Every March, one thought crosses my mind. I’m not talking about “Baseball season is coming!!! Ohboyohboyohboyohboy.” That’s a given. No, the thought for the last several Marches has been “Is this the year?” As in, “Is this the year that I’ll finally get tired of talking about how great The Show is?” You see, I’ve played the new version of Sony’s MLB franchise every year for a long time now. Back before it was “The Show,” in the time period “BV” (that’s Before Vasgersian for those keeping score at home). Even before Vin Scully used to punctuate in game homeruns with witticisms like, “They show movies on that flight.” The answer to that question, every year, turns out to be “no,” and this year is no exception. MLB The Show 12 changes up parts of the traditional formula in minor and major ways, all for the better. However, with a series as accomplished as this, sometimes the challenge lies not in what you do change but what you don’t.
Normally, when someone addresses you and says, “The new ball physics are a game-changer” you will immediately ask them to kindly pull up their slacks and park their windowless van elsewhere. In this case, though, it’s the truth. Sony San Diego has clearly put a ton of effort into this aspect of the game, and it shows immediately. Line Drives will now tail off to the left or right rather than flying in a perfectly straight line. Balls that come in contact with the mound, bases or even other players will carom off in unpredictable directions. This takes the already very realistic action on display to a whole new level, once again leaving the competition well behind. The only drawback to this new system is that it is clear that the developers were very proud of it, because it shows itself all the time. Maybe it’s just a perception problem on my part, but I can’t recall hitting so many balls at the pitcher’s mound or down the base paths as I have this year. It doesn’t happen enough to be distracting, but it’s certainly noticeable to anyone who has played the series for a long time.
The series’ most impressive graphical feature has always been its superb animations, and this year’s title takes the crown. Everything feels smoother and crisper this year, from the way players run, to the various swinging and pitching animations. Stadiums again look great, bristling with life. Crowds react to foul balls hit in the stands and cheer or boo loudly on close pitches. The player models have benefitted greatly from the updated animations while in motion, and even when standing still they look pretty great (especially the star players). Unfortunately, one area where the series still lags behind a bit is in the overall presentation. They’ve added multiple new camera angles and player reactions this year, which certainly helps, but I feel like they’ve taken a real step back in several other areas like menu design and commentary.
The same base commentary team has been doing voiceover for The Show for a while now, and it’s really starting to show. While some new lines have been added to reflect last season’s performances, the voiceovers are starting to sound really bland and lifeless. I think it may be time for Sony San Diego to move on to a new commentary team to add a fresh sound to the action. My pipe dream would be multiple sets of hall of fame broadcasters that they could use for different games in a rotation. This way, you wouldn’t get burned out hearing the same team every game. For now, though, I’d settle for just having a different play-by-play voice for next year’s version.
Road to the Show makes its return, of course, with some tweaks. Your player now starts out as a highly touted prospect and is, thus, a AA starter to begin the mode rather than a bench player. This really helps to immediately get you into the action rather than having to suffer through an entire advancement period riding pine. The team at Sony San Diego has also made some changes to the trade logic across all modes to keep teams from proposing and accepting trades that don’t make sense. Perhaps the most exciting addition this year, is the ability to transfer one save at a time for either a season, franchise, or RTTS to the cloud and then continue the action where you left off on the Vita. This is a phenomenal idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised if every other sports game that releases on both systems follows suit.
New this year is the addition of the Diamond Dynasty mode. This mode blends online play with a collectable card game to create a very unique experience. You start out by creating a team from scratch. You pick the city they are located in, the team name and team colors, then design uniforms and logos with a very deep creation tool. Once your team has been created, you’ll have to build it up using cards that you collect or purchase with in-game funds. You’ll use these cards as resources to balance out your roster and to plug holes when players hit their maximum number of games played. This mode is an interesting take on the traditional online baseball experience, and I can see it developing a very loyal fanbase.
On the field, the team has added several new ways to control your players. On the batting side, Analog Hitting gets a secondary option now that also allows you to use the left stick in conjunction with the right stick to control not only the timing of your swing, but also the zone where your hitter is aiming. This allows for a greater degree of control for those that like using the sticks. Of course, all the legacy control modes are also still available, including standard analog swinging. For pitchers, the new Pulse Pitching mechanic tasks the player with timing their button press to the motion of a circle that surrounds the target and pulses inward and outward. The goal is to press the button when the circle is smallest in order to maximize accuracy. While I like some things about this new mechanic, I still prefer the other control options when pitching on the big screen of the PS3. It does work quite well on the Vita however, which you can read about HERE.
If you love baseball, then you’ve probably already bought MLB the Show. In fact if you have a PS3 and just love great games, its possible that this is already in your library. If not, you are missing out on the best sports gaming experience available on console. While the game stands leagues ahead of its competition, there are some needed changes that I hope make their way into next year’s version. Updated presentation, a new commentary team and some rudimentary facelifts to RTTS would go a long way towards refreshing the franchise and ensuring its continued success for years to come.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.