inFocus

“And it’s outta there!


Game Info
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: SCE San Diego Simulation
Genre: Sports Simulation
Release Date: 03/05/2013
Meta Score

 

Games exist to fuel fantasy. We want to fight huge dragons, topple a tyrannical regime, live a life of crime without consequence, or, sometimes, become a superstar at a sport. Striving to be excellent at a sport is part of the American psyche, something that drives kids from Little League to high school athletics with a single-minded purpose to become better and maybe, just maybe, have a shot at making that a reality.

As the (most likely) last installment designed solely for the PS3, MLB 13 The Show exhibits a calm and collected command of everything that has made it the best selling baseball game in years. And it delivers a fantasy that is one of the most endearing things we can hope for. Leaving the vast majority of a solid and stable engine unmolested, San Diego Studio has focused their attention this year on Road To The Show, and boy does it pay off. Since sports game hardly change from year to year, and elements of MLB 13 follow this trend (for good reason: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) , this review will highlight the differences and how they impact play and differentiate this year’s installment from previous iterations.

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Story: Stories and sports games don’t usually mix, but nowadays with the ubiquitous Create-A-Player mode (MLB’s being Road To The Show), sports games have had to up their ability to tell a compelling narrative in a way that was previously ignored for simple one-on-one games between friends.

MLB 13 The Show’s Road To The Show mode has seen the most improvement over the last couple of years as compared to the more standard fare like Franchise mode. In this year’s Road To The Show, major aesthetic changes have been taken to make the entire experience of driving your player from the minor leagues up to the majors as intimate as possible, putting you as close to being in an actual major leaguer’s boots as the game can get.

A new dynamic camera puts the focus on the ball, not on the player, meaning that while you’re fielding, your perspective will track an in-flight ball as it arcs across the sky or skitters along the field. This has done a number of things to how you might play an outfielder in RTTS. Previously, you ran your player to a large baseball symbol on the field whose size indicated how close the ball was to landing. Now, with the camera fixed up into the sky, an on-screen indicator tells you where to move to get in position. The overall gameplay is relatively unchanged, however the entire event of fielding a fly ball in left field is now an adventure that has the feeling of a lot more riding on it. Similarly, while running the base paths, the two shoulder buttons can focus your player on the ball out in the field, or on your third base coach so that you can make better base running choices while running on the paths. Again, this isn’t a drastic game play alteration, but changes the entire experience of playing at the professional level.

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They’ve also removed the audio commentary over your actions while playing in RTTS, focusing instead on the on-field interactions. When running, you’ll hear your base coaches shouting instructions based on the situation, and when in the field your fellow defenders will shout out the best plays to make or if you’re nearing the wall while chasing down a deep fly ball. It does take away some of the drama from the moment when you crush a home run and listen to the announcers get just as excited as you do while you’re rounding the bases, but after major plays the camera will “swoosh” away from your player and give you a brief little flashback or highlight with some commentary. The problem with this system in its current form though is that the commentary will often get cut off when the simulation picks up again or when it’s time for your player to make another move.

In addition to the revamped audio presentation, the visual presentation has been changed to be more personal and make you feel like your player is really having an impact on the wider world of baseball. After every advancement period, a brief pre-game video will have the commentators discussing your current situation, how you’ve been performing and how your organization is treating you. If you’ve been passed over a few times for advancement and are still stuck at AAA, they’ll make comments on the building frustration. When you hit your first home run at any level, they’ll have a personalized little bit where they discuss how exciting a moment it is for you. These have no in-game effect other than boosting your own little ego, but that’s what you want out of creating a narrative for your hero-player, isn’t it? After all, this is the fantasy we’re paying for, to be the big star that rises up from nothing and is recognized for his greatness, and the new presentations do a solid job of delivering that kind of wish-fulfillment.

These changes feel mostly arbitrary but they the close camera and lack of play-by-play add to the illusion (and the fantasy) of being physically present on the field. The changes will take some getting used to for veteran RTTS players especially for those out there in the outfield, as the camera changes can be rather jarring the first couple of times, and there’s no proper RTTS fielding minigames or training to help newcomers to the arrangement. It’s just gonna take a few errors in the field to learn how to read the new layout properly and make plays.

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Gameplay/Controls: The newest addition to playing MLB the show is Beginner Mode. Featuring a dynamic difficulty it starts newer players off with fastballs down the middle from all AI pitchers. Once you’ve started to get good contact with those, it’ll move the fastball around the strike zone. Eventually the player will work their way up to being decent enough to face any of the pitchers throughout the game, and for all its purpose, it does it rather well, however anybody who has a modicum of playing time in with an older copy of The Show will have no trouble lining up some good shots in this one.

That’s because they’ve opened up the timing window for batters, meaning that it’s easier to get solid and good contact on the ball than it has been on previous versions. This takes some of the stress out of hitting (especially while in the minors in RTTS when your Contact skills are still frustratingly low). It has also, in a surprise turn of events, opened up a lot of online play to be more enjoyable, partly due to the favorability of a wider timing window when paired up with some lag issues. Unlike previous years, you’ll be able to get good wood on the ball while battling it out over the internet, and should help the game move along a livelier pace than it has in the past.

They’ve also added a few new tweaks to how players field the ball. A “Button Accuracy” system takes a familiar concept such as the throwing meter (with pitching) and matches it to how hard you hit the button of the base you want to throw to. These factors help determine the type of throw, how on target it is, etc. And for added defensive challenge, they’ve introduced a manual catch button. Now, while fielding, you won’t just automatically glove the ball, you’ll have to hit a button to close the mitt around it, meaning that those sketchy little hoppers to short are going to be just as tricky to grab virtually as they are on the actual diamond. This feature does have a little bit of an issue when paired with RTTS outfielders as the angle of the camera into the sky makes it hard to judge distance and depth, but they’ve introduced a new ball halo and ball arc that is defaulted on to help judge the speed and position of an in flight baseball against an baby blue sky.

Of course, all these new features are exciting and expected, and add a new spice to the game if you’re a five season veteran or so, but one of the greatest things about The Show is its level of customization. You can mix and match play types and controls as you see fit to better suit your particular style. With every year that San Diego Studio has introduced a new control feature or setup, they’ve left in the older models, so to speak, so that players are never forced to match wits with whatever new element has been added. It means you can keep enjoying the new game modes and features while using familiar controls at all times, and it’s a rare case where a developer has clearly got the player’s best interests at heart and in such a transparent way.

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Graphics/Presentation: The game is still as beautiful as always. Each stadium bristles with authenticity and color and the deep oranges of sunset for those primetime games and stark lights in the middle of the night when it’s the bottom of the twelfth. The animations are smooth and a with each year’s touch of variation, plays work themselves out in more and more natural rhythms. Presentation has been upgraded a touch too, giving a far more authentic broadcast feel than in previous iterations.  The best way to experience this is to play the new Postseason mode where the epic confrontation of October baseball is brought to prime-time levels of intensity and focus.  You won’t find a prettier baseball game (or even a better looking sports game in general) than with MLB 13 The Show.

Audio/Sound: Stadiums rock, wood cracks, and players shout out helpful instructions in the heat of a big play. The sounds of the Show have always been an integral, albeit overlooked, instrument in the feel of playing at the major league level. Matt Vasgersian and Eric Karros return in the audio booth for the play by play with newcomer Steve Lyons. Unfortunately, as with previous years, you’re going to find yourself hearing oft-repeated phrases over and over again as high-probability situations proliferate. This is lessened somewhat in RTTS (where it was almost criminal in previous years) by not including the audio commentary in the plays until they’re done or you’re witnessing a flashback. The ability to record your own cheers and jeers for custom created players is back as well, and with the new focus on intimacy in the RTTS mode, stadium sounds have been turned up, so those voices in the masses are even more prevalent in this year’s Show.

On the field sounds really play well in RTTS with fielders, umpires, coaches, and the stadium all factoring in relative to your player’s position, really sealing the deal of being on a professional baseball field, and even better, they offer pertinent information relevant to what’s going down. Umpires will announce the count in case you don’t feel like checking the graphic in the upper left corner. Coaches will tell you to make the turn to second or hold up at first, players will shot “Got it!” and “Back off!” if they’ve got the line on a fly ball and you’re coming on too strong.

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Replay: Sports games have always had a pretty high replay value over the years, at least until the next iteration comes out, and this is no exception. Your best bet for diversified replay value is going to be while playing Road To The Show, as experiencing our national pastime can vary greatly when you’re going back and forth from playing the pitcher in that big game against the heavy-handed slugger, to fielding hot hit ground balls over at third, or chasing down would-be home runs in Center Field. The sounds, the strategies, and the new perspectives to look at your favorite ball parks through will keep you experimenting with positions long after your first career has gone to Cooperstown and the annals of history. The friendlier contact timing window and Beginner mode will also mean it’ll be easier to coax those friends of yours who were never into MLB to join in with less fuss and micro-management, and perhaps get you another buddy to play some of the co-op multiplayer with, online or otherwise.

 

MLB 13 The Show is the best baseball fantasy your money can buy. It improves on previous years by focusing on the fan favorite Road To The Show and giving it more than just a few adjustments. There’s a real passion for baseball in this game, and if you have even a sliver of it in yourself, you’re going to find yourself having a wonderful time going through everything from the thrill of taking your career all the way to the Majors, to leading that one storied franchise through a hectic Postseason. If you’ve ever had a big heart for our national pastime and the prestige and history that goes along with it, make sure you check out MLB 13 The Show.

Written By: R. Burke Kearney


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