MLB 13 The Show is here, and PS3 baseball gamers can rejoice on a level equivalent to the way football gamers celebrate when Madden releases. Virtual ballers experience a similar level of euphoria when NBA 2K hits the stores.
One thing you should know about any review that drops on the day of release is that it can't effectively evaluate the online aspects of the game.
In most cases, the servers for the games either aren't active yet, or they haven't faced the full workload, because only those with review copies are online.
For a definitive look at online modes, and some even deeper analysis into an extended experience, I generally revisit the game in a week or so to either confirm or adjust my initial impression/review.
That said, let's talk about MLB 13 The Show.
Graphics and Animation
What's new, the game is beautiful as usual. This continues to be one of the best looking sports video games in existence. The animations are still extremely fluid, but there isn't much improvement from previous years.
It is hard to deduct anything from them in this area, though. I truly believe Sony San Diego has either maxed-out the PS3's visual capabilities, or they have been instructed not to push the envelope any more with the PS4 coming out.
The use of lighting, shading and textures is purely textbook for games of any genre. These screenshots are a prime example
The look of the ballparks and players are amazing. I never get tired of seeing or marveling at just how great this game looks. The dissatisfied nature of many gamers will clamor for more, but I'm not sure thats's realistic or fair in this instance.
If you're already dating a pretty girl, do you continue to put immense pressure or her to get even more beautiful every time you see her?
Some may, but this is already a knockout, and it isn't as if there are other games that have surpassed it, so I won't pretend to be dissatisfied.
Graphics and Animation—9
Gameplay and Realism
The Sacrifice of More Control
The Show series has always played well, but this year there were a few changes made in an attempt to clean up some of the minor imperfections.
Some of the changes work, some just re-direct the minor flaws.
For example, I love the implementation of a throwing meter for fielders, but I'm still trying to get used to having a rather large meter appear above the head of the fielder.
It's a difficult line to tow. The developers are trying to give the user as much control as possible. But how can you do that without showing a meter on-screen?
I am more used to it now than when I first started playing the game, though. Ultimately it may become the equivalent of the yellow first-down marker on the field when you watch the NFL on television.
People that watch the NFL consistently barely notice it now, or it has become a part of the way they view NFL football.
Pitching, Hitting and Physics
The hitting and pitching are largely unchanged conceptually, which is also not a bad thing. I had no problems with the pitching and hitting engines before, so it wasn't an area in major need of attention.
The best aspect of The Show's gameplay is the ball physics. The ball's response off the bat, off players, the bases and pretty much any other structure in the field is solid. It can't be understated how much that adds to the realism.
The only two missteps in regards to physics is the balance of speed and ballpark size. Sometimes it still feels as though the combination of outfielder speed, and park size makes extra base hits a bit more challenging than they should be.
It's not as bad as it was in the past, so I don't mean to say that doubles are rare and triples are impossible, but sometimes it feels as though plays at second base may be a little closer than they should be.
Some hits that go to the wall should be stand-up doubles, but will still require a slide to reach safely. This is especially the case when you don't have a speedy guy rounding first base.
Another ever-so-slight issue is the collision detection. The players glide through one another in some instances. Though it isn't game-impacting, it's a little disappointing from such a great-looking game.
It would be nice to have the real-time physics that nearly every other sports game is using in The Show.
Addressing the Difficulty Level
One pet peeve I have is the inconsistency with the catcher appeals on check swings. The verdict from the first and third base umpires is still inconsistent, and possibly even more inconsistent than in previous years.
This can be maddening, especially since it is still pretty difficult to hit the ball as it is.
That brings me to one of the biggest enhancements in gameplay. The Show allows gamers to start their journey on something called Beginner Mode this year.
It is conceptually designed to let gamers start on an easier level and work their way up to a bigger challenge as they improve.
It works decently well, but I'd like to see the difficulty increase a little quicker. I may be stuck in-between skill levels because my pitching is pretty solid, but my hitting is pretty bad.
But it does go a long way to prevent gamers from getting discouraged early in the process. At the end of the day though, this is still a challenging game.
That isn't a deterrent for me, as I prefer that over a game I can easily put up unreal numbers with.
That said, the difficulty should be noted.
Gameplay and Realism—7.75
Sound and Presentation
Awesome Intro and Presentation Upgrades
For what its worth, the intro is one of the best I've seen in a sports video game. Obviously, the long-term appeal for something like this isn't much, but it is so good, I feel compelled to mention it.
The post-game wrap-up is nice with the on-field interview of the player of the game. It is also great to have the option to look at the game's highlight reel, as opposed to automatically being launched into it like in previous versions.
The stat overlays are the same as before, which is decent, but I would love to see more. Things like pitcher vs. batter statistics, numbers for hitters in current situations (i.e. runners in scoring position, etc.) would be excellent additions.
At this stage of the series, I had hoped for an upgrade on that front, but it wasn't in the cards.
Player Likenesses and Editing
One thing that should be mentioned is the great detail shown in batters' stances.
More players than not are rendered accurately. With players tweaking their stances here and there in real life, it is nearly impossible to please everyone on this front. But The Show 13 makes a valiant effort to accurately capture this important nuance in the sport.
There is a more expansive player editor in MLB 13 The Show this year.
You'll obviously get an opportunity to use it in the Road to the Show mode (which I'll get to in a minute), but I love the fact that you're able to edit any existing player.
You can not only change equipment and attire, you can also alter any player's swing follow-through and/or pitching motion.
Postseason Is Different
The new Postseason mode is an example of a clear upgrade to presentation. The mode allows gamers to skip an entire regular season and jump directly into the playoffs.
From a presentation standpoint, it includes multiple new camera angles, cut-scenes, on-field graphics and overlays.
Fans are more raucous and they are wearing and waving playoff paraphernalia. The cool thing is that even if you play through an entire season, you still get this experience if you qualify for the playoffs.
Check out this video that shows postseason action.
Does Steve Lyons Represent an Improvement in the Commentating?
On a downside of the presentation and sound package is the announcing. Steve Lyons replaced Dave Campbell in the booth, and the results are a decline from the previous versions.
The three-man booth of Matt Vasgersian, Eric Karros and Lyons have little to no conversational value in their banter.
How important is commentating to you in a sports game?
Lyons' comments seem out of place and detached from the group. There really isn't any acknowledgement from the other members of the announcing team that he's there.
The Show's announcing wasn't a stickler for me in the past. I liked the amount of names that were in the database, and considering the genre, there weren't a ton of repeat phrases.
This year, there was a bit of a step backwards here, but it still isn't a game that requires you to turn the sound down to enjoy it.
Sound and Presentation—7
Game Modes and Options
On this front, we'll have to discuss the online modes on a conceptual level. For gamers that don't play online, though, this will cover every aspect of the game you're interested in.
Franchise mode has seen some definite improvements to the scouting and budget controls of your team. Scouting has been made the centerpiece of long-term success in the mode.
You must pay attention to this aspect of the game, or place it on auto with capable scouts in charge to place your team in the best position to win. I love fantasy drafts, so I'm almost always going to build a team from the ground up.
The Show allows you to do this for every team in the major leagues if you so desire. Call me a nerd, but that's filled with awesomeness. Check out the beginning of my franchise mode with the Chicago Cubs. How did I draft?
The dynamic budgets serve as an encouragement for gamers to take control of small market teams.
If you choose the Kansas City Royals and you have success, your budget will grow, and you could ultimately gain the ability to spend with teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The stat-tracking is still very good within the mode, and the tracking of franchise's Hall of Famers and past award winners only makes it better.
Postseason Mode and Road to the Show
I touched a bit on Postseason Mode from a presentation standpoint, but the functionality of the mode is solid as well. It recognizes the new Wild Card format, and allows you to setup just about any scenario or brackets you want, regardless of league.
The Road to the Show mode is perhaps second only to franchise mode in popularity, and it has seen some changes this year. In an effort to change the overall experience, Sony has removed the commentating from many of the sequences.
It is completely silent. The voices of the announcers are replaced by on-field sounds that are designed to better simulate what a player hears on the field. You can hear crowd chatter, teammates, etc., but the announcing team will still chime in to announce milestones and other broadcast-worthy events.
When it is your turn to interact in the field, you are transported to that time in the game. The new simulation engine allows you to better follow the action up to these points, so you don't lose the immersion in the game.
This same simulation engine can be used in franchise mode as well, in case you want to skip ahead in the season or in a game.
The baserunning and fielding controls have been changed to make them more intuitive and camera-relevant. This is something that used to drive me crazy in previous versions, as I would get low marks for simply pressing the wrong buttons.
The new controls should help to remove those types of errors. RTTS feels really good this year, and it'll be something gamers enjoy just as much—if not more, than in the past.
Check out the beast I've created in RTTS:
Online Modes—To Be Determined
As far as the online modes (MLB Live, Diamond Dynasty and Online Leagues), I can only discuss their design, not the execution.
The MLB Live mode is new to The Show series, and it is designed to let gamers play any game from the current season's schedule in the past, present or future.
The pitching matchups and other roster changes should be in place to replicate or predict the real-life events. Essentially, gamers can recreate or change recent history or the immediate future of the current season.
The Show 13 will apparently have daily roster updates to keep things current. Here is a developer video further detailing this new mode.
I loved the ideas with Diamond Dynasty last year. Having the ability to design my team's logo and uniform gave DD a leg up on other similar modes like Ultimate Team and My Team.
However, server issues and complicated menus somewhat hurt the mode's overall appeal. This year, those issues have been targeted for improvement. I hope the previous issues are cleared up, as this could be a huge boost for the online appeal of the game.
Some of the same stability issues plagued online leagues, so if that aspect of things is fixed for DD, it wouldn't be crazy to think that the overall issue is solved.
Leagues will feature a new scheduling process, and players will be allowed to scrimmage against other gamers in their league.
I am a fan of this mode as a departure from simulation play. I'm not a big hand-held gamer, but the fact that you can play this mode against a person that has MLB 13 The Show on PS Vita is impressive.
On the console, it is a blast by itself. It serves as decent batting practice and a way to get your timing down. (Even though there is also a batting practice function, it's just not as entertaining.)
Each home run is shown in a dramatic sequence, and you can pick any ballpark in the game to compete in. That includes classic ballparks that are available for free this year.
Game Modes and Options—9 (Assuming all online components work as advertised)
The Show is again a very, very solid game of baseball.
While it may not be a perfect game, it is definitely flirting with a no-hitter. A few of the slip-ups may cause it to lose its gem in the late innings.
But you'd still have to call this another quality start for the Sony San Diego team. OK, I'm done with the baseball analogies, I promise.