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Review: MLB 2K13 is the Miami Marlins of baseball video games

MLB 2K13 Screenshot - 1138958

Everyone has at some point of their lives known a married couple that shouldn’t be together. Like, they’ve been together for a while, but the spark is gone and the two are just empty shells of their former selves. Yet they go through the motions, staying together for the sake of the kids while they sleep in separate bedrooms. Divorce has been thrown around a few times – and they might have even split up at one point – but then, miraculously, they were together again, acting as if nothing had ever happened. But they’re not fooling anyone. Everyone knows that they’d be better off if they were divorced, rather than carrying on the charade.

And that’s what MLB 2K13 is – a marriage that just needs to end.

There was a time when the union between Major League Baseball and 2K Sports was a good one, but over the years, that relationship has eroded. Everyone thought it was over until a few months ago, when the two announced that MLB 2K13 would be released.

As a baseball fan, there’s nothing I want more than for Xbox 360 owners to have a baseball game they’re not embarrassed to own. After a rough patch, the MLB 2K series looked like it was taking baby steps forward, but 2K was hemorrhaging money from their deal with Major League Baseball. The fact of the matter is, the series was losing them money. When the announcement of MLB 2K13 came out of nowhere, everyone was afraid that it would be last year’s version with updated rosters – and that’s exactly what it is.

There is seemingly no love or effort put into the game. Actually, after playing the game, I question whether the developers at Visual Concepts are fans of baseball at all anymore. It’s not a good sign when in the first game I played, I encountered a bug that essentially broke the game for me, forcing me to restart. Seriously, I was up at bat in the seventh inning. I’m pressing directions on the d-pad, attempting to bring up the substitution menu, but I hit the wrong direction, and it brings up a batter-pitcher interface instead; it shows the hot zones for my hitter against right-handed pitchers. I click around more, but can’t get the interface to go away. So I pause the game and attempt to make a substitution through the pause menu. The problem is that ‘substitutions’ was grayed out; I couldn’t go into substitutions. I un-pause it, but the interface is still up on the screen. I can’t do anything. I decide to wait and maybe the pitcher will throw a pitch. Instead, I stare at the mound as Philip Humber stares right back at me, holding the ball in his hand for ten minutes. So I restarted the game…

I’d talk about the game modes present in MLB 2K13, but they’re no different than what’s in 2K12; if you want to read about the game modes, check out our review for MLB 2K12 and read that. Instead, let’s move on to the visuals.

Graphically speaking, this is one of the most uninspired efforts I’ve experienced in some time. Player models, stadiums and textures are pathetic when compared to other sports games on this console generation. Players don’t resemble their real-life counterparts, and I’m often left wondering if I’m looking at one of my favorite ballplayers or someone dressed like that player, standing outside of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, attempting to get a tourist to pay for a picture. And the shadows – oh, the shadows. Do you remember Triple Play Baseball 97 on the PlayStation? Those polygonal player models make an appearance in MLB 2K13 as the shadows of players in the batter box. The shadows are either 1997-quality polygons or pixelated beyond all belief.

Animations are a bit smoother, but there’s still so many instances during the course of a single game that will frustrate you. When turning a double play, the fielder cutting to second base would slow down, often without a sense of urgency to swipe across the bag and throw to first. What should’ve been double plays consistently resulted in only one out. Maybe it’s because I play primarily as the New York Mets, who don’t have a real second baseman, but come on…

The physics are really off too. I know how the human body moves and how momentum works. When a fielder is running at full speed to get to a ball, upon receiving that ball, they don’t freeze in place to make a throw. Ball physics are a crap shoot, as well. I repeatedly hit hard line drives right back to the pitcher, hitting him in numerous parts of his body, with such force that it would fly in the air to another fielder. Pitchers must be wearing Tony Stark’s Mark VII Iron Man suit, because they don’t even flinch. They take it a ball in the face and don’t give a f**k. When in reality, an impact like that often results with this:

pitcher hit with line drive

Camera angles, specifically in the outfield, are improved. Other instance, like stealing a base, offer an awkward view. As your runner approaches the bag he’s stealing, the action will slow down, and the camera will shift to a close-up of the bag. Then, right before the throw is completed, the view changes to one zoomed all the way out, so you can’t see the action and tag at the bag. God forbid you get in a pickle when stealing a bag, it gets presented in a manner that looks like slapstick comedy worthy of The Three Stooges. I’m not nitpicking when I say that taller pitchers make your pitching view look comically awkward. Using the 6’7” Jered Weaver of the Angels made every opposing batter look like a little leaguer. Consequently, their strike zones would be smaller, and the pitch marker with its arrowed motion would often be larger than the strike zone.

All this taken into account, MLB 2K13 isn’t a complete disaster. The controls for pitching and hitting remain strong. Pitching in particular is still the strongest of any baseball game to-date. Hitting takes a while to get the timing down, as it’s hard to pick up pitch speed. After a few games, I was well-adjusted, but those first few games were rough. Once again, it might’ve just been due to the fact that I played as the Mets. And if that’s the case, MLB 2K13’s hitting was exactly how it should be. The rosters are all updated, as they should be, and the Houston Astros have moved over to the American League, but I have a hard time giving the game credit for that. Also, the commentary is a really strong point of the game – probably the best of the series thus far. Steve Phillips (hate you for ruining the Mets), Gary Thorne and John Kruk deliver a ton of detailed stats and commentary that’s pertinent to the situation.

Sadly, if commentary is the best part of your baseball game, it’s not a very good game. I guess beggars can’t be choosers.

If MLB 2K13 was a baseball team, it would be the Miami Marlins. The owner clearly only cares about money, doesn’t know squat about baseball, puts no effort into the franchise, yet still expects fans to praise his work and support the team. And just like all of South Florida calling for Loria to sell the Marlins to an owner that cares and could put a good team on the field, fans of baseball video games should be hoping for the same thing with MLB 2K13. It is simply not acceptable to put the same exact game as last year’s out there, with no real improvements made.

Needless to say, it’s time for a divorce. It’s not you – it’s me. No, actually, it’s all you, MLB 2K13.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

You can follow Senior Editor Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ. He likes talking sports, video games, movies, and the stupidity of celebrities. Email at LLiebl@GameZone.com

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Lance Liebl Gamer, Disney enthusiast, opinionated sports fan, movie buff, and a father of two. You can follow Lance on Twitter @Lance_GZ.
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