MLB 12 The Show Review (PS3)
The best sports games, at least on the simulation side of things, are those that best reproduce the sport they represent. We can hopefully project that one day a perfect sports game will be produced; one that completely mirrors its real-life counterpart in every way.
Here’s the problem: because the game it so closely imitates doesn’t change from year to year, this perfect reproduction -- the same down to the smallest detail -- doesn’t change either. And because we expect big innovations in our virtual sports, but not the real ones, it’s called “stale,” “repetitive,” and “boring” by both users and critics.
To be clear, MLB 12: The Show is not that perfect game, and has a long way to go until it is. However, I believe MLB 12: The Show to be the closest and truest representation of a sport on consoles today. You, like me, may find parts to be lacking, and I think that “stale” does accurately describe certain aspects of the game. But taken for what it is -- another step in the quest for the “perfect game” -- MLB 12: The Show is one of the best.
The biggest and best improvement in MLB 12: The Show is the reworked physics engine. Now reproducing accurate spin and deceleration, this feature alone makes The Show worth checking out.
I outlined some of the best places to see the physics in action during my initial impressions, and you really must see it to fully appreciate how this improvement changes the game. You’ll see a larger variety of hits, more realistic bounces and deflections, and various plays unfold in unexpected but believable ways. The physics makes defensive positioning and ratings more crucial and make you think twice about taking extra bases.
I may be overstating it a bit, but I think this under-the-hood change is one of the best ever advancements in virtual baseball.
Of lesser impact are the two new control methods, both of which I’ve been using relatively exclusively.
First is Pulse Pitching, which isn’t that innovative if you’ve ever played a baseball game on iOS. Once you select a location, a contracting circle indicates the pitch zone; properly timing a button press will keep that zone small and your delivery accurate.
I like this system for a couple of reasons. First, it’s easy to see when and how badly you’ve missed your location. It’s also a little harder to paint the black, resulting in an increase in walks. I also like that the speed with which the circle moves is affected by a number of factors, including pitcher fatigue and confidence.
I imagine that this mode might get a little easier as I get better at timing, so it’s nice to know that the other control options are still in place. There also is no way, that I can see, of controlling velocity while using Pulse Pitching.
The other new input mechanic is Zone Analog Batting, a tweak to the analog controls introduce last year. It essentially mixes zone interface and analog controls, making you “aim” while you are swinging.
It works well enough, as I can immediately tell if I jammed myself or simply missed a pitch, but it is a bit more difficult. Right now, I tend to be late on everything, even though the default pitch speed seems to have been reduced a bit. I’m not sure if it’s the batting interface, hitting camera, or pitch speed, but I am finding that I can read pitches a bit better this year, increasing my walk rate.
Other gameplay improvements include collision awareness, new animations, and more bullpen options. These, like the other improvements, are subtle but effective. The animations, in particular, work exceedingly well with the new physics.
If you only play exhibition games, this game is going to sound very familiar. It seems that all of the commentary changes are found in Franchise mode. I will still argue, though, that despite its year-to-year repetitiveness, the commentary still ranks among the best in sports game (trailing the MLB and NBA 2K series).
However, many sound effects have been enhanced, especially the sound of the ball off of the bat. You can clearly tell how well the ball was hit just based on sound.
Regardless of what mode you spend time in, the game will look a lot different, thanks to the TruBroadcast Presentations. Essentially, the game reproduces the camera cuts you’d find during a television broadcast, from dugout shots to pitcher/batter reactions. Oddly, I’m seeing fewer replays this year, which is a little disappointing. Otherwise, the visual elements look great, including (presumabely) improved faces and redesigned on-screen graphics.
Without messing with sliders, I think The Show plays a fine game out of the box. I would say that the games tend to lean toward the defensive side; I’ve seen lots of games end with low scores and sub-10 hits for each team. Again, I’m struggling a bit pulling the ball, which no doubt decreases my power hitting. But I’ve seen the computer jump on bad pitches and take walks if my pitcher is struggling.
I would also say that my pitchers seem to tire a bit too quickly. On the other hand, the CPU pitchers are pulled at opportune times, though I've see the managers go to their closers at weird spots.
Simming in Franchise generated more varied scores. And while my sample size is small, simming through a season produced no red-flags. Again, as more users experience the game, problems may pop up.
Speaking of which, there is a large bug/glitch thread in our forum. I’ll say that I experienced no huge problems during my time with the game. I saw the occasional statistical oddity: errors charged to players didn’t show up in the box score or an incorrect line score reading by the commentary team. But in my time with the game, jumping between the three main modes and exhibitions, I didn’t see any larger issues. This isn’t to say that they don’t exist.
I broke these modes down in my previous article, but to sum up my feelings:
Diamond Dynasty is interesting, but not necessarily as innovative as its marketing would suggest. It is certainly fun, but limited by it’s reliance on budgeting decisions and bad online play.
Road to the Show hasn’t seen many true improvements, other than a change at the beginning of the player’s career. It’s a bit more streamlined, potentially allowing you to skip the slog through the AA league.
The improvements to Franchise are minute, but I’ll defend this mode as one of the deepest out there. Still, it’s going to seem awfully familiar to anyone who spent a lot of time here in the past. Trading with the CPU is refined, but you may still see some wonky CPU/CPU transactions.
Additionally, there are some nice broadcast and UI upgrades; the stat screens and main menu have seen some nice revisions. It's great seeing in-game stats from other games, or the fact that your batter is leading the league in stolen bases.
As I mentioned earlier, my online experiences haven’t been good. I’ve seen a number of disconnects, quits and laggy games thus far. I’m not sure if they can be remedied, but it’s enough to steer me away from online play at this point.
If you are primarily an online user, browse the forums for a wider view of how this game plays against others. This has traditionally been a weakness of The Show; I was (and still am) hoping the focus on Diamond Dynasty might lead to improvements.
As for Move compatibility, it’s neat, but really just a novelty. I can’t see myself or other serious enthusiasts spending a great deal of time playing this way. It’s worth showing off at a party, but certainly won’t replace your controller.
It seems to me, that because The Show already represented baseball so well, its upgrades may go unnoticed by the casual baseball fan. But dig deeper and you’ll find the physics, broadcast and control enhancements really take this game to a new level.
While I’d love more innovations to its main modes, I’m not sure that console baseball has been better than this. From first pitch to last out, this game is as close as it gets.
Learning Curve: With so many options and difficulty adjustments, new players should have no trouble jumping in. Tutorial movies help a bit.
Control Scheme: Horray for The Show: when they add a new control scheme, they don’t take all of the old ones out. The new ones are my preference for now, but I like that I can switch at anytime. Move is an interesting novelty.
Visuals: The new broadcast elements really show off some good-looking faces and environments. I wish there were more replays.
Audio: I think it’s time for some adjustments to the broadcast team, but what’s here is good. Probably the aspect most longtime fans will have issues with, but you’ll occasionally be wowed by some timely and surprising commentary.
Lasting appeal: I’m having a blast playing one-off games, but look forward to investing more time in Franchise and Road to the Show. Diamond Dynasty is good too, but mostly if you are playing the CPU. Great gameplay and three deep modes mean that you'll have plenty to due until next March.
Score: 9 (All-Time Classic)