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Take Me Out To the Ball Game”… The unofficial anthem of baseball has been uttered countless times during 7th inning stretches across the nation since 1908.  This old adage has never rung more true with this year’s installment of MLB 13 The Show.  America’s pastime is meticulously represented with all the little nuances that truly brings the experience across home plate & right into your hands.

MLB13_HomePlate

Gameplay:

From the moment MLB 13 The Show steps up to bat it exudes quality.  The gameplay enhancements over last year’s version are immediately evident.  First and foremost (for myself anyway) is the ability to consistently hit the ball.  The revamped strike zone still displays the hot & cold zones as in previous versions.  However, the Guess Pitch mechanic that allows players to guess the location and the pitch type now only alerts when both are guessed correctly.  Compared to previous versions, you’d think that batting would now be more difficult.  This isn’t the case at all.  I’ve had no problem getting on base and when I didn’t, I could honestly say it was my impatience or just dumb luck versus feeling like batting was just a roll of the dice.

MLB13_Cabrera

Pitching is more realistic this year as well.  Pitchers aren’t super ninjas with robot arms who can deliver to the same spot repeatedly.  There’s a bit of variance when it comes to ball placement.  This makes for some tense pitcher/batter stand offs and in some cases ultimately raises the pitch count.  Of course, the less energy & confidence your pitcher has, the more likely the batter is going to knock one out on you so keeping an eye on your pitcher’s well-being and an active bull pen can go a long way.

MLB13_Pit

Fielding hasn’t changed much as far as zeroing in on the pop ups and delivering the ball to the infield.  New to this year though is the throwing meter that determines the accuracy of the throw while the pressure of the button press determines the speed.  Another new PS3 only feature this year is the manual catching in The Road to the Show.  If enabled, players can now use L2 to catch the ball manually.  Honestly, I didn’t think I’d like, let alone use this feature.  After trying it though, it definitely adds to the authenticity.  As the ball comes at you it will have a yellow or green halo around it depending on the distance.  Ideally, you want to press L2 to catch the ball when the halo is green.  In my opinion, it adds an extra step to the process thus lending itself to a more realistic experience.

MLB13_Run

As with last year’s version, the Zone Analog Batting and Pulse Pitching remain intact with variants of the delivery for each.  Also carrying over from last year are the Move controls.  For me, the Move controls fit most naturally in the Home Run Derby mode as I couldn’t really get the hang of them otherwise.  Speaking of Home Run Derby, it’s the only Cross Platform Play feature between the Vita and PS3.

MLB13_vita2Not to be discounted though, Home Run Derby is a nice distraction from the simulation laden core of the game.  The multiplayer aspect of it is in fact somewhat addictive.  In real time each home run attempt from each player is represented by colored ribbons that stretch from home plate to wherever the ball ends up.  Round after round the lowest run total is eliminated until only one batter prevails.

MLB13_HomeRunDerby

Another new feature this year is the Universal Profile. Ostensibly, it’s an XP system to show other players how much you’ve accomplished.  It provides a sense of what type of player you are and which modes are your mainstays.  Per the developer, it displays a breakdown of your earned XP, online stats, recent play history, and current ratings in online play.  From the sounds of things, you can expect this Universal Profile in future versions of MLB The Show as the developer indicates that these are just a small first steps towards much bigger plans in the years to come.

MLB13_Universal Profile

The Road to the Show has been tweaked this year as well.  Player creation is a bit more robust letting players choose animations for their batting approach, swing, follow through, and so on.  Per customary player creation, you can adorn your player with equipment ranging from wrist bands to sun glasses and even choose how he wears them.  Creating a player’s facial features is for the most part painless.  I was able to make my player look somewhat like I do but would prefer something more along the lines of EA’s GameFace in future versions of The Show.

The presentation of The Road to the Show sets the standard for sport simulation games across the board.  It’s really the extra time the developer took that pays off here. For example, when I hit my first home run in Triple-A the 3rd base coach delivered my mantel bound trophy ball to the dugout.  My first day of the Majors had me signing autographs before the game.  Frequently, post-game in the dugout, the coach treats you differently depending on how you did in the game.  These all add to the incredibly immersive gameplay of The Road to the Show.

In The Road to the Show, fielding and base running cameras have been completely overhauled to give you the feeling of actually being on the field.  While both fielding and on base players can pan the camera using the right analog stick to get an idea of where the play is.  Base runners can also use the R1 and L1 buttons to zero in on the ball or the 3rd base coach respectively.  The decision to advance to the next base relies heavily on these cameras.  I did have a mentionable concern with base running though.  When I needed to double back, say if a line drive was unexpectedly caught, I felt a delay getting the base runner to turn around and run back.

The overall experience of The Road to the Show feels streamlined and polished.  While waiting for your next in game interaction you can view the simulation screen as it plays the game out, watch the game from the dugout, or simply skip ahead using the “Complete” button.  The games played carry a narrative and make the player feel like their actions ultimately contribute to the final score.  Whether it’s feeling the controller rumble simulating a nervous heartbeat during a 3-2 pitch or the roar of the crowd after a 3 run knock, The Road to the Show has a way of capturing those epic moments not found in many sports games today.  For me, this mode definitely has that “one more game” quality that keeps me up way too late on work nights.

MLB13_Uniform

The PS3 only Diamond Dynasty mode satiated aspiring General Managers last year with its creativity, team management, and player progression.  You can customize team colors and create detailed authentic looking team logos with this year’s more robust logo creator.  I have to say, it was quite impressive when my Zanesville Zilla’s team logo animated into the TV style presentation before the opening pitch of my first game.

Anyway, once your team has been established, you can play single player against CPU controlled MLB teams or take your crew online. You’ll earn Budget Bonuses in both modes which in turn, enable you to purchase additional training points, card packs, stadiums, and individual cards from other players.  There are two types of player cards in Diamond Dynasty.  MLB cards which are actual MLB players and Dynasty cards that can be customized and trained to best fit your team’s needs. Unlike last season, Dynasty cards now have max values meaning not every card can be trained to a value of 99.  Pitcher cards have been updated as well.  They now have roles starting pitchers, relief pitchers, and so on.  Of course, you always have the option to spend real world money to purchase packs.  Love them or hate them folks, it seems that micro transactions are here to stay.

Also new for 2013, online play in Diamond Dynasty incorporates a new Mercy Rule to help curb rage quitters.  This new Mercy Rule ends the game if the score is too lopsided (10 runs after 3 innings) thus avoiding a royal beat down if your opponent’s skill level far exceeds your own.   Shamefully, I’ve been on the losing end of this rule 3 times now.

Giving players early admittance into the playoffs, The Post Season debuts this year.  Taking full advantage of the updated True Broadcast Presentation 2.0, the Post Season will allow players to experience the intense excitement and additional presentation only found in the MLB playoffs without laboring through an entire season.  Players can choose from 2012’s playoff teams or choose their favorite team if they weren’t fortunate enough to make it to the post season last year.  While I didn’t spend a lot of time in this mode, I did find it noteworthy that some concessions have been made for the Vita version in presentation.  You don’t see the extra post season coverage as you do in the PS3 version.

MLB13_busta

Graphics:

Graphics in MLB 13 The Show are undeniably lifelike.  At a glance, it’s hard to differentiate the game versus a live MLB game.  The stadiums look better than ever.  The jumbotrons and scoreboards display relevant game statistics and information in real time while stadium specific architecture has been meticulously recreated.  Over the last few years I’ve come across several reviews stating that the crowds are horrible in the game.  Honestly, I don’t see it.  The crowds are dynamic with people and vendors alike walking up and down the aisles, beach balls bounce among the crowd, and the spectators react to foul balls / home runs.  Character animations in general appear to have been updated this year.  Players transition from one animation to another seamlessly contributing to the TV quality presentation.

MLB13_BRAUN_007

The ball physics as in this year’s game are amazing.  From the moment the ball leaves the bat it feels like it has weight, velocity, and rotation.  Balls bounce of bases as well as players adding that random realism that really pulls you into the game.  The only criticism I have concerning the graphics in MLB 13 The Show is the clipping among the players. I’d love to see some collision detection among the players.  I want to see players collide off of each other versus intersecting when they come together.

Sound/Audio:

Let me begin by saying I love the music in MLB 13 The Show.  From ZZ Top’s “I Gotsta Get Paid” to Blink 182’s “Heart’s All Gone” the menu music is top notch.  As a matter of fact, while writing this review I found myself listing to the menu music for hours on end.  Equally, the in game sounds are spot on as well.  This year, Matt Vasgersian and Eric Karros are joined by Steve Lyons.  His contributions to the commentary aptly blur the line between the game experience and reality.  During game play I heard a few lines spoken more than once but it was never to the point of being distracting.  The sounds from the crowds as well as stadium music react to in game events and grow in intensity as the game heats up or when you venture into the post season.

MLB13_Commentary

Notably, in the Road to the Show players no longer hear the in game commentary in the midst of play.  Only between plays will the presentation take place usually giving feedback on your last performance.  Replacing the commentary during play are the actual sounds of the game.  You’ll hear the players on field, the crowd, umpires, and most importantly while rounding the bases, your base coach.

Multiplayer/Co-op:

Multiplayer in both versions is what you’ve come to expect from online sports games today.  With the exception of less lag, online games haven’t drastically changed from last year.  Although, I did experience the occasional hiccup in pitch delivery it’s definitely not a deal breaker.  Online in MLB 13 The Show lends itself more to the social aspect compared to previous versions.  Diamond Dynasty enhances the multiplayer game with team management, card purchasing, and trading while the Universal Profile gives players an opponent’s game history at a glance.  Online leagues have been around for a few years now but have been tweaked to give the League Commissioner more control to dictate the league’s schedule.  It’s the most customizable and manageable league to date.  Additionally, General Managers playing in online leagues will have to contend with their position players getting fatigued.  Basically you can’t play every game of your season with the same players.

Final Thoughts:

While sacrifices were made to the Vita version I still feel that it’s a solid complement to the PS3 version.  The ability to effortlessly upload to the cloud should become the standard among all Cross Save games.  Other developers should definitely take note when it comes to Cloud Saves.  I found it invaluable to finish a PS3 game of The Road to The Show in my living room and bring my season back up on my Vita.

MLB13_vita1

In conclusion, for over 5 years, I’ve purchased the latest iteration of the MLB The Show games at some point during the actual MLB Season.  Whether it’s paying full price at the beginning of the season or picking the game up at a discount at the end of the season it seems like as long as I’ve owned a Sony device I’ve always owned the MLB The Show games.  With that said, I can say from experience that this year’s version is hands down the best video game representation of Major League Baseball period.

 

Score:

9-10

Overview

 Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment, Developer: SCE San Diego Studio

Release Date: 3/5/13(US) – 3/6/13(EU)

Platforms: PS3 / Vita Digital: Yes

Price: $59.99 (PS3) $39.99 (Vita) Rating: ESRB (E) PEGI (3)

Offline Players: 1-4 (PS3) Competitive: 1-4 (PS3)  

Online Players: 1-8 (PS3) 2 (Vita) Co-Op: 2 (PS3) Competitive: Yes

Online Pass: Yes ($9.99 Cost if purchased Used)