Games 3/9/10: MLB 10 The Show, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Jungle Swing

MLB 10 The Show
Reviewed for: Playstation 3
Also available for: PSP
From: Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Maybe the best news about “MLB 10 The Show” is that nobody broke anything.

In terms of fundamentally emulating the game of baseball, “MLB 09” got practically everything right. The audiovisual presentation blurred the lines between video game and real-life broadcast. The button-based pitching and hitting control schemes didn’t shake things up and use the right stick for the sake of doing so, and they straddled the “easy to learn, hard to master” line almost perfectly by sticking to stuff that works just fine. Fielding felt entirely natural, baserunning controls made sense, the pace of every action felt right, and the game had just about every base covered in terms of features to complement what was an unprecedented emulation of professional baseball.

The simple act of getting all of that right all over again makes “MLB 10” a pretty amazing game straight out of the gate, and players who logged a significant number of hours into last year’s game will spot any number of little presentational details — in camera angle selections, player animations, outside-the-lines interactions, day/night lighting effects, even something as innocuous as public address system announcements — that have been added or refined during Sony’s continued pursuit of broadcast-quality perfection.

A few gameplay tweaks, including more expansive pickoff controls and an optional mound warmup mode for incoming relief pitchers, also are present. But the fundamental game has not been mucked with just for newness’ sake, and Sony’s decision to reheat what already worked so perfectly well absolutely works to the “MLB 10’s” advantage.

For the most part, the show’s primary talking points lie in the features realm. The “Road to the Show” centerpiece, which lets players emulate the rags-to-riches career of a minor leaguer with Hall of Fame aspirations, returns with slightly better incidental controls and, for catchers, a significant (and overdue) emphasis on the value of calling a game.

The frighteningly deep franchise mode, meanwhile, now allows up to 30 players to play armchair general managers in the same league. Also included: a mock e-mail inbox to streamline franchise-wide communication and an interface for examining and managing player injuries. The practice mode also makes some needed enhancements, better emphasizing pitching and now including fielding training as well.

“MLB 10’s” resurrection of the Home Run Derby mode isn’t a particularly splashy development, but the matter in which it returns — alongside the Futures Game in an all-points replication of All-Star Week festivities — perfectly underscores Sony’s ability to understand the wants of baseball fans and go a step beyond the expected.

That goes as well for the new multimedia features: The ability to save end-game highlight reels won’t rock anybody’s world, but the new Movie Maker feature, which allows players to cut and edit together game highlights of their choosing, just might. “MLB 11” needs to include some functionality for sharing these videos online to really make this feature sing, but as is, it’s just another toy in what easily has become the premier video game baseball playhouse.

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC
From: DICE/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)

All the important bullet points that were present in 2008’s “Battlefield: Bad Company” — and, fundamentally, just about every “Battlefield” game in the series’ magnificent lifetime — are present in “Bad Company 2” as well. Mechanically, there might not be a better military first-person shooter, and the multiplayer component that is the franchise’s hallmark has only improved with the refinements DICE has made.

This is good, maybe essentially so, because the single-player campaign that was such a major surprise in the first “Bad Company” has taken a slight turn into sophomore slump country this time around.

This isn’t the same as saying it’s bad, because for the most part, the campaign actually is pretty good. “BC2’s” gunplay is every bit as polished as that of “Modern Warfare 2,” and the more expansive environments and amazing attention to sound detail, to say nothing of the staggering tech that makes pretty much everything destructible, arguably make it the new best in class.

“BC2’s” warfare also is more tactical in nature: It’s easier to die here on normal difficulty than it is in “MW2,” and the battles place a premium on fighting defensively and catching enemies unaware over mindlessly rushing in with guns blazing.

But while “BC2’s” campaign takes full advantage of all these exemplary mechanics, its stumbles are too notable to ignore. Checkpoints are placed inconsistently, occasionally sending players through a long string of firefights that all need to be repeated if something goes wrong at the very end. Three A.I. squadmates are on hand to assist throughout the majority of the campaign, and they’re as fun to listen to as they were in “BC1,” but when they aren’t hanging too far back to even participate, they’re demonstrating some comically bad aim. Enemy soldiers, perhaps sensing this, overwhelmingly target the player no matter how the battle is arranged. (In case you’re wondering: Sorry, no co-op support.)

Too many moments like these — and a few unfortunate instances of contrived scenarios that require contrived solutions — add up to a campaign that, while still absolutely worth playing, outstays its welcome before the credits roll.

Fortunately, and to absolutely no surprise, “BC2’s” single-player action really is just an elaborate primer for the obscenely good multiplayer, which takes all that wonderful tactical gunplay and puts it to spectacular use on huge maps with fully operable vehicles (tanks, helicopters, even jet skis) and up to 23 other human players.

Per “Battlefield” tradition, “BC2’s” multiplayer modes emphasize teamwork and strategic 12-on-12 territorial play over the lone-wolf run-and-gun deathmatch action most multiplayer shooters favor, and the diversity in player classes speaks to that approach. “BC2’s” upgrade and perks system isn’t as elaborate as “MW2’s” upgrade bonanza, but with so many more strategic possibilities available right from the start, it doesn’t need to be.

Still, in what amounts to a nice compromise, “BC2” introduces the squad deathmatch, which pits four four-player squads against each other in an old-fashioned free-for-all. The action’s a bit more uncorked here than in a typical “Battlefield” excursion, but not so much that it doesn’t betray the things that separate a “Battlefield” shootout from the rest of the pack.

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Jungle Swing
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Category 5 Games
iTunes Store Rating: 4+
Price: $1

A number of factors have come together to make the iPhone a surprisingly viable gaming platform, and the unassuming “Jungle Swing” pretty well illustrates all of them. Conceptually, it couldn’t be simpler: The goal is to keep the monkey swinging, Spider-Man style, from tree to tree without falling into the water, and the further he travels, the better the score. Playing “Swing” is simple, too, but as is the case with the best low-concept games, mastering the timing and swing physics takes a lot more skill than the one-button control scheme initially implies. A handful of unlockable item
s and upgrades is on hand to reward players who sink a lot of time into the game — a simple feat, given how easy it is to knock out a game or two during the course of a spare moment — and OpenFeint support sweetens the deal with online leaderboards and unlockable achievements. Finally, there’s that price tag. “Swing,” like so many absurdly-priced iPhone games, costs as much as a bag of chips, and the price-per-pound value is incalculably small for players who really get into the game and all it has on offer.