MLB The Show is the king of baseball video games. Their challenge every year is to improve upon what most would describe as the best baseball simulation available for any gaming console.
That's not an easy task.
Because of the series' past excellence, expectations and standards are extremely high each year. To Sony's credit, I can say that there appears to be a sincere attempt to build on what they have established over the years.
I've had the game for a few days now, and early on, MLB 13 The Show appears to be consistent with that trend. I'm not quite ready to give my first impression/review, but after taking a look at all game modes, and a good amount of gameplay, I've compiled a fairly-detailed preview.
Here are the specifics on the upcoming release, and a look at the new features in this year's game.
Release Date: March 5
Visual and Presentation Enhancements
Improving on the Beautiful
Let's face it, The Show is already arguably the best looking sports video game on the market, and the game may have already maxed-out the visual capabilities of the current generation of gaming systems.
Even if it hasn't, it is unlikely we'll see any game drastically improve visually so close to the release of the PS3 and Xbox 720.
That said, the graphic improvements with The Show will likely have to come via presentation and tweaks to lighting and shading. The Show has changed their presentation package this year, but this may equate to a different look, and not a better one.
The TV broadcast appeal was already apparent, so honestly speaking, there wasn't much improvement needed in that area.
Steve Lyons Joins the Booth
Dave Campbell is not part of the announce team this year. He has been replaced by former major leaguer, Steve Lyons.
The three-man booth concept is the new trend in sports video games. It works very well in NBA 2K, which is the current standard bearer in sports video game commentating, in my opinion.
Hopefully The Show series can perform on that level in this regard.
New Modes of Play
Many gamers have found The Show series challenging—almost too challenging for some. The developers at Sony San Diego heard the gaming community's cries, and will introduce Beginner Mode this year.
The mode is designed to allow gamers to start on a novice level, and progress in difficulty as they get better in the game. If you're stuck in a rut, the game won't continue to increase the difficulty while your team is mired in a 0-for-30 slump.
This is an excellent way to endear the series to those that may have been discouraged to try it before. Check out this video that describes the mode in detail
With the online presence in gaming, it has become more and more en vogue to incorporate some aspect of the current, real-life season that sports video games simulate.
The MLB Live mode is new to The Show series, and it aims to do just that.
Gamers can play any game from the current season's schedule: past or present, with appropriate pitching matchups and other roster changes in place according to the date.
That, baseball fans is awesome.
The Show will feature real-life roster feeds on a daily basis to keep the details current. Here is a developer video further detailing this new mode.
The postseason feels different in real life, and it should feel different in a video game as well. The Show series is trying to capture the different environment, intensity and presentation this year.
You'll see different stat overlays, on-field banners like "NLCS, etc.", commentating references, crowd attire and intensity.
Obviously, this will be apparent when and if you actually make the playoffs in your season or franchise mode, but in case you want to skip through all that, The Show allows you to arrange your own playoff bracket.
The playoff pairings are fully customizable with the new wild card format.
Oldies, but Goodies?
Road to the Show Enhancements
The single-player controlled concept is now standard in every team sports video game. The Show's RTTS mode is attempting to clearly differentiate between a full team-controlled experience and the RTTS.
The camera angles are different and more player-specific, and the baserunning and fielding controls have been tweaked in effort to make them more intuitive for this experience.
I haven't played enough of it to give a solid opinion as of yet, but that will surely be a focus in the first impression review.
Online leaderboards have also been added into the RTTS experience. Gamers will be able to track where they stand overall, and in accordance to the position of the player they are controlling.
Franchise Mode Expansions
This is still my favorite game mode in sports video games. The Show doesn't appear to be neglecting this age-old favorite. This year they have implemented dynamic budgets for each team.
This way the Kansas City Royals won't be stuck with a $47 budget forever. If you control them, and they have success, they can become big spenders like the New York Yankees.
Scouting is also a focus this year.
Minor leaguers are labeled as Top 50 prospects in the scouting screens, and this looks to have a bigger impact on the long-term success of your team.
It also appears that the game will track each organizations Hall of Famers, and previous award winners league wide.
That's hot stuff.
This was one of the few things I didn't care for with MLB 12 The Show. The online experience for baseball can already be a little daunting because of the time requirements, but if you throw in lag and instability, things can be really hairy.
The servers for The Show 13 aren't up yet, so it is impossible to speak on this aspect in any way beyond conceptually.
Leagues are to have new scheduling processes, and gamers will be allowed to scrimmage against other gamers in their league.
We can only hope the technicalities don't derail the exciting concepts.
Diamond Dynasty Improved?
Another staple of the sports video gaming genre is trophy-based, card-collecting hybrid modes that allow gamers to create their own teams from professional players.
They can then take their teams online to compete against other gamers who have compiled teams. The Madden and FIFA series have done really well with their incarnations of the modes known as Ultimate Team.
The Show kicked off their attempt at the modes last year, and while Diamond Dynasty had great ideas, it was impeded by some server issues and convoluted menus.
This year, simplifying the menus and of course improving the servers is said to be a focus. With the servers still inactive at pre-release, we'll have to see if these improvements will allow this mode to reach its awesome potential.
Home Run Derby
The Derby is what it is; you either love it or hate it. If you do like it, you have to be impressed with the possibilities of competing cross platform with PS Vita gamers.
I'm not much of a handheld gamer, but this is still a great concept. I'm curious to see just how this plays out.
Some Little Big Things
New Minor League Stadiums and Unlocked Classic Stadiums
There are seven new minor league stadiums in The Show this season, and gamers finally will not have to purchase or unlock classic stadiums like the Metrodome.
I'm very glad about that, as I love multiple and old school stadiums.
However, I'm still waiting for someone to bring back the Create-A-Stadium feature.
Every sports game has some sort of XP system it seems. Finally, The Show joins the ranks. Some gamers ignore it, but making the accumulated points count is the key to making them relevant.
With the concept still relatively young in the series, I wouldn't expect it to play a monumental role in your experience just yet.
New Throw Meter
A new and more intuitive throw meter has been implemented for fielders. It finally gives gamers control over how hard and accurate they are on throws.
It may take some getting used to, but overall it should be a plus moving forward.
Looking Forward to Release?
I'll have a full review for the game on launch day, sans some online specifics. By then I'll have spent an inordinate amount of time with the game. But as of now, I'd have to say I'm excited about what I've seen.