Though flawed, MLB 09: The Show is still by far the best baseball game on the market this season: Great game modes, great presentation and, really, just great overall, pardon the gushing. It helps that the competition, 2K Sports's Major League Baseball 2K9, is such a dud, of course.
Anyway, new this year for The Show is a more detailed focus on the "behind the scenes" owner/general manager roles where players' contracts are heavily scrutinized. While that may sound daunting to some, MLB 09 graciously supplies a guide to educate you on the rules to free agency, the nuanced effects of signing a few big name players within a salary cap, etc.
Creeping ever closer to stark-raving rip-off of the "Dynasty" feature of the celebrated Madden NFL series - the gold standard for sports fan sport games - MLB 09: The Show's Franchise mode adds yet more relevance to the business of baseball, including off-field influences of the coaching staff, good or bad, liked, loathed or feared and how that translates to the stats of your team's players on the field.
Ironically, to many gamers this feature set is nothing but "bloat" and won't make a difference in the experience. On the other hand, if you're really into baseball and all its inherent number stroking and stat-gasms, Franchise mode can add hours, days, weeks of provisional gameplay.
Still, as only the umpteenth iteration of The Show (third on PS3), MLB 09 continues with some recurrent issues when it comes to gameplay mechanics, such as terrible collision detection and awkward camera angles.
That is to say, you'll occasionally see players slide right through one another as if playing the same game coincidentally in parallel universes... or as holograms unaware of each other's, uh, "space."
Worse are the camera angles prone to occasional fits of wonk. Particularly if you're running bases - now controlled with a tetchy left analog thumbstick - your view of the action might suddenly and fatefully shift, so the direction you want to be heading isn't that direction anymore because running "forward" is relative to the camera, not the base you're running toward. Thus, in a game where even half a stride is a huge gap between safe or out, expect to "arrrrrgh!" a lot.
Such flaws are more distracting than ruinous, unless you play in "Legend" mode, MLB 09: The Show's hardest difficulty setting (out of five), where every mistake you make (through no fault of your own or otherwise) is severely punished.
Of course, if you're playing online, then all involved are dealing with the same issues, which make for an even playing field, so to speak.
MLB 09: The Show has really progressed with the series online offering, where most enthusiasts go to test their mettle against other real people anyway.
Online is great for informal, one-off games but it can also get pretty deep with complete-season leagues. This now includes full functioning drafts, the ability to create, upload, share, and download (and rate, if you're community-inclined) custom rosters, play virtual versions of real MLB games, and so on.
Also, online play now includes a subtle but tremendously valuable new "please let me leave because you're clearly superior to me" concession option. Ideally, this lets losing players bow out of a lambasting gracefully, before the fat lady sings, rather than disconnecting prematurely in a schoolboy huff and thus robbing the winning player of the win.
It should be noted that MLB 09: The Show's online play has been tremendously laggy in its first week of play. But because latency issues are so severe, you can expect Sony to issue an on-the-fly networking patch in short order. For now, lag gets a finite reprieve. Just expect a lot of no-hitters...
Sony's MLB The Show series on PlayStation3 has thus far been a great franchise. This third outing, 09, delivers on the expectations set by its predecessors, improves on the graphics, player animation and, notably, on gameplay depth, particularly online.
However, with a few small issues still perplexingly present and no startling advancements to speak of - and with MLB 10 only a year away - MLB 09: The Show doesn't exactly set a new baseball game standard, either.
Though there are a couple million serious enthusiasts likely to snap it up at full price, regular ball game fans might want to just rent it or wait a while for stock to appear in the pre-played bin. In fact, serious enthusiasts might also want to wait for that expected lag fix.
MLB 09: The Show TIP: When creating a player, selecting your secondary position as simply IF or OF rather than as a specific secondary position, which will net you more variety and more play time, especially if someone gets injured.