In terms of sports, there are champions and there are dynasties. Consistently making a run at the title, the MLB: The Show series from Sony’s San Diego Studio has entered the category of dynasty. Despite its only competition being more dysfunctional than the 2012 Red Sox, MLB 13: The Show continues the franchise’s annual tradition of setting the bar for baseball gaming.
MLB 13: The Show is not a huge leap forward for the series, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The realistic baseball sim is already known for providing an expansive array of modes and options. However, the latest edition to the franchise does improve upon last year’s game by adding new features and expanding on previously existing ones. From following a superstar’s rise to fame to a simple Home Run Derby, MLB 13: The Show offers something for every type of baseball fan.
Perhaps the most useful new feature in the game is the Beginner Mode. Novice players will find the gameplay difficulty option especially useful. However, all players can benefit from the adaptive difficulty setting. Beginner Mode contains six levels that change as the player improves. With Beginner Mode active, opposing pitchers will serve up fastballs right down the plate. As human-controlled hitters start knocking out hit after hit, pitchers will mix in off-speed stuff. Continue increasing levels and pitchers will start to paint the corners of the strike zone while showing off their full bag of tricks. Beginner Mode is a unique blend of tutorial with actual gameplay, making players feel progressively comfortable with their abilities. It is easy to see variations of this system being adapted and expanded to all sports games in the future.
Of course, every control element in MLB 13: The Show is fully customizable. Less experienced players can make gameplay easier by adding computer-controlled fielding and baserunning assists. More advanced players will have to master even the most mundane tasks, including the accuracy and speed of each fielders’ throw. Pitching can be as simple as selecting a pitch and pressing a button to throw or consist of a more difficult timing process involving the analog sticks.
Overall, MLB 13: The Show offers three ways to pitch and a plethora of ways to complete other tasks. While perfecting the pitching process proves to be a challenge, any baseball fan should be able to master the other familiar elements of the game with a little bit of practice.
MLB 13: The Show is made up of a variety of game modes aimed to appease all types of players. Passionate baseball fans can dive deep into the scouting and player progression options found in Franchise Mode while players looking for an opportunity to pick up the controls and play instantly can jump into the game’s new Playoff Mode.
The RPG-style mode Road to the Show returns this year with a few changes and more player customization options. In Road to the Show, gamers create a player who will start off playing double-A ball. The player progresses his career all the way through the big leagues, earning points that can be used to improve abilities along the way. Games go fast in Road to the Show as the action is mostly simmed, with an in-game menu showing all the action as it takes place. Only when the created player steps up to the plate or gets some action on the field, the gameplay portion of Road to the Show takes place.
Road to the Show is by far the bread and butter of MLB 13: The Show. Advancing several seasons into a career can be extremely rewarding. However, there are a few annoyances. This year, SCE San Diego Studio added the ability to press L1 to pick up the third base coach and R1 to get a glimpse of the ball while baserunning. While this is a tremendously useful feature, camera angles are still often awkward during Road to the Show play. Without any mini-game drills for players to get used to the controls, the first few weeks are full of rookie mistakes.
Commentary is also absent from Road to the Show games, except during brief pre-game cutscenes or post-play replays. The mode is supposed to focus on what it is like to play in the pros, with player and coach chatter taking the place of play-by-play announcers. However, hearing the commentary team of Matt Vasgersian, Eric Karros and Steve Lyons only during certain intervals feels random. Besides, including commentary at all times would help live out childhood fantasies of being called on by sports announcers.
The Show Live is a new game mode that features matchups based on actual MLB games taking place on a given day. Real-time stats, injuries and transactions are factored in, providing baseball fans with an authentic major league experience.
Graphics and Sound
The MLB season is just around the corner but it is easy to confuse games in MLB 13: The Show with the real thing. Camera angles and in-game presentation feel just like the game’s real life counterpart. However, the game’s weaknesses begin to become more apparent upon further review.
Player models are incredibly accurate, especially with facial mapping. Fans will easily be able to recognize their favorite player. Details such as Bryce Harper’s smeared eye black and Brain Wilson’s beard are realistically recreated. Animations are also realistic, for the most part. However, MLB 13: The Show does have the occasional animation glitch. At times, a baserunner will go through a fielder or a fielder will go through an outfield wall. While they do not ruin the experience, glitches are a minor annoyance when playing.
As noted earlier, the regular commentary team of Matt Vasgersian and Eric Karros is joined by Steve Lyons this year. Unfortunately, it seems that asking for decent play-by-play in a baseball game is too much. The commentators are often rambling on or not in sync with the game. It is especially depressing considering the menu system has a good soundtrack with bits of actual play-by-play from last year’s MLB season randomly mixed in.
MLB 13: The Show continues a tradition of greatness that is now expected from each game in the franchise. This year’s game does not disappoint, but it does feel like more of the same. The added features like Beginner Mode and The Show Live are welcome additions, but are not above and beyond last year’s installment to the series. Road to the Show can account for endless hours of entertainment and is truly a rewarding experience. However, it seems that the MLB: The Show franchise could benefit from a minor shakeup. With the PlayStation 4 on the horizon, a new, more powerful console could be exactly what MLB 14: The Show needs.