are some unbelievably long load times before starting a game. The announcers tend to miss calls, like when a runner scores they don’t mention it, I even heard them call a batter by the wrong name. All that aside, the absolute worst part about MLB 2006 is that it tends to freeze up on you, I counted no less than six times in my particular experience, one of those times when I tried to join an online game. This is inexcusable, it should have been fixed and the game never should have been released knowing it had bugs and that it would totally ruin the gameplay experience for many. Perhaps this is the reason why no one plays the game online. I tried unsuccessfully to join a game for about an hour. There were no more than ten people playing in the afternoon, and when I finally got someone to compete with the game crashed while loading. No game should ever be released if it’s known to have bugs and defects. I realize that the baseball season was upon us and that the game had to be out in time, but better to be solid and first rate than buggy and panned by gamers everywhere. It’s really a shame too because so much of the game was enjoyable.
MLB 2006 really isn’t a bad game it’s just the fact that if you’re playing a season through and you’ve played through a game or two and the game just crashes on you, you’ve now lost all your hard work. You can work around that of course by saving after every game, but why should you? Lastly, game files are huge, maintaining a franchise mode, updating rosters, and having a career mode will put a toll on your memory card. MLB 2006 would have been a better game had they delayed release for a few weeks longer while they worked out the kinks.
MLB 2006 is a fun game and would have made an excellent addition to any sports fan collection, but as it is with bugs and all it can make for a sometimes frustrating experience. The game won’t crash all the time, and you should save frequently to avoid losing mass amounts of work, but it really shouldn’t crash at all in the first place. Bug free this would have scored higher, as is it’s solid but could use some work for its next installment.
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