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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

MLB 2006 (PS2)


By Michael Palisano

Taking the mound for a new season, Sony's 989 Studios have created their finest baseball title to date in MLB 2006. With many new features and improvements to the gameplay and interface, this installment is deeper and more challenging than previous titles. The pitching system has undergone a dramatic improvement, allowing for more precise throws, and the fielding system feels much more natural as well. MLB 2006 also features deeper franchise and career modes, which give it even more depth. The slicker presentation, increased number of player animations and better play by play commentary gives it the slickest production values in the series. Overall, MLB 2006 is highly enjoyable and offers a satisfying amount of depth and challenge.

Sony's 989 enters the big leagues with this year's installment of their long-running franchise with the release of MLB 2006 for the PS2. While previous titles have lagged the competition, this is a considerably deeper, more realistic sim that captures the feel, pacing and, strategy of Major League Baseball more effectively than in the past. As you'd expect, the game offers a number of traditional modes including single game, full season and online modes. The standard modes offer exactly what you'd expect them to. One cool extra allows you to unlock a few cool extras including a number of classic stadiums and players. While it should go without saying, the online mode in this year's edition is particularly well-developed with an easy to use interface that makes logging on, setting up games and playing against friends a breeze. The live stats and chat rooms further add to the game's realism and authenticity. As an officially licensed product, it's a no brainer that there are all the real teams, logos, stadiums, mascots and players included this year as well. You can also create customizable players with different hair styles, body types down to individual playing styles with unique batting stances and more. To put players even deeper into the game, MLB 2006 also features support for the EyeToy peripheral, which allows you to scan you own image onto a player and see them in action. It's an involved process, but makes an impressive addition to the series. Overall, MLB 2006 offers an impressive number of features and modes, but as any baseball fan knows, there's plenty of action taking place beyond what you see on the field.

MLB 2006's behind the scenes modes have undergone significant upgrades with a vastly improved franchise mode that offers many new features and more depth. In this mode, you control every aspect of a team's operations. You can trade, buy and sell players, but there's much more to it than that. You can take charge of your team in the front office and tackle budgeting, manage equipment costs, assign training time, call up minor league players, settle salary disputes, and many other aspects from training time and even assess your managers' skills. You can also view your team's status using the new Player Morale meter, which allows you to see how your players are holding up during the season. There are several factors that affect the Morale including time spent on the field, salary negotiations, time spent training, whether that player is on the trading block, what their position is, and the amount of money you're spending on the team. You can also see the status of coaches on your team and replace them if they aren't doing a good job. A poor performing coach will cause players to lose morale, and hurt their performance on the field. In addition, there's the career mode, where you can take a player from the minors to the big leagues. You begin by training in the minors, and can gradually go up the ranks until you're negotiating salaries, asking for trades and other demands. One interesting aspect of this mode is the players' performance affects the amount of time they will spend on the field. This is definitely a cool mode that adds a unique spin on the action. These off -field modes are quite impressive, and add a lot of depth to the gameplay giving the game a surprising amount of longevity.

While all these modes and features are impressive, the biggest improvements come when you step on the field and use the new controls and systems. Some of the gameplay changes are obvious, while others are more subtle. For example, the new total-control pitching system makes the game even better, allowing the player to have a much better control over the ball, where and when it hits and what type of throw they'll have. Players can select from a variety of pitches ranging from sliders to sinkers and fastballs. The difference here is the interface that makes it much easier to aim your throws, making for some fairly intense pitcher/batter duels. On the defensive side, MLB 2006 implements a new fielding mechanism called Branch Point Technology that integrates the players' abilities with your own skill level, to make their effectiveness with catching and throwing more realistic. The system allows you to throw the ball with much more confidence and accuracy. A new on-field marker makes playing the balls much easier and more intuitive as well. The game's hitting system also shows marked improvement thanks to the what is called Release Point Pitching. This new system includes a new Confidence Meter, which shows your disposition and skill before each pitch. As you go through each inning, you're confidence increases with the more strikes you throw, and decreases when you throw balls. A higher confidence level makes it more likely you'll throw the right pitch into the right spot. You also need to keep an eye on the pitcher's fatigue level, since this plays a role in their overall performance as well. Keeping track of a pitcher's confidence and fatigue probably seems a little complicated at first, but it improves the accuracy of the pitching system and makes for a more accurate representation of real-world conditions. These systems also help you know when you need to call in relief, since it helps to you see if that last RBI was a fluke or a sign of serious trouble ahead. These changes make for a much more authentic experience that makes your hitting percentage affect their performance at the plate.

With all these additions and changes, MLB 2006 definitely feels like a deeper, more nuanced game on the field. The game's flow and strategy is excellent and effectively duplicates the drama and tension of an actual Major League game. The controls are generally intuitive and logical, which makes playing the game fairly straightforward. The simple controls and interface allow you to perform moves such as double plays, throw-outs and diving catches fairly easily while allowing for more sophisticated moves as well. This adds to the challenge and authentiticy, making for an exciting and challenging title. MLB 2006's presentation is as smooth and polished as you'd expect it to be with multiple camera angles, instant replays and a new dynamic commentary system that means the announcing isn't repetitive. From a technical standpoint, the game offers some pretty impressive player-models that look and react realistically. The number of moves and animations for each player is impressive, giving each one a lifelike and realistic appearance. Each player moves and reacts realistically, and the animators have done an excellent job of creating emotions for each event. For example, players now celebrate when they win, and grimace when a play doesn't go their way. The game looks really slick throughout and the production values are better than last year with extensive celebration animations, cuts to the infield and dug-out that put you right in the center of the action.. The graphical improvements are impressive and make the game look almost, if not more slick than some of the other baseball titles on the market, MLB 2006 represents a solid step forward for 989 Studios. It's presentation is excellent, but at the end of the day, the game's tight play mechanics and authenticity will win you over.

MLB 2006 represents a significant step forward for the series, putting in right near the top of the genre. It's tweaked controls offer much more depth, realism and flexibility than previous titles. The intuitive menu system and indicators along with the controls, give it an excellent, intuitive feel. MLB 2006's fast pacing, and excellent gameplay work well and the game effectively recreates the flow and strategy of professional baseball. The game's managerial and player-building modes have also undergone quite a bit of reworking, adding depth and nuance to make for a more satisfying experience overall. This is definitely one of the better baseball titles we've played from any publisher recently with a remarkable depth and great gameplay. This is an extremely polished and highly entertaining title with a solid features list. MLB 2006 is a great game and should be on any baseball fan's most-wanted list this season.

Grade: B

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