So far, I’ve spent a handful of hours with the newest edition of MLB: The Show. And, so far, my impressions will report that I’m, in fact, “impressed.” Most of the changes this year are sort of “under the hood,” but I think for the serious baseball fan, there’s a lot to like.
On the other hand, if you are a casual fan, you may miss what really makes this game stand out. Similar to NHL 12, there are a lot of aspects that look and feel the same as last year.
The Show’s approach has been gradual and effective refinement, as opposed to blowing things up for the sake of a bullet point on the back of the box. One could argue that these changes have come too slowly; others would say they are just hard to see.
Here are three aspects of MLB 12: The Show that have grabbed my attention thus far:
Presentation is an area where The Show receives a good deal of criticism, and for a couple of reasons. First, the MLB2K series has done a better job of recreating the TV broadcast, at least in the past few years.
Secondly, the audio commentary hasn’t changed in a while. If this is one of your main gripes, I’ll warn you: without spending any significant time in Franchise or Road to the Show modes, it is not much different this year. I hope next year, they jettison everyone but Matt Vasgersian.
However, if you look at presentation in a larger scope, you will find a lot to like the MLB 12’s presentation.
TruBroadcast Presentation is a wonderful step toward more accurately reproducing what you see on TV. I love the camera cuts to pitcher or hitter reactions between pitches. And the improved defensive introductions look like something right off of ESPN.
To see these though, you really have to let the game "breathe." I’ve developed the bad habit of pressing X to jump to the next pitch. This year, there’s reason to not do that. Still, if you are trying to squeeze in a game before work or cram in a three game series in one evening, you may end up missing this feature.
While the commentary remains the same -- still good, but getting harder to defend each year -- other sounds have been vastly improved. The bat sounds are fantastic; they are pretty varied and much more realistic than last year. Additionally, the “pop” of the ball in the catchers mitt sounds a lot better too.
Then there are the little changes to the broadcast elements, like more realistic player banners and some nice graphical effects. One nitpick here -- the “video” that plays under transitional screens looks surprisingly low-res compared to everything else in the game.
I haven’t spent a great deal of time in DD, but at this point, I’ve played it more than any other mode. I think this is going to be good place to lose a few hours, especially if you plan on waiting for Knight’s rosters before starting a franchise in earnest.
First, despite the many criticisms lobbed at EA’s Ultimate Team modes, they know how to produce slick interfaces. The menu system in DD, on the other hand, is a little clunky, and not organized quite how I’d expect. Also, unless you watch the tutorial video, there isn’t a whole lot of help to be found in-game.
Still, I really like the ability to create a fully customizable logo, modify uniforms and edit my “generic” players. I think more than EA’s Ultimate Team modes, there’s a strong sense of ownership with the DD team. When you play, this team will be completely yours; there isn’t a strong push to simply collect the best MLB players or create a team of real-world teammates to artificially boost chemistry.
I’m not sure how much I’ll visit this mode once I sink my teeth into Franchise or RttS, and its longevity is certainly tied to the online experience. But, for now, its a fun way to learn the game while playing “meaningful” baseball. Let’s just hope we see a full “Expansion” mode next year.
This is probably the biggest and most important improvement for 2012. The way that the ball physics have been tweaked really is a “game-changer,” in the most literal definition of the term.
To fully explain what impresses me with these physics, I’ll direct you to three examples:
The first is the often meaningless foul ball. In past year, you could line a foul ball into a tarb, the fence or the backstop, and it would either stop dead or shoot like a marble into the corner. Now, it’s almost fun to see what kind of crazy hops and spins are produced by hitting the ball off of surfaces never meant to produce a predictable hop.
The next example is evident in grounders up the middle. These seemed to be relatively routine last year. Either they found the hole and skidded into centerfield, or they were sucked in by a middle infielder (who did or didn’t record an out).
This year, these hits can produce the craziest and most interesting plays. I had a ball hit sharply off the front of the mound, send the pitcher reeling, and land in shallow center. I saw a “Baltimore chop” sail over the charging pitcher, then snagged by the shortstop who didn’t have a play. And I got to see my second baseman lay out and smother a ball under his glove. And while I’m sure that these plays happen at least once a day in the real MLB, I’m not sure I saw anything quite like them in last year’s game.
Finally, the most game-changing way I’ve seen the new physics engine work is in liners to the gaps. Most of these used to be automatic doubles, as the ball often skipped to the wall.
On my first solid hit to the gap, I was easily thrown out at second. You see, the ball, after it hit the grass, took a slow, perfectly natural-looking hop right at the fielder. My previous Show experiences had taught me that these hits were an automatic double, so I was mashing R1.
I’m excited to see what other ways the physics engine plays out in game situations. I’ve read forum posts mentioning tipped balls, balls caroming of bases, etc.
Again, at this point, I am pretty excited by the additions in MLB 12: The Show, and I haven't touched yet on the new hitting and pitching interfaces. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at The Show's various modes.