You really have to hand it to any developer who decides to take on the challenge of making a baseball game. From a myriad of unwritten rules to the lack of the always appreciated timer, simulating the real experience and doing it well is a job that requires the best-of-the-best. And, as we find out every single year, SCE San Diego Studio repeatedly fills that tall order with pride and MLB 13: The Show is no exception.
The first area of major improvement is, without a doubt, presentation. Discounting the new soundtrack and all of the new announcing, the game presents itself better than ever before. The sound is crisp as always, and the visuals look even better. Even beyond traditional annualized sports games, the character models, stadiums, audiences, and animations look good enough to be real at times. This praise isn’t universal though, as a few sections of the audience look uncharacteristically blocky and horrible, and there is some clipping when players get too close for comfort.
Returning to The Show is the series’ trademark option extravaganza. Featuring three ways to pitch, various ways to bat, and enough playing/camera perspectives to make your head spin, the baseball franchise continues to deliver. Although many of these are returning features, there really isn’t much reason to fix what isn’t broken. In the presentation department, my favorite is probably the broadcast mode, in which the game actually manipulates the camera to simulate an actual broadcasted game. Furthermore, a new Beginner Mode allows new players to jump in with greatly simplified controls, which should prove useful to anyone intimidated by the veritable cornucopia of control configurations.
Outside of a mode that allows you to go directly to the MLB playoffs, the only new mode of interest is The Show Live. Like 2K’s MLB Today feature, it allows you to play using the constantly-updating injuries, personnel moves, and game results of the real life baseball league. It has the same great customization you would expect, and it is fun, but it is hardly the game changer it would have been five years ago.
Alongside your standard exhibition type modes, returning online play and franchises is the infallible Road to the Show mode. Like with other sports games, this is the mode where you recreate yourself as a minor league player within the system of your favorite MLB team, give yourself a position to play, and simulate your career by playing out your fielding or batting opportunities. New this year is the ability to press L1 in order to pick up your third-base coach when running the bases and using R1 to keep track of the ball, which is insanely useful. Reaching the majors and working on the goals I set for myself ensures that the mode is as fun to play as ever, and that I have the same reason to keep coming back as I did last year.
And perhaps this is also where I have a major problem with MLB 13: The Show. Outside of some barely-notable new features, improved presentation, and a roster update, so little has changed. Although this can be expected towards the end of a console’s life, and although the continuously excellent baseball play will keep bringing fans back, there isn’t anything I like about this year that I didn’t like about last year. It is the perfect baseball game, but it was also the perfect baseball game three years ago.
The Vita Difference:
The Vita version is the exact same game as its PS3 big brother with some minor differences. The game has even worse-looking audiences than in the console, and the character models aren’t nearly as polished or smooth on the Vita. Furthermore, much of the distinctive audio from post-season mode simply doesn’t exist on the Vita. Still, at 20 dollars cheaper and otherwise identical content, The Show still plays fantastically.