Developer: San Diego Studio / Publisher: SCEA / Played on: PS3 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors]
My appreciation of baseball’s history started with Cal Ripken’s iron man streak record-breaking game in 1995 during my first visit to the U.S. My knowledge of core baseball philosophy was nurtured starting with 3DO’s phenomenal High Heat Baseball 1999.
My understanding of the game’s nuances has evolved every year since, including watching every single game of the Giants memorable 2010 World Series campaign. I love baseball. My baseball videogame of choice is MLB 12: The Show.
Seems odd to reference a story element in a sports sim, but really, the Road to the Show mode of MLB 12: The Show is your own personal story. In years past, this could have been as frustrating as it was rewarding, slogging through Double AA ball, getting a call-up to AAA, then after one shaky performance, finding your way back down in the boonies. This time around the process to the Bigs is quicker, more in keeping with the theory that you’re a hot talent rather than schlub walk-on.
While the core gameplay was always compelling enough to keep me slogging through its lows and lowers, it’s refreshing to feel a little more like a star-in-the-making. Of course, you still have to go through the training regimens to improve your skills, but it will pay off when your visit to the Majors becomes a career, not a cup of coffee with the big boys. The tweaks make Road to the Show worth the commitment, even if you feel burned by the grind in the past.
What has always mattered to me in baseball videogames is the pure act of a pitcher pitching, a batter batting. Sounds simple, but for pitching that means using a degree of skill to nail a spot, balanced by a behind-the-scenes algorithm that means it may just drift a direction you didn’t intend. For hitting, that means nailing the type of pitch and its location, and then potentially popping up, lining out, or finding that gap for a hit.
For this year, the hitting mechanic appears to have benefited from improved ball physics. I found a few more opposite field hits than in past games, and witnessed more movement in the air from the spin for my fielders to read. Fundamentally, it made more fly-balls interesting challenges, and more ground balls produce a variety of fielder plays or opportunities to advance runners.
Hitting, for me at least, still isn’t easy. While the analog control to pull back to set and push forward to hit fundamentally works, playing against premier pitchers like Verlander or Halladay is plain brutal. Sure, it’s realistic, but that’s why you need to commit to the season to realize the difference between aces and five-spot guys where you might see more mistakes.
This year’s game also introduces, for those that care, Move support. Nice touch, but for me it devolves a core baseball sim into Wii Sports Baseball, which is fun for the family, but not a suitable method to use in pursuit of any of the long-term league or franchise options. If you’re looking for that family experience, then the fundamentals work, but it’s an occasional option rather than a key component.
One tweak to the pitching mechanic is pretty effective, and that’s how the location target pulses at a rate dependent on your pitcher’s ability with a particular pitch. It adds a timing mechanism to the simple one-button location aim that means you can, with timing, finely target your pitch, or time it badly and throw well away from the intended location.
A new gameplay option worth mentioning is the Diamond Dynasty. I didn’t have an opportunity to try it out in detail, but it’s fundamentally akin to EA Sports’ Ultimate series of card-based collections where you can play against other players and develop your own franchise. How far baseball card collecting will expand into the virtual world will be seen in the next few months.
The Show has never been too shabby on its visuals, but this year there are several upgrades in the animations, most notably in pick-offs and base-running. The fielders do seem to react effectively to the events on the bases, as well as what’s happening in the outfield on fly-balls. Some animations are still pretty jerky, with the fluidity from one state (diving to snag a ball) to throwing being videogame-like, but maybe we need another generation of graphics processing power to create a more truly realistic response.
Pitchers on the mound and batters at the plate display impressively realistic mannerisms, so you’ll recognize your star performers before seeing the names on their shirts. The stadiums all look great, and the TV-style broadcast graphics display all the information you need for your game situation.
I struggled through dodgy connections in years past to complete The Show online matches, but whether it’s improved internet connections or better network code, it’s easy to find and stay in a game. It really wasn’t an area that required significant upgrade, but it works fine to find a match and hope the other guy doesn’t quit! What’s more significant is the ability to take your season on the road.
I’m just testing this out, but the cross-platform play between PS3 The Show and Vita The Show is a revolution that is as exciting as it is terrifying (for the amount of time I could commit at home and on the road to my pursuit of Giants success).
But for online matches, the ability to quit an online game in the first inning without penalty has gone. That’s a result for people committed to the gameplay, and I’ve enjoyed more games as a result of accepting a defeat but playing it out (and learning techniques in the process).
It doesn’t get old to lay plaudits on MLB The Show as a franchise since it has led the charge for a high quality baseball simulation for so many years. For 2012 that hasn’t changed. If there’s a revolution here, it’s the association with the Vita version. But if you’re PS3-only, you’ll still find a thoroughly complete, finely tuned baseball sim that should address the desires of franchise fans and baseball sim newcomers alike.
At its most basic levels, The Show is fun, playable, and lifelike in a family-friendly way, but it has the depth, intensity, and detail for franchise or career growth that can suck in stat fans and drag them all through this season and beyond.