The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
MLB 13: The Show resembles a player who shows up early to a stadium to spend more time in the batting cage. This player isn’t redefining his game, but his efforts may lead to improvements in batting average and on-base percentage, and the ability to sit back on a change-up. Likewise, Sony San Diego focused its development efforts on tightening up the nuts and bolts of The Show.
A wider hit-timing window may not fit the bill of a standout feature for an annualized sports game, but this small tweak brings a satisfying crack of the bat. Offenses are more productive both offline and on. How productive? Playing on veteran difficulty, my entire team showed much more plate savvy than I've ever seen in past MLB: The Show iterations. Alfonso Soriano led the league in dingers, RBI, and batting average, and no one else was even close in any category.
Putting good wood on the ball more consistently is satisfying, even if AI managers make questionable bullpen decisions. When a pitcher gets in trouble or relies too much on a pitch that isn’t working, it's easy to take him yard. That poor hurler often takes a beating until his pitch count hits 50 to 60. No matter the score, a starter is rarely pulled before the fifth inning – perhaps due to me taking very few pitches. Hardcore fans can achieve more realistic results by messing around with the difficulty settings, but no matter what tweaks are made, expect to put the ball in play more often this year.
The offensive outbursts also spread to online play where the hit window seems even more forgiving. The Show’s online component, which experienced crippling lag last season, is a solid performer this year. Periodic latency still occurs in most games, but I rarely ran into extended periods of it like I did last year. At its worst, I saw a few hiccups in the pitching game and experienced a slight loss in fielding precision.
If you are new to The Show, or have always had trouble at the plate, the hitting window isn’t the only change that will help you improve your game. Sony has also implemented a great new Beginner mode that starts out with fastballs thrown down the heart of the plate. After gauging how well you are doing, the AI either ranks up or down to include more or less breaking balls. I recommend experienced players jump into this difficulty to see how the new pulling and pushing hit trajectories and timing function.
The game flow remains incredibly fluid on the field, although there isn’t much margin for error on user-thrown balls. Throws that slide out of the meter’s green zone (even if they are just kissing yellow) frequently result in the fielder pulling off of the base. Most of the animations (and the timing tied to them) are right on the money. Double plays look fantastic and most of the transitional animations – whether it’s a quick turn at second or an outfielder settling under a towering fly – are largely free of glitches or movements that don’t sink up with the particular action. Pulse pitching is largely unchanged this season, but the meter is greatly subdued (and batting’s horrible sunburst is gone).
All of the traditional modes return, and the only new avenue of play is Postseason mode, which delivers direct access to the playoffs. Road to the Show is the most changed of all the modes, boasting a new a baserunning system that is much easier to read and use, as well as different camera placements that help in getting your feet under the ball for fielding. The new camera tracking system used for baserunning isn’t as useful. This camera perspective doesn’t provide a good look at the stadium or fielders, which makes the trajectory fly balls difficult to read. If you don’t mind the loss of realism, you can tap L2 to get a bird’s eye view of the ball in flight. I used this technique for every ball put in play.
Road to the Show games can now be followed through a quick simulation that tracks the outcome of each at bat. If you don’t want to watch the simulation, one tap of the button brings you right to your player’s next appearance. The lack of commentary during Minor League games is a nice touch that makes Major League games look like larger productions.
Franchise mode includes a number of noteworthy new tweaks, mostly for people who enjoy simulating at least a decade’s worth of seasons. First up is a new scouting system that is intuitive, yet perplexing in the talent that is offered. Some of my top prospects were 21 years of age, yet wouldn’t be ready for MLB action until 2023. A pitcher who won't make the Majors until he's 31 years old is the top prospect teams are after? The trade logic – which Sony rewrote entirely – fares much better than previous iterations. I couldn't fleece many teams out of top talent, and they didn’t try to sell me on too many awful trades. Mid-season free agency activity is mostly inactive. Even facing injuries, teams would call up unprepared minor leaguers instead of signing vets like Brian Wilson. Most players left on the block retire due to a “poor market” or age.
MLB 13: The Show turns the bats loose and finds stability online, but the numbers reflect MLB’s juiced era more than the pitcher-friendly league we see today. This year’s game is about making contact more consistently and shoring up the other aspects of a well-rounded baseball sim.
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