Two-plus weeks into its life, MLB 11 The Show’s online component is a train wreck. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but even when things are at their best, The Show is a frustrating mess of strange design, poor decisions, and stuttering gameplay. For many gamers, this is a non-issue; to be frank, online multiplayer has never been at the top of the majority of baseball fans’ priority lists. Unlike football, and to a lesser extent hockey and basketball, the grand old sport doesn’t lend itself to the action-oriented nature of the internet. Even so, there’s a healthy contingent of us that would love a seamless online baseball experience. The Show fails to deliver that.
Oh, where to begin. If you head to the online menus and choose “Play Now” you’ll get matched up randomly with another player in the default game settings. These settings include the oh-so-heatedly-debated “Guess Pitch” setting turned on, which automatically means that “Play Now” games are useless to a majority of Show players. Why? If your opponent successfully guesses which pitch you’ve selected before you throw it, this eliminates your ability to control it – you immediately become a spectator until the ball is released. We’ll leave whether this is a good thing or not up to the community at large, but our opinion is that it stinks.
For us, this eliminates the “Play Now” option altogether, which means we need to wade into the awful Lobbies to find a game. We’ve seen our fair share of lousy user interfaces, and The Show’s lobbies qualify for that list. Once you’ve entered a specific room – at least they’re named appropriately, like “Guess Pitch Off” or “Rookie” – a tiny menu at the bottom left of the screen, accessible only by the Select button, lets you see if you’ve received any Challenges and accept them. A giant text box takes up the left side of the screen, which is about 75% bigger than it needs to be considering every message is either “GM” or “GM?” as other lobby residents try futilely to see if you want to play. You can also navigate the list of players on the right side to send them challenges yourself, view their gamer cards, and so forth. “Clunky” would be a kind way of describing the overall experience.
It should also be noted that, inexplicably, there’s no way to gauge the connection speed of your potential opponent while you’re deciding whether to play them. This has been present in the past, but for reasons unexplained, it’s now gone. It’s not until you have actually started the game that you can tell if the person you’re playing has a strong connection, or if you’re about to enter a barely-playable lag-fest. Bizarre.
Bad news bears
On the field, the action is muddled and much different than the silky-smooth offline play. Pitches tend to briefly disappear and reappear as they get near the plate, swing animations don’t always occur, and overall timing becomes a guessing game. At the best connection speeds – which we experienced a handful of times – these problems are present but not overwhelming. It’s only natural for internet-based online multiplayer to have occasional hiccups, after all. However, the majority of the games we played weren’t optimal, and we experienced plenty of the dreaded “traffic delay” pauses when our opponent’s speed wasn’t, well, up to speed. We also had a few flat-out disconnections once we got started. Overall, there was nothing compelling us to keep playing online.
Don’t even get us started about the online leagues. Literally – we couldn’t get one started. The Show’s development team put a 14-day delay from release on the ability to start an online league. Then, once they became available, certain restrictions further complicate matters. For example, you need to have a certain reputation ranking/experience level to be able to manage a league. It seems to us that paying the full price for the game should be enough of a requirement. But we’d be wrong.
If you bought MLB 11 The Show with an eye on heavy online play, you’re going to be deeply disappointed. It’s sad that a sublime title with so many amazing qualities has (so far) served up such a dud when it comes to this important component. We suppose some of these issues can be addressed with a patch, but have seen no information forthcoming. While it won’t change our overall love of the game, it’s definitely a red flag for those of you hoping for a better online story.
Mar 28, 2011