05:35 PM - January 20, 2012 by Pared
As we await the return of spring, baseball fans wonder what suprises a new season will bring. Building off the excitement of probably the single greatest postseason in baseball history, video game fans are once again looking towards the annual release of a new crop of baseball games and the innovation and improvements they bring. MLB12: The Show is one of those titles and some would argue the best baseball series fans should experience (and perhaps the single best sports video game title available).
The driving force behind a title with such critical acclaim primarily is due to the stellar gameplay that offers a realistic recreation of the sport of baseball. As some sports games continue to toe the line between arcade fun and simulation, MLB: The Show consistently sides with the simulation side of sports gaming. The development team’s focus on a true-to-life digital offering of the sport continues to reel gamers in with an experience that requires very minimal adjustments and that tradition is even more noticeable this year.
New this year is a pitching interface, aptly named Pulse Pitching. This mechanic comes into play once the user selects a pitch. Offering a beauty in its simplicity, players will be faced with a pulsating circle that can be moved around the strike zone and must attempt to press the X button at the smallest possible size. The size of the circle indicates the zone in which a pitch will cross the plate. This user-defined area is not the only possible result however; you will find your pitch randomly travels out of this selected zone, all based on pitcher ratings, situation, etc. The maximum and minimum size of this zone also varies, so the ability to pinpoint your pitches was never a concern.
Having spent a little over a week now with this mode (between November and January) I have to admit that it was extremely well done. It reminds me much of High Heat Baseball’s pitch result where you would throw to an area and your pitch would land in different areas from the user-selected zone. This takes that concept a bit further however as you can specify just about an area in and around the strike zone.
There are some things I would like to see in this mode, such as the ability to select the amount of effort. Currently this is done for you. It does not in any way detract from the mode but I still would like to see it and without a visual cue (similar to Classic pitching). The developers wanted to make the mode user friendly and succeeded. With that said, I will be using this mode for pitching this year. It is extremely well done.
Hitting finds the inclusion of Zone Batting plus Analog as a new option this year. While analog hitting was introduced last year, some fans asked for the ability to move where the bat will swing through the zone courtesy of the Left Stick. Well, this year that wish was granted – and boy is it difficult! Thankfully there is a slider for timing your step so you can make this option easier or more difficult. One thing to note is how the developers listened to the feedback and now offer it as an option.
As I am sure you have read, the ball physics were completely redone this year. The impact this has on the game is monumental – I can’t stress that enough. Balls react off the bat with a sense of realism missing from MLB: The Show games in the past. This is one of those things where you never realized just how big an impact it made until you see it in its new iteration. Pitches up and in are no longer blasted for opposite field homeruns – you either turn on the ball or hit a flare to the opposite field. And this is just one example – many more become noticeable as you play over time.
Hit Variety continues its yearly evolution in this series. If you have not noticed, our trips to community day have helped the game benefit from an increased variety in each of the past 2 years. This year is no exception. In MLB10, hits down the line were finally realized thanks to the discovery of a long-time bug in the game. In MLB11, high choppers were added allowing for some interesting plays in the infield. In MLB12, line drive gappers and flares are now a thing a beauty. Gone are the hits to the gap where the corner outfielders would cut the ball off at a high rate. Their normal position was moved just enough to the foul lines to eliminate this as a result of a great interaction between Chris Gill, Lead Gameplay Producer and myself and nemesis04. It pretty much sums up the benefit of such an event as gave examples back and forth as to how the change can benefit everyone. This still will allow for hits down the line to fall into the corner, something that was a concern. Fielders were also slowed up a bit to allow hits to drop in over fielder’s heads – late game defensive substitutions are especially key now more than ever.
Fielding feels very responsive and more accurate thanks to subtle changes in animation speed and selection. Bunts are no longer a gimme as gone are the glove pickup, pump and throw animations from the catcher and pitcher when there is a sense of urgency. Dives are now possible all over the field, not just near the diamond; outfielders have more opportunities to dive and it shows. This is all in part to catch animations not triggering as early as they did in the past. I still would like to see the scenario where your infielder dives over a ball cleaned up. As it is, diving for a ball you MAY have reached results in you going over the ball when one would expect the fielder to smother the ball. Fielders also bobble the ball much more now. You still see throwing errors a bit more than fielding errors (I saw this with analog fielding and rushed throws) so I would like to see a few more. Regardless, there are REALLY nice situations that arise, such as a bad hop coming up on routine ground ball and “eating up” the fielder. Take out slides are certainly in the game so expect to be able to break up the double play. Catches by the first basemen are better; not as all over the place as in years past. However, they could offer a bit more routine chest catches instead of the side and high ones. As an aside, I did make this incredible catch at the wall to rob a homerun that resulted in the room letting out a universal “OH!” – I don’t think any game has ever captured this better.
Analog throwing has been tightly tuned and what a difference does it make. The routine throw animations have FINALLY made it in on groundballs in the infield and are completely user controllable. A preloaded flick on the stick to the base with plenty of time to spare results in the fielder doing some nice pump and throws to get the runner. This did not result in the runner being safe, either; the correct throws were being played. A preloaded flick and hold resulted in a harder throw to a base. The system works how one would have expected it to last year so the refinements are welcome.
Baserunning has not seen the improvements one would hope for considering the other areas advancing as much as they have. Runners still slide into bases when they should be making turns (such as a base where there is no play) and the lack of “rounding the base” animations at times look a bit un-natural because everything else looks so much better. It’s not the worst – just did not advance much. Maybe next year this area can receive the attention it deserves. On the other hand, stealing bases seem to be well balanced. Pick-offs do not happen too often and the CPU relents at times as opposed to previous years where it would throw over constantly. They also pitch out at times, which is nice to see.
Tags seem to be cleaned up a bit but I did see one instance where the ball beat the runner and fielder didn’t go straight to block the runner from the bag but rather choose to do a sweep tag. This was a sole instance but it is worth noting. There are completely new scenarios for catchers on a play at the plate. They do swipe tags and other animations that are new. Missing from what I experienced are the collisions during close plays. They may be there, but it was very difficult to trigger them.
I can’t help but focus on just how good the game has come together. There is this… synergy that is present with all of the changes that allow the game to feel different than before, but more importantly respect the game of baseball. In our short time with the game, I can’t even begin to point out all of the great scenarios that were a direct result of all the changes this year.
MLB12: The Show is shaping up to take the series to new heights while still staying true to their roots. The gameplay has a refreshing new feeling that will take center stage once consumers have a chance to try out the many changes seen this year. After experiencing what some will end up saying is the best playing game in the past few years of the series, this is one show you will not want to miss.