MLB 13 The Show Review (PS3)
Your opinion of MLB 13 The Show is going to depend, in large part, on what kind of consumer you are. If you embrace “the new” and thrive off of flashiness, or drool over revealed feature-sets, you are probably going to feel slightly disappointed with what The Show offers this year. Those feelings are completely understandable.
However, if you simply appreciate quality titles, regardless of how much they’ve changed, you will almost certainly come to see MLB 13 The Show as the best console baseball game to date.
The Show is back, it's familiar, but it's awesome.
I’ve stated this before: I believe the NBA 2K series is The Show’s only rival when it comes to capturing the total gameplay experience of their respective sport. The Show has been reliably reproducing baseball digitally for at least five years; it does this with a workmanlike dependability. Rarely do we see groundbreaking changes in this series like we did last year, when the physics system was adjusted. More often, each year sees a trickle of slight tunings and sequential additions.
Critics might call this slow progress complacency. However, I prefer to see it as gradual improvement. To use a completely non-related metaphor: it’s a “lifestyle change” instead of a fad diet.
I preface my gameplay comments this way because, frankly, you will see stuff that seems like it’s been in the game for years. Despite the “250 new fielding and running animations” touted by producers SECA, most of the visual gameplay will seem very familiar to what you have experienced in the past.
This extends to long-time quirks of the engine, like fielders who kick into their animations well before reaching the spot, or walls that seem to interrupt, but not end, scripted movement.
The gameplay mechanics are incredibly flexible, allowing you to define your experience.
However, for the most part, MLB 13 The Show plays a great game of baseball. In fact, I would say it’s a more satisfactory experience than even MLB 12. This is due to the small changes that were made to the game, including wider timing windows, a subtle push-pull engine, and tweaked physics.
The wider timing window for hitting ostensibly makes the game easier, but I didn’t necessarily feel that was the case. Instead, it just translated to more solidly hit balls, and therefore, more realistic outs. Instead of a lot of topped and weak ground balls, I was grounding out on sharp hit balls; from my experience, this is a more accurate depiction of real MLB play.
Last year, playing on default difficulty, I struggled to consistently hit home runs. I can’t say that there are too many home runs now, but the ones I hit seemed to make sense, i.e feasting on a hanging curveball. In the long run, I may find that I need to up the difficulty, but for now, I’m happy how the results of my at-bats look and feel.
When I read about the addition of a “push/pull hitting trajectory engine” to the games basic make-up, I was worried that this would be overdone. After a number of days with the game, I think this addition is tuned correctly; in fact, you might not even notice it. In my eyes, that’s a good thing and reflects an improvement that naturally fits into the game’s ecosphere.
Sony also touted a tweaked physics engine; specifically removing too many ground rule doubles. I’m not sure I fully see the difference in this just yet. If you liked the way the ball acted last year, you’ll like how the ball behaves this year.
Things remain relatively static on the pitching side of things as well. Pulse pitching has easily become my preferred method of pitching, but all classic modes are available too. They’ve made Pulse pitching a little more visually appealing by subduing the meter. It looks less intrusive, but super-accurate pitchers and dark chest protectors can be a frustrating combination still.
In the field, the animations still start too early for my tastes, as mentioned above. The new throwing mechanic, called Button Accuracy, is reminiscent of the old MVP meter. To be honest, it’s a little less intuitive though: accuracy is represented by the meter, but strength of throw is based on how hard you press the button. It’s finicky and definitely requires practice; I strongly prefer analog throwing. It’s also too bad the meter is so giant; it’s one of the few ugly spots in what is a visually beautiful game.
The true beauty of the gameplay experience is the customization options you have. MLB The Show is a prime example of how a sports gaming series can introduce new features but still remain as flexible as possible. You can go all the way back to metered pitching if you want, in order to get the gameplay experience you crave. The only excuse for not getting a good game of baseball out of The Show is perhaps just laziness, as the sliders and control options make for a mind boggling variety of gameplay experiences within a single package.
The presenation in The Show remains quite good, but it's also quite similar to it's predecessors.
Like gameplay, The Show’s audio presentation remains largely unchanged. Steve Lyons has been added to the booth, though it’s not a cohesive or exhilarating fit. You will also hear a lot of recycled commentary; though I’ll reiterate that recycled doesn’t mean bad. It is just another facet of familiarity that pervades MLB 13 The Show. Someone who has been away from the series might be excited by the high level of commentary. For some reason, though, there seems to be more “dead air” than in past years.
Visually, the presentation has seen some upgrades. The new on-screen displays are nicely animated, and the scorebug looks very similar to what you’ll see on any national telecast. It no longer covers the entire part of the screen, but is compacted nicely in the corner. Still, it displays nearly all the info you’d want (though I wouldn’t mind seeing pitch counts). The tutorial system is also less intrusive, with helpful tips appearing in the ticker at the bottom of the screen.
As I mentioned in my initial impressions, everything looks a little brighter and cleaner. The color palette has been enhanced to include lots of bright colors on dark surfaces, and I think it adds a level of polish that was absent in past years. In fact, I’d say the entire visual presentation package has never looked better.
Special games, like playoff games and the All-Star game receive special attention, and, in the case of the playoffs, their own mode. I’ll discuss the playoff mode in earnest in a bit, but the presentations in these games are nice enough. New music and wipes certainly add to the excitement and prestige, though some of the commentary is a bit off. The guys in the booth kept referring to a Wildcard game as “game 1” of a series-- I guess technically it is, but no one calls it a one game series but rather a playoff game.
The Show offers a realistic brand of baseball, especially with some fine tuning.
Stats look ok in both single games and when simulating a season, though your experience may vary. Even with the slightly wider hitting windows, I averaged around 12 hits per game and scored between 2-9 runs. Again, with time I expect those numbers to go up, at which point I’ll fiddle with sliders or increase the overall difficulty.
In-season, things played out about how you’d expect--though to be honest, we won’t see real results until the game is in the hands of many users. Stats seemed to be skewed toward the pitchers: win totals were up, while batting average and OPS were down. Division winners, award winners, and playoff results looked ok (Giants won again).
The newest mode addition is the Playoff Mode, which allows for some creative bracket combinations.
The franchise mode received a bit of a facelift this year, both visually and in terms of features. First, the menus has been reworked so that more relevant information is on hand more often. They’ve added a top prospect icon that looks nice, though Sony did remove the newspaper feature I liked to read in the past.
Feature-wise, some of the lesser used aspects of the mode have been streamlined. First, there’s a new scouting feature that is both well-explained and well-executed. Basically, your scouts serve two roles: discovering and evaluating talent. Different scouts will excel at different things, and it’s easy to manage what each will be doing at any given time. I also like that the “blue chips” (also represented by an icon) are pre-scouted, meaning you spend less time on identifying the guys you probably won’t be able to draft anyway. Basically, the entire system makes the amateur draft a more interesting portion of the game.
Next, the training system was redesigned, making it not only easier to comprehend but more useful--especially when coupled with numerical ratings. Essentially, you pick a player (not an entire position) and chose what stats to focus on. This does create a bit of micromanaging, but those invested in their franchise will appreciate the roster control. Plus, if you don’t care about the training, just set it to Auto. Also of use while managing player development is the nice organizational depth chart found on the main screen.
Other minor changes include the tracking of your team’s historical award winners, a ticker that tracks all manner of news and information, and team spending based on historical data. That last one should be a bigger deal, but, to be honest, I didn’t see it play out in my short time with the game. I imagine that this becomes more apparent in your 3rd or 4th year in franchise.
Speaking of budgets, the system has been tweaked to reward you for good performances. I’m not sure how realistic that is--Baltimore or Oakland’s budget didn’t drastically increase just because they made the playoffs last year. However, it does provide incentive for choosing a small budget team and trying to make them into a winner--without playing for 20 or more seasons.
Of all the additions, I think I like what was done to Road to the Show the best. In essence, they took a mode I cared little about and turned it into the aspect I want to play. A few of the improvements that led to this turn-around:
- New fielding cameras: This simple improvement really makes me feel like a fielder, as opposed to just someone running to a spot on the field. The difficulty for even the most routine of plays is just about right. Nothing’s quite automatic--every play will make you sweat just a little. Add in a manual catchign options and tracking fly balls has never been more fun.
- Ability to watch your game unfold quickly: now when simming, you can watch a graphical scoreboard of your game unfold. This is much more immersive than simply skipping ahead, but not as time consuming as participating in every pitch.
- Simplified baserunning controls: While baserunning is still the slowest paced aspect of RttS, the controls have been tweaked to the point of being as intuitive as can be.
Additionally, the wider timing windows will allow you to feel more success early on (at least as a batter). My power hitting outfielder hit two homers in his first game off a power pitcher; of course, I went 0-5 in my next game against a Jamie Moyer wannabe.
The commentary in this mode focuses on your player only when he’s featured. I can’t say it was compelling enough to listen to every time. However, the rest of the audio effects--subtle coaching instructions, immersive crowds, and stadium sounds--are top-notch.
Playoff mode is about what you’d expect. The enhanced broadcast and atmospheric elements are in full effect: specialized commentary, new music, playoff logos, etc.
I was surprised to see that when setting up the playoff bracket you aren’t limited to actual potential results. If you want every team from a division to make the playoffs, you can set it up that way. This isn’t a big deal, and might create some interesting scenarios, but it is odd. The game does restrict you to keeping the AL and NL separate until the World Series.
Could 2013 be the year The Show finally has a really good online experience?
Of the main online modes, Diamond Dynasty 2.0 and MLB Live, I was only able to experience Diamond Dynasty. Besides some revamped menus and a nice textual tutorial (found in other aspects of the game, by the way), this doesn’t seem that different. That said, I didn’t spend a great deal of time in this mode, either last year or during my review time, so hardcore DD players might find more to appreciate. As it is, it’s the third (and now with MLB Live, perhaps the fourth) best way to play the game. It’s still a bit more complex than it has to be, at least for those only looking to dabble in the mode.
Speaking of MLB Live, while it’s not active yet, I really look forward to what this mode offers. The ability to replay games from the season with correct stats and lineups is a neat concept. Sure, it seems pretty much lifted from what 2K has been doing, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
Speaking of online play, my experience was much better than last year. I didn’t have any lag or timing issues. I did have to wait a few minutes for a “traffic delay” prior to a game, but I assume that wait helped smooth out the process.
The only other online oddity was that, while batting, the pitch seemed to disappear slightly earlier than expected and there was a tiny delay between when I swung and when the ball was put into play. This didn’t affect my swing or contact at all, it was just a slight timing inconsistency that was noticeable. So far, the online component (granted the servers may be less taxed than later on in the season), seems much more playable than year’s past. Again, with all things online, your mileage may vary.
MLB 13 The Show offers an incremental and logical step forward for the series.
If you are the kind of user who will be upset that this year’s changes are only incremental, there’s not much I can say to change your mind. This year’s changes are small but effective; yet that’s been true for a few years. There are no sweeping changes to either the core gameplay or the individual modes. And for some, that may be a valid reason to not buy the game. Call it the “MLB 12.5 defense”.
However, for those of you who appreciate that SECA doesn’t rip major features out, replace them with something that doesn’t work, then revert to a previous feature set, you’ll find a lot to love. Again, the changes are effective; the only things that don’t quite work for me are the new throwing mechanic and the commentary. One I can live with; the other I can change to a system I like better.
And so when you take a core game that has been as outstanding as The Show has been, and proceed to tweak and refine nearly every aspect, you end up with a stellar game. If you are on the fence, I encourage you to be the kind of consumer who values the incremental improvement; you may just find a gem of a baseball game.
In fact, by improving on the already great MLB 12 The Show, SECA may have just created the best baseball game in this, or any, console generation.
If you are a fan of baseball, pick up MLB 13 The Show -- it is a must buy.
Score: 9.0 (All-Time Classic)
Learning Curve: The new beginner mode is interesting, but most vets will blow through it in a few games. For newcomers, it will be a welcome addition, as will the various tutorials
Control Scheme: There are more choices now than ever, for each aspect of the game. The new Button Accuracy didn’t quite work for me.
Visuals: While not much has changed, you might catch a new animation or batting stance; generally they look nice. Very occasional animation hiccups. Overall, a superior level of polish.
Audio: I like Matt Vasgersian well enough, but his lines are getting old and don’t seem to flow well with what new guy Steve Lyons has to offer. Otherwise, crowd noise and stadium sounds are very good.
Lasting Appeal: Many ways to play, all relatively different. Franchise, Season, RttS, MLB Live, Playoff Mode, Cross-platform HR Derby, Online Leagues, and Diamond Dynasty create a very deep package, backed by solid gameplay.
Online: Better than previous years, at this point. Still not as smooth an experience as playing offline.