Baseball season is right around the corner and once again, it’s time to enjoy another great virtual simulator. As is has been the case for many years running, MLB: The Show has delivered the very best in terms of realism, authenticity and depth. And although the most recent entry doesn’t feature all the improvements necessary to make this an elite title, the game remains excellent in most important aspects. Baseball followers have yet another great sim from Sony and indeed, it is slightly better than last year’s installment.
The graphics continue to improve as the game very nearly lives up to the bold advertising claim, “So real it’s unreal.” If a casual passerby saunters through the room and quickly glances at the TV while you’re playing MLB 13: The Show , he or she might actually think for a second that they’re looking at a real baseball game. The detail is amazing, the presentation is awesome, and the Broadcast camera mode is just a pleasure. Everything from the animations to the ambient visual and audio effects enhances the realism, despite a few unfortunate glitches and miscues. For instance, players disappearing into the outfield wall isn’t uncommon.
That being said, the overall production shines. This is due to the obvious dedication and almost unrivaled diligence on the part of the developers to create a believable experience. The sound is almost as good as the graphics, as we hear everything we’d expect to hear at a ball game. There are the shouts from the crowd, the crack of the bat, the satisfying sound of dirt flying during a slide, etc. And considering that each batting stance, pitching style, and proper professional animation combines with accurate audio effects, the package is complete and impressive. The commentary falls a little shy, though, as the obviously competent announcers repeat clichéd lines far too often.
This is a sports simulator and as such, gameplay is undoubtedly the most critical factor. The good news is that everything you liked about last year’s entry remains, while the designers have worked to iron out a few kinks. For instance, they added the Pulse Pitching mechanic in the 2012 iteration and that still works well, although you always have the option of using the analog stick or face buttons. Pulse Pitching requires a certain amount of timing that is entertaining and challenging, and I like that extra realism comes into play when the pitcher starts to tire. Find your favorite pitch style, master it, and become a star hurler!
As for hitting, it’s pretty much what it should feel like. If you were a little hazy on the subject, hitting a baseball is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, especially when it’s coming at you in excess of 90 miles per hour. And it’s moving . This is why the best hitters on the entire planet can only hope to get a hit once in every three plate appearances, if that. Therefore, if you’re looking for the arcade ridiculousness of old-school baseball games, you’re gonna be disappointed. This is all about recreating the insanely difficult task of hitting that very small sphere as it travels at high velocity. So don’t expect to score ten runs in your first game.
The zone-based swing is the closest you’ll get to reality, as batters really do have to guess at the pitch that’s coming. Otherwise, they don’t usually have much hope of hitting it. Or you can opt for the analog option, which also feels authentic because on a very tiny scale, the sensation is that of actually swinging a bat. The only problem I have is that the balancing seems a little off, in that using certain mechanics for hitting gives you a perceived edge. That could just be my personal preferences, of course. There’s every chance that you might settle upon a hitting style that to me feels impossible.
Fielding works out fine, too, as you get throwing meters that dictate how hard and how far you throw, and movement is relatively simple. The camera can be a bit of an issue, though, especially with hard-hit balls. It can prove difficult to get the fielder in the appropriate position in time, because it’s somewhat jarring when the camera switches quickly. Of course, it kinda has to and if I had been part of the development team, I wouldn’t have had a good way of dealing with this relatively minor issue. You just have to get used to it and once you do, most everything falls into place. The ball physics still seem a little wonky to me, however.
Obviously, the highlight is always the same for this franchise— The Road to the Show mode. You start out as a lowly minor leaguer and after choosing your position, it’s time to start the unenviable process of working your way to the Bigs…it ain’t easy, as just about any professional baseball player will tell you, and this mode reflects that challenge. Okay, it clearly doesn’t mirror that challenge from a physical standpoint, but you get my drift. The point is that you really have to be patient and learn the ropes if you wish to get called up. This mode hasn’t changed much, but now you can track the ball after you hit it (just tap R1), and zero in on the third-base coach when running (L1). Small updates but much appreciated.
The biggest addition is the The Show Live, which features a constant stream of real-time updates from Major League Baseball. Hence, any trades, injuries and other occurrences that happen in real-life will affect your virtual experiences. On top of which, you’ve got a ton of options and customization choices, so you can set it up precisely the way you want. This mode works best if you intend to be a hardcore player for the entire season; otherwise, you might want to stick with the other, less demanding, modes. Multiplayer is fun, too, especially when you’ve got a few friends sitting around the living room playing with their favorite teams and players.
Control is just about right, although I have to say the camera isn’t always perfect, and those minor glitches I mentioned before can affect the gameplay in some freak occurrences. Furthermore, if you really step back and look at it from a bird’s-eye view, you’ll see a pretty similar game to last year’s effort. At the same time, I think it’s a little better because of the refinements and additions, so baseball fans should appreciate that. I just expect that when this franchise enters the new generation on the PS4, we’ll see a true step forward in regards to unparalleled authenticity and believability. The foundation is set; it’s strong and reliable, so we just need to significantly build upon it.
MLB 13: The Show is a great simulator, there’s no doubt about it. Baseball aficionados will appreciate the huge amount of depth, reliable and responsive control, top-notch presentation, and added enhancements. The improvements are relatively minor and in general, this is essentially a slightly better version than last year’s game. But there’s nothing wrong with that, because hardcore fans want the very best experience possible, and this qualifies (for now). Here’s hoping that MLB 14: The Show , presumably on the PS4, will seek to explore new horizons in the realm of realistic interactive sports. I'm looking forward to that.
The Good: Excellent visual presentation with great detail and animations. Great overall technical presentation. The Show Live has the depth and realism die-hard fans require. Positive tweaks and refinements. Road to the Show is still a big highlight. For the most part, control is solid.
The Bad: A few lingering (and comical) graphical mishaps. Camera isn’t always perfect. A small improvement over last year’s edition.
The Ugly: “Everything’s so pretty until you zoom in on the crowd. Woah…wicked pixel-y.”