Reviews

MLB 11: The Show

Baseball as complicated as you'd like it to be.


MLB 11: The Show

Players: 1-4
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Price: $59.99
Rated: Everyone
Platforms: Playstation 3
Release date: 2011-03-08
URL

One of the greatest things that baseball games have to offer is their differing levels of complexity. It seems that baseball games (and indeed possibly sports games as a whole) are some of the most accessible as well as terrifyingly complex titles available. It's all a matter of how deep down the rabbit hole the player wishes to go, and it never once feels unusual in the context of playing the sport. I myself do not really have a lot of skill when it comes to the finer points of baseball games, but I absolutely adore the strategy that goes into playing: switching up the line up, knowing when to steal and when to stay, fiddling with the pitching rotation. All of these things are what I really enjoy about baseball. It's like chess, if chess involved a lot more physical skill and sweaty guys scratching their crotches.

When I play a baseball game, I will very rarely be interested in the actual game itself -- the actual hitting and pitching bits, I mean -- and instead I will invariably get caught up in checking the stats of my players and investigating whether or not anything can be done to halt my team's losing streak because I was spending too much time playing with concession stand prices and not enough time playing the actual game. MLB 11: The Show stands out not only because its manager mode is the perfect mode for someone like me who is and always will be awful at the timing required for actually hitting a baseball but because the variety of controls actually got me to stop scheduling bobble-head nights in favor of actually playing baseball.

Once you get past all the junk that makes me frown every time I pick up a PS3 game (the save/load times seem interminable and having to wait for the system to install and then update the game in its plodding way will never, ever be something that I suddenly begin to appreciate, and if I had one major complaint about the show, it is the fact that every time you change gears you have to give up nearly 30 seconds while the system saves), The Show opens up a vast playground of baseball delights. It's almost overwhelming at first: do I play a simple exhibition game or do I start a franchise or do I just play a season? Or maybe, maybe I will make my own character and begin the Road to the Show mode, which allows you to create a player using a character creation tool that would feel more at home in a Bioware game than in a sports simulator and take him through a career, beginning with a draft to an MLB farm team and continuing through your ascent to the big leagues, which is presumably "the Show" that the road your player is on leads to.

The Road to the Show mode is probably one of my favorite things, if only because I was able to finally achieve my dream of having a slightly overweight outfielder do a terrible job at hitting balls but a good job of catching them -- thus, successfully recreating my one year experience with playing the actual sport in second grade. It feels very RPG-like, complete with training exercises to raise the all important statistics, which in turn will improve your odds of moving up the ranks of your organization in order to make it to the big leagues. There's a lot of fun in just sitting in the outfield and knowing that whenever it cuts to you there's going to be a ball headed your way; the game fast forwards so that you are only in control of your player when something is actually happening to him.

This intimate way of playing the game stands in stark contrast to the franchise section, which allows you to play the games in "manager mode", which involves watching your team play baseball while giving broader strategic commands and swapping out pitchers. I enjoyed this mode a lot too, if only because I am generally terrible at hitting baseballs and not having to worry about it so that I could concentrate on telling my player whether or not he should bunt and whether or not my baserunners should attempt to steal was oddly refreshing. If, however, I ever got frustrated at my hapless team, I could always step in and attempt to influence the outcome with my own skills. Or if I just wanted to play the Team Owner, I could ignore the playing of any baseball entirely and fiddle around with concession stand prices, send out scouts to find new talent, and attempt to trade off players.

The Show features a couple new ways of controlling the game this year, including the new Pure Analog Control, which promises a greater level of control over the players in pitching, hitting, and even fielding. I found them to be true to their word -- there's a lot of control there, and it is all very, very precise. Too precise for my tastes, to be honest. The 2k series has had analog controls for a long time now but this is a new addition to The Show, and it definitely shows. It is really neat to be able to aim your hits and pitches with extra precision, but the hitting seems a little off at times and the pitching I honestly never quite got the hang of (partially because I never figured out precisely what the game was asking me to do in order to pull a pitch off properly). Fortunately for me, the classic controls are still there, and for those of you who are terrible with power meters on pitching (like me), you can do away with them entirely and go back to one-button pitching. You still aim the pitch, but you no longer have to use a power meter. This is fantastic, and really makes the game accessible even to those who are far more casual in their gaming habits. You can also use the Playstation Move to control the game, but I do not have a Move so I was not able to test this control system.

The bottom line in all of this is that anyone with a PS3 and even a passing interest in the sport of baseball owes it to themselves to own a copy of this game. Whenever I considered getting a PS3, the fact that I could own a copy of The Show factored heavily into the decision -- it may not be a system seller for most people, true, but it was definitely a system seller for me. The presentation is solid (although I could do without the licensed song soundtrack. In fact, let's just do away with soundtracks in sports games altogether, they have never once failed to make my ears bleed). The game looks good graphically, and the offer of multiple control styles -- not just reassigning buttons, but completely different mechanics -- is lovely and makes it very accessible. Very simply there's a lot to be said for spending an hour or so playing a nice game of baseball. No matter how in-depth you like your baseball games, The Show can deliver the experience that you're looking for.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image