The eighth edition of almost anything doesn't exactly strike confidence in the mind, especially for fans of horror films. MLB 13: The Show bucks that trend with the flashiest, most interactive baseball spectacle to date. You probably expected those words to come from our gaming guru Tracy-Mark Gorgas, but alas, he's not quite the sports fan that I am. That's not to say Tracy's Wally Pipp (because I'm certainly no Lou Gehrig) but let’s see if we can’t share some peanuts and Cracker Jack anyway in this guest review. It’s time to go to The Show.
Typically with sports games you write your own story. This is what draws in fans of all kinds, particularly with baseball, where you can focus on statistics, your tortured desire for your team to win a championship (see: Cubs, Indians fans), or the feeling of being in control of rosters, trades and talent that has driven the fantasy industry to amazing heights. MLB 13: The Show provides each of those experiences and then some with its single-player options. But that’s not the feeling you get right from the start.
The 2012 edition pushed the “desire to win” narrative from the get go, with a rousing intro showcasing the last-day madness of four teams fighting for a precious few playoff spots. MLB 13: The Show reveals itself in the opening movie as a platform for talent, showcasing the stars of the game, and their talents, and how you, the player, can use them. It’s the drama of the heart versus the teasing of the mind, and for this reviewer, the former turned the first few moments of the game disc spinning away into an event, while the latter left me looking for a button to skip to the start screen, and get the blood pumping again.
From there you can create an entirely new narrative with a customizable player in "Road to the Show" that starts out in the minors and trains his way to the majors. Or run a franchise and conduct trades, manage players, and make the big decisions like "should the team save money and take the bus between Boston and New York" or do you want to charter a plane? We'll talk more about Road to the Show in particular down below. MLB 13 also allows you to play along LIVE featuring day of matchups during the season, as well as an online experience in a league with 29 of your friends, or more likely, 4 of your friends, and 25 random people you wish would pay attention more.
If you haven't figured it out yet, MLB 13 is all about customization, and the controls follow suit. For purposes of this review, I'll focus on the default settings and how it impacted my play.
As a batter everything is fairly simple. the X button causes your player to swing normally, the O button allows you to swing for contact (handy when you want to put a player in motion in a hit and run) and the square button hits for power. Tapping any of these will cause the player to "check his swing" and of course, you can always hit triangle and bunt, but who does that? In the default settings (which is how I played) the left stick allowed you to move a "hit box" around to better guess and square up the ball. When you guess wrong, a handy dialogue box will appear on the right side of the onscreen UI telling you whether you "swung early or late" and were off target. I found myself rarely hitting the "normal" swing button and mostly focusing on the power button, as that netted me singles, doubles, and of course the wonderful homerun.
The pitching mechanics are very similar. Depending on the pitchers skill, he will have a wide range of pitchers all assigned to the controller buttons, and will wear down slower or faster depending on your accuracy and the outs you get.
Defense proved to be a challenge for me with the default settings. While in the field during "Road to the Show" you face homeplate waiting for the pitch to be delivered. When a balls hit your way, the normal reaction to me was to treat the button progressions as if they were a baseball diamond, with square being first, triangle home, circle third, and X as second. However, it's just the opposite. So I found myself throwing to third when I meant to go to first, etc. These aren't faults of the game, just a note that you should always set your buttons for what works best for you.
While on defense you also get a pressure gauge to deliver the ball accurately. MLB 13 doesn't pull any punches in the game speed, so as an infielder it can be tough to scoop, throw, and deliver an accurate strike to second or first without practice.
As for base running, the premise is simple, the application is another matter entirely. You can toggle your player to take steps towards advancing a base, but if you don't watch the pitcher closely, you'll get picked off by not hitting the return button quick enough. While this makes the game a simulation marvel again, it's also not very fun, and I kind of wish it had a shred of more simplicity to it.
Again though with MLB 13, it's the little things. You have control options for everything from sliding head first, colliding with the catcher, or on defense, acting distracted, and looking at the Jumbo-tron. Great touches that add to the experience tailored to be as short and long as you want it, but sometimes felt like they lack consistency.
We covered a lot of control-influence gameplay above, so let's get back to basics. Before starting my experience, I downloaded the "large content" to my HDD for faster load times. It took about 16 minutes, but was worth it. In my Road to the Show experience in MLB 12, the load times would vary up to 20 seconds or sometimes more when beginning a new AA game. That time seemed to be cut almost in half in MLB 13.
My greatest frustration (outside of being a poor base runner) was advancing to one menu via the start button, only to not be able to advance again until I hit X. Seems like such a small thing, but sometimes you just want to get to the game and go.
The best experience I think you can have in MLB 13 is with the Road to the Show. I created a player aptly named Chaz D'Man, a portly 2nd baseman with pop and charisma, which was assigned to AA from the start. The game gives you the ability to train and allot points to improve your skills. There's also a micro-transaction option built in for those who want to pay a little more, to make their players great before they've earned it (I don't know why, but that reminded me of a former Mariner who shall remain nameless).
I loved how before a game would begin, you could hit warm-up tosses. And during the game it skipped ahead to only the plays that involved you. So you watched each game unfold, sometimes dramatically via a statistical simulation, then were thrust into the role of hero (usually when I was at-bat) or goat (usually when I was in the field. One game my team lost 16-5. I can't help but think my 5 errors played a small role).
For those wanting to jump right in, the top option on the menu screen says simple "Play Now" and allows for an exhibition style matchup with a friend. Truthfully, this system works easy and doesn't require a lot of effort on either side to just "pick up a bat and go" if you will.
Then there's the Mini Modes.
Since the very first game to offer it (to the internets discoverers!) the Home Run Derby has been a fan favorite. MLB 13 provides a twist in this regard, showing a glimpse at the future to come in cross-platform interactivity by allowing a match to be held between a PS3 player and a PSVita player. Tee setup was fairly easy. I added Tracy as a friend within my Playstation Network. Within MLB 13 The Show clicked the Play Online option and created a lobby. Tracy was able to find that lobby and join in the game. Here's where the experiment fails on MLB 13's behalf.
I saw my player at the plate, and Tracy saw his, but we could not see each others. We were in fact simultaneously participating in the HR Derby. I could see where his shots were landing only if I happened to hit a ball at roughly the same time. Each hit would create a colored path on a wide view, while the scoreboard above would show us how many homeruns had been hit and how many outs were left. This was a major misstep for me in Gameplay. Everyone knows when you go bowling, it's more fun to go one at a time, not have everyone throw their balls at once. HR Derby's are no exception. I wanted to see his Derby performance, then try and beat it. I also tried to open up a custom "classic" ballpark from the olden days for us to hit bombs out of, but that option was not available to Tracy on the Vita. That's a called third strike as far as this game option goes, so time to move onto the next.
I will say another Mini Mode that caught my eye was the Challenge of the Week which presents you with a simple matchup between pitcher and batter, or another similar situation, and asks you to get as many points as possible completing a task. You can then see where you rank against other MLB 13 players, and the best can eventually win awards on a weekly basis (from what I gathered anyway). This may need some further digging, but I am intrigued nonetheless.
If you want a passive experience, MLB 13 gives you the option to do everything from the computer pitch or play defense for you, to simulate entire games or seasons. In MLB 12, my Mariners were 10.5 games back by June, 30 games back by mid-September, and ended the season 66-96 to my sheer disgust. In MLB 13 they started out 0-7 before almost climbing back to .500 in July. A devastating stretch of losses followed in August en route to a 75-87 season. This fan would gladly take a 9 game improvement over the prior year, but if an MLB 13 simulation proves prophetic, tis dark times indeed for those of us in the Emerald City.
Graphics and Sound
MLB 13 shines in the graphics and sound department. In Road to the Show the graphical detail can be customized to an almost cruel level when creating your player. For instance, you can choose how the fat is distributed on your player's face, giving him jowls, high cheek bones, or an almost freaky conehead-esque forehead.
Player movements in the batter's box, on the mound, and in the field are smooth and effortless, and truthfully look so clean, I stopped noticing how good the graphics were and focused on playing. Perhaps that's the true test of how great a simulation is?
Stadiums are created with excruciating details, although I would say the angles could be toned down a bit. We know outfield walls are created and connected by straight lines, but in the game they feel "graphical" while in real life it looks "natural". I would also say the advancements in what the crowd looks like has not come very far, but that's nit-picking.
The sound is incredible. When you are warming up at the plate, you can hear music blaring through the empty stadium, with realistic sounding echoes as the soundwaves bounce off the not-yet-filled seats. Speaking of, MLB 13 gives you hits for young and old to listen to pregame, in the menu's and beyond. At one point I heard "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons and "Gloom and Doom" by the Rolling Stones within just a few minutes, with several other indie or upcoming bands sprinkled in.
The days of multiple baseball game options for your consoles are gone, but that doesn't mean MLB 13 holds anything back. This is a well-crafted baseball experience and that's the key. You feel like you are in a world of all things baseball, and it can be as overwhelming as it is exhilirating. The team behind MLB 13 hasn't yet mastered the ability of creating a simple "play and enjoy" presentation that say the folks at Madden have, but that didn't stop this baseball fan from swinging away time and time again. I give MLB 13: The Show 4.5 out of 5.
MLB 13: The Show is rated E for Everyone byt the Entertainmet Software Ratings Board (ESRB).