Welcome back to another year of the big league, players.
It's another year and another MLB season ready to start, and of course another MLB game from Sony. For more than a past few years, Sony has been able to deliver one of the best baseball video game experiences since Jaleco's Bases Loaded. Now, don't get me wrong, 2K's MLB game isn't bad, so don't go thinking such a thing from this review, but it simply cannot compare to what Sony has delivered.
This year's MLB title focuses on some new additions to the series, but mainly focuses on improvements to the gameplay, animation and presentation (is that possible? Yes). Let's start with the gameplay mechanics, which covers pitching, catching and fielding. Without getting those right, your baseball game can slowly slide to mediocrity.
The first thing, and the one big thing this reviewer is very happy with in terms of gameplay additions, is the ability to change the game to Beginner Mode. While I certainly appreciate the difficulty of the game when it's on rookie and above, and enjoy the challenge of an actual baseball experience, it's nice to dumb it down a bit and allow for some fun. It's like playing F1 from Codemasters, if you have it on default then you better be prepared to know your F1 racing experience backwards and forwards. In comparison, if you have the default on MLB 13 The Show then you better be prepared to come hard or not at all. Some of us don't want to play the game at the level, but wish to enjoy all the fruits of the game's labor in the process. That's what the Beginner's Mode is for and one that will probably help bring in more baseball video game fans than Sony previously had. That's what MLB 2K offers, more of an arcade experience without the detailed reality that comes with the game.
In addition to the ability of playing the game in an easier way, you also get some finer details to comb through. One of the neatest details is the Push/Pull Hitting Trajectories Engine. While I can't say that I used it a lot (press select to activate it), I do appreciate and understand that hardcore baseball video game fans will love how this engine pretty much labels a batter a certain type of hitter. For example, you can find out if the hitter is a pull hitter or maybe an opposite field hitter, which will help you determine pitch positioning and pitches in general. It's the little details that make MLB The Show one of the best, if not the best baseball game on the market, and this is one example of why.
Related to that is the improvement of the hitting engine. One of the coolest improvements in gameplay has got to be how the player can push/pull the ball when batting. Where the ball is placed, how far it is away from the batter will determine how the batter pulls/push the ball. It's incredibly accurate. For example, Ryan Ludwick had been striking out in almost every at bat in the Reds first game of the season against Washington. I had been swinging either too early or too late at the ball thrown in all his at bats (sorry, Ryan). Losing 1-0 in the bottom of the Ninth, one man on base, Ludwick comes up to bat again. The pitch was thrown, I waited until it almost got to the plate, and I mated Ludwick's quick cut with the bat perfectly with the ball trajectory. It was a thing of beauty. So much so that I actually captured and saved the replay. Sony did a great job with
Another new piece of MLB 13 The Show you'll notice when you start a game is how Sony has included a fielding meter. It's a familiar sight, if you have played the PSP version of MLB 11. This is similar to the old pitching meter that the series used to implement. Now they've simplified this meter (now called the Button Accuracy Meter), evened it out and added it to fielding. This curved meter has a red/yellow/green/yellow/red scheme with the obvious spots being bad to good to bad. When your player fields the ball you are not only required to press the appropriate base button, but also now required to get your moving playhead in the meter to as close, or into, the green area as possible. Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, it takes some getting use to, if you don't outright hate it. This is a huge minus in mind, as I can't really understand, other than providing an extra challenge to the player, why Sony would include this in the game. Maybe it's me, but it's tough just remembering what buttons represent what bases on a year to year basis.
Switching gears a bit, some of the modes the title offers are the big drives to this series. The biggest, and one that is replicated over and over in other sports titles like Madden NFL, is the ability to create a player and raise them through the ranks of the MLB with Road to the Show. That's been the big draw with The Show. Much like other modes in other games, you create a player and go through the ranks trying to prove yourself at both your position and at the plate. The bursts are short and one-sided with main focus on your player, not so much the game itself. Goal oriented, Road to the Show is a wonderful break from the long hours playing the regular season game, and improved from last year's title.
Along side Road to the Show is a new mode called The Show Live. This is about as real as baseball gets in a game, as you get results from the real game pumped in to The Show Live. So, if it's a particular date and you play The Show Live then you should expect your team to play the game that is actually being played in real life. If one of your players gets injured (like Joey Votto -- not to curse him) then that injury gets updated for The Show Live. It's like playing Fantasy Baseball, but ACTUALLY playing the baseball game without just staring at stats. It's brilliant, detailed and a fun option if you're a hardcore baseball fan.
While this isn't everything that was improved and added into this year's MLB 13 The Show game, it's some of the finer points that are memorable to this reviewer. For the most part, the gameplay experience has vastly improved, sans the Button Accuracy Meter.
Now, let's talk presentation.
I think that Sony has pushed the PS3 to its limits with the animation included in MLB 13. Starting with the models, they are smooth, detailed and eerily full of facial expression. For example, when Aroldis Chapman (go, REDS!) was locked and loaded on his way to deliver his pitch, his eyes moved over to first base to check the runner. It was detailed and noticeable. Honestly, it's insane to think that they included that finer detail. And it's sort of creepy at the same time.
On top of those type of details, you also get some very smooth animation with this game. From the motion of pitches to fielding, and even the batting, everything looks so damn smooth. Nothing seems choppy, which is impressive considering where this series started from. Another smooth detail is how the movement of the arms, legs and clothing no longer seem segmented from each other. Everything flows with a seamless motion. It literally looks about as real as this generation could possibly produce, which is scary to think about when we know the PS4 is on the horizon (my mind can't even fathom how good this game is going to look on that system).
Now a few negatives to the presentation.
The stadiums, while gorgeous, tend to miss little details that should be there. For example, the netting behind home plate at Great American Ballpark is missing. Technically, if a batter smacks a foul ball back behind home plate then someone is either going to get seriously injured or killed. The protection from such an event simply isn't there in the game. I saw it 'not there' about 4-5 times, so I know it wasn't my imagination. I do understand this isn't a big deal in hindsight, but it is a noticeable to the reviewer eye. If you're going to bring the goods then you should make sure you bring all the goods.
Another knock is the commentary in the game. It seems a bit stiff, even with Steve Lyons in the booth. The announcers seem very unexcited about the game and repeat far too much dialogue. Don't get me wrong, they do their job, but there has to be either a better script or better announcers waiting in the bullpen for next year. Sheesh, add Gus Johnson. He might not know baseball too much, but wow does he make every game he announces exciting as hell.
The last knock on presentation is the stiff crowds. While I will admit that the crowds serve their purpose, and outshine most games of this nature, they still just sit and stand in perpetual motion. The one big plus to the crowd is that you actually have people trying to catch the foul balls. Other than that, you get the up/down noise from the crowd, but nothing else. Heck, bring in some music, clapping and/ or stupid crowd jokes from the PA announcer to shake up the game a bit. It will be a grand day when crowds actually have life.
Overall, I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons in terms of presentation. You will still be in awe of how good this game looks and how much detail players come with in terms of looks and animation. I'm very impressed at the end of the day with MLB 13 The Show's looks.
So, as each year passes and new sports titles arrive, the much debated question of value must be brought up. Will you get enough with this year's MLB as opposed to last year's to warrant the $60 price tag? Or should Sony start thinking about charging $14.99 for updates after establishing an initial graphics package and standard modes? Well, I can safely say that there's enough here in MLB 13 to warrant the big bucks. Better looks, added modes, improved online details and vastly improved gameplay really make this separated from last year's game. That's the type of update you hope for on a year to year basis from a sports title. Sony delivers it and it's worth the money they're asking. Hardcore fans will be in absolute heaven with this title, while visitors of the series enjoy their stay. There's enough here for a high level of intensity and fun, and it's worth the asking price.