America's pastime has undoubtedly undergone some ups and downs this past decade. But for all the (melo)drama of the big leagues, baseball video games are usually pretty straightforward. Reviewing MLB 12: The Show is a little weird, mostly because I'm struggling to get the bad taste of Major League Baseball 2K12 out of my mouth. However, I also felt like The Show is largely unchanged this year and its age is starting to show around the seams.
I really like how The Show offers you different styles of gameplay for different sorts of fans. Some are for more casual players who want to enjoy a good baseball game without having to master a lot of difficult timing mechanics, others are for the more dedicated.
The pitching isn't bad, but it isn't good either. It feels antiquated, especially the analog controls. To be honest, they aren't anywhere near as good as Major League Baseball 2K12. I felt like their answer, called 'Pulse Pitching,' didn't work particularly well. Pulse pitching works like this: pick your pitch and a circle rapidly grows and shrinks. Time it right, when the circle is smallest, and you get a better, more accurate pitch. I thought it was wildly inaccurate at best, and even with good pitchers I felt like it was too fast to be effective. To be honest, I just played with classic pitching (pick your pitch, pick your spot) and felt it to be more fair. However, the point is that you have options.
When it comes to batting, there are several different choices. You can try your hand with analog batting, which is really the way to go, but can be difficult to pull off correctly. Quick thumbs are a necessity. Mind you, it works pretty well and was far more sensitive than I had anticipated. Other options include 'zone' batting where you have a blob (corresponding to your batter's stat ratings) that you can move to get better contact. It's tricky to get used to, but the results for perfecting the technique are impressive. If you really want a challenge try zone analog, combining both the aforementioned styles. No matter which you choose, the point is that you have some options that will ultimately define your experience.
However, the argument can be made that such diversity might be a crutch for The Show. Despite the myriad of different control options, none of them are particularly easy to master. There is definitely a difficulty curve to deal with here, one that might put off newcomers to the series and/or casual fans. But, just like in real baseball, the more you practice, the greater the reward. I struggled with my career early in the minors, but after working hard to increase my core stats, I started to see the ball jump off the bat with more pop. It was nice to feel like I'd earned my batting average.
If you enjoy creating your own avatar in-game and focusing solely on your own career, The Show doesn't disappoint. Despite the fact that 'Road to the Show' isn't much different than it has been, I still think it's one of the more realistic career sims out there. You have to work your way up from being a double-A starter. The goal is to play well and earn XP to upgrade stats in accordance with goals set by the management. It has a clever RPG vibe to it. Your player might be tasked with increasing your batter’s contact stat versus right handed pitchers or simply hit safely a set number of times during a certain run of series. Personally, I love the feeling of accomplishment when you finally get that promotion call up to the majors. Despite my best intentions, I rarely have time to devote to career modes, but I can certainly see myself coming back to The Show to continue working with my closing pitcher and making another run for the playoffs.
Franchise mode is pretty much stock and standard, although there is some impressively realistic haggling going on when re-negotiating contracts. Diamond Dynasty is another new mode that is pretty much directly taken from Madden's Ultimate Team. It's all about collecting card packs and upgrading your created team. Stat junkies will love it. I think it's clever, but be forewarned: it would require a major time commitment to really get the most out of it. One thing about baseball games... they take a while to play!
One thing I will say is that The Show boasts a far better presentation than its rival. The Show boasts impressive graphics and fluid animation. Collision detection is spotty at times, but for the most part the animations during plays look incredibly realistic. In fact, considering there are so many ways the proverbial ball can bounce, it's surprising just how smooth everything looks. The good people in the motion capture labs have been busy! But what I appreciate even more are the subtle touches. The slight cut-scenes in between at bats really give the feeling of a broadcast presentation. You can even see your player's expression change after a good (or bad) at bat. The stars in the majors are instantly recognizable. The stadiums look nice from a variety of angles. But my most pleasant surprise is that the fans in the stands are decent rather than terrible! All in all, the presentation is true to watching it at home on TV.
One of the only areas where The Show falls behind the 2K series is with the audio. The commentary is passable, providing some interesting insights especially during the 'Road to the Show' mode, and stats... some of the time. Considering how inherently stat heavy baseball is, I find it impressive that they took so many different things into account but things get stale before too long. I ended up listening to music when I was working on my career.
MLB 12: The Show is once again the king of the hill of baseball games, but I'm starting to wonder if the developers might be taking the series for granted slightly. They aren't taking risks or dramatically improving the mechanics to any significant degree. This is all well and good seeing as how they are miles ahead of the competition. Despite their best efforts, they have fallen behind in both pitching and commentary to the 2K series. Ultimately resting on your laurels allows said competition to draw even. I'd like to see The Show continue to evolve because it really is one of the better sports games out there; it's just a pity that it's limited solely to PlayStation 3 owners. Still, if you're a true baseball fan MLB 12: The Show is undoubtedly your best bet.
This review is based on a retail copy of MLB 12: The Show for the PlayStation 3 provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.