Review: MLB 13 The Show returns to the plate with some welcomed changes
Annualization is a tricky thing when it comes to video games. More often than not, gamer fatigue sets in. Ideas and mechanics that were once new and fresh begin to feel stale and dated. For sports video games, this is especially hard to overcome due to the fact that there must be a new title every year because, well, the sports world doesn't stop. Somehow, though, Sony has managed to rise to the challenge, year in and year out, with MLB The Show.
For four straight years, MLB The Show has been the highest-rated sports video game, though last year's installment was a minor letdown in terms of what we've come to expect from the franchise. Gamer fatigue, or just a few decisions that didn't necessarily pan out? When you look at a game that follows the yearly release pattern, the important thing is for the developer to admit what went wrong and improve upon the faults of the game. Sony has taken a good, long look in the mirror, recognized where last year's The Show failed in certain areas, and improved those areas with key features in MLB 13 The Show.
MLB The Show has offered the same great gameplay for several years now. Since 2006, it has been one of the most realistic baseball simulations we've played. This year is no different, as MLB 13 The Show still has that realistic gameplay while switching up a few mechanics that make it a little more easier to hit. The most notable feature being a new Beginner Mode, which basically teaches you the fundamentals of the game using an adaptive AI system that updates your skill level on the fly.
Settings on any sports game can be changed to reflect your skills; so rather than adjust the difficulty, let's address the actual mechanics. The actual contact box for hitting has been expanded upon, allowing for more ball contact -- and resulting in more base hits. This doesn't necessarily mean more runs, or losing that realistic feel, but just a more encouraging experience.
Even for a veteran player like me, in last year's version it was extremely difficult to make contact with the ball; it was discouraging to say the least. After playing a few games in MLB 13 The Show, there was a noticeable difference in how much easier it was to actually put the ball in play. My average runs per game were generally higher than an average baseball game, but a few adjustments in the settings allowed me to fix this. Again, it's the actual hitting mechanic that makes for a more pleasurable experience.
In terms of game modes, MLB 13 The Show sees the return of fan-favorite modes, Franchise and Road to the Show. Franchise has you take control of an entire team's organization -- from the single A team to the Major League rosters. This year, Franchise mode goes a little more in-depth with a new team budget that focuses on a reward-penalty system. This system is solely based on your team's performance on the field. It allows for a more dynamic league in which small-market teams can become big spenders due to sustained success. As the Cubs, I already had a favorable budget, but even in a losing season I managed to increase my budget. Like any franchise, your farm system is key. A revamped scouting and training system allows for more direct control when dealing with the future of your organization. It's really in-depth and time consuming, so patience is required.
My only gripe with Franchise mode is how the tasks are presented to you. For someone who is not already an expert in baseball, or isn't familiar with the intricacies of the free agent/drafting system (Rule 5 draft anyone?), you'll practically be lost at sea. There are some tutorial messages, but they hardly explain everything that goes into managing an organization. I love the thought of controlling my favorite team, but unless you're a baseball expert, you will be overwhelmed. Even then, the entire Franchise mode might be a little too big for its own good.
On a side note, it's amazing how many no-name players I found on the roster -- looks like I'll be waiting another year for a World Series. Thankfully, a new Post Season Mode allowed me to quickly skip past the rigorous 162-game schedule and head right into the playoffs. Post Season Mode allows you to play with one or all 10 teams, in the newly implemented playoff setup (with the Wild Card play-in round). Aside from just skipping the regular season, the playoffs have a totally different presentation. The crowd noise is amped up to reflect the excitement of playoffs, the broadcast presentations are more glamorous, and the overall feeling is just more intense as it recaps series prior to each game.
Road to the Show has undergone some presentation changes, allowing for a more immersive and realistic on-field experience. The camera and audio systems have been overhauled to replicate an on-the-field experience.
Graphically, I'm hard-pressed to say MLB 13 The Show is much of an improvement over last year's installment. Sure, we've got all new TruBroadcast presentations with new scenes, new cameras, new music and audio, but The Show on PS3 and Vita is starting to show its age. There's said to be over 250 new fielding and running animations, 50 new pitching motions, and 90 new batting stances; unfortunately, many of these are hardly noticeable changes. MLB 13 The Show still looks great, but with the PS4 on the horizon, I'm simply ready for something more, something better. This isn't necessarily the fault of the game, but rather the age of the system.
Some other new modes that I'll touch on, but didn't get a chance to experience include The Show Live and the cross platform online Home Run Derby. The Show Live is basically an exhibition-based mode that takes real data form MLB.com and populates daily match-ups, lineups and starting pitchers. You're basically playing alongside the regular season, which is why I haven't yet been able to experience it. Though when the season does begin, The Show Live will feature up-to-date player and team statistics with commentators referencing the previous day's events, based on what happened in the real world.
The servers for cross platform Home Run Derby, meanwhile, went live today. This will allow PS3 and Vita players to engage in a Home Run Derby competition in a seamless experience. Check back later this week for our thoughts on the cross platform Home Run Derby, along with the review of MLB 13 The Show on PS Vita.
MLB 13 The Show is the perfect example of how to take community feedback and implement changes based on that feedback. It doesn't necessarily feel like a brand new game, but it definitely feels like a polished one. That's because many of last year's gripes have been addressed and fixed. It's more than just a roster update; it's a complete overhaul of certain game mechanics and game modes, along with the addition of new modes. For baseball fans who own a PS3 or Vita, MLB 13 The Show remains a must-buy.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]