Review: MLB 12: The Show (PS3)
When you hear the term “system seller” what kind of games immediately come to mind? Off the top of your head you’re probably thinking about a game that has you invading an enemy nation, slaying a god of war (or two), or maybe one that has you enthralled by its epic story-rich role playing. While these are all great examples of what it takes to sell hardware, you can now, thanks to the team at Sony’s San Diego Studio, add baseball simulation to that list. MLB 12: The Show is the new game by which sports titles will be measured.
It’s the return of the king.
This is my third go around with The Show (in an official review capacity), and because I’ve spent years with the series, I think it makes sense that with this review I focus on what’s changed, added, tweaked and updated. Trust when I say that there’s plenty to talk about here but I wanted to make sure that I give you a review with the most important things to look out for.
When it comes to presentation, MLB 12: The Show has no equal. Period. It’s the best compliment that I can give a simulation sports game, one that I handed over to a certain professional basketball video game about 18 months ago (if you’re a fan of sports games you know what I’m talking about). Not only does The Show take the cake this year, it completely runs out of the park with it.
The most obvious thing you’ll notice is that The Show’s visuals are among gaming’s best. We’re not just talking sports titles here; I’m talking about video games in general. This is the fifth iteration on the PS3 and adds to the testament that things get better with age, as the sheer level of detail found here is at an all time high.
Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Eric Karros are in the booth handling the commentating once again. With the inclusion of 12’s “TruBroadcast” feature the trio seem to mesh much better with the game’s overall presentation. Last year, the commentary would have awkward moments where the speaker’s tone did not match the action on screen. That has (for the most part) seemed corrected. Also added in is much more contextual commentary, with some if it spilling into Road to the Show (RTTS), where you’ll hear about your players week, month, or season thus far. It makes for an even higher level of immersion.
In regards to gameplay, MLB 12 hands you the entire kitchen sink and let’s you do what you want with it. How many times have you played a yearly sports title where they change one key mechanic here or another gameplay altering mechanic there? Well, in this title, not only did they throw in a third pitching interface, they created a forth by combining two of the older ones, yet they still managed to leave in the original pitching styles that fans of the franchise have become accustomed to instead of forcing you one new mechanic or another. The choice is completely yours to switch to and from as you please.
One of the biggest bright spots in 12 is something that’s not even mentioned on the game’s box art, a feature that San Diego Studio is calling “True Ball Physics.” Community Manager Ramon Russell, told me at a preview event this past winter that it was something “built from the ground up… it gives [The Show] the most accurate ball movement produced in a video game. Ever.” Truer words have never been told to me by someone trying to sell me on their game.
The beauty about this feature is that it feels like it was always there, but it’s also a feature that — now that you have it — you can’t go back to playing games from years prior because it just wont be the same.
It’s no secret that the game already looks incredible, but because it looks so good when subtle details like ball movement don’t behave naturally, it tends to stick out even more than it normally would. With these revamped physics in 12 though, hit balls no longer die in the outfield, nor do they suffer the repetitive three bounce and roll animations when they do make contact with the earth.
Whether you’re chasing a floater int0 the right field corner or gobbling up a two-hopper out of the infield dirt, these new found physics will not just check you on your baseball situational awareness, but it will also be making sure that you’re taking the right angle to the ball every time. You’ll even see low line drives smack into bases where you can do nothing but sit and watch as the ball bounces straight up into the air. You’ll be treated to much more natural looking ground-roll doubles this time around as well.
The Show also reminds us that the PlayStation Move exists, by bringing in a deeper integration into 12. Last year, we were limited to using the motion functionality in the game’s Home Run Derby, which made sense at the time. Now, Sony’s glowing orbs can be used to play a full game. Hitting with the controller feels as good, if not a little better, than it did a year prior (see: easier), and the pitching mechanic is passable enough that you won’t be embarrassed to take out Sony’s questionable looking peripheral in front of your guests.
Another feature receiving the upgrade treatment (if you can call it that) is the game’s use of 3D, well, on Sony’s 3DTV at least. MLB 12 is now the sixth title in the PlayStation 3 library to use SimulView Technology. The feature allows you and a pal to play against each other on the same display, forfeiting 3D in the process, but sans the screen peeking. I don’t own a PlayStation display myself, but if any one game is going to sell someone on this feature, or 3D gaming on the PS3 in general, The Show should be at the top of their list of reasons to own the set. Stereoscopic 3D is still on board for those of you out there, like myself, who find 2D gaming to be so 2009.
Also available this year is cloud support. No, it’s not to act as a safe haven to protect your precious game saves, it’s so you can take you’re game on the go with the PlayStation Vita. We’ll be putting up a review of the Vita version this week where I’ll go over the key differences and similarities between the two. If you need a sneak peak of that review, all you need to know is that it’s awesome. Make sure you stay tuned for that.
I’ve always referred to the series as sports’ best RPG, and this year is no different. Road to the Show is as addictive as ever, but believe it or not, it’s not the deepest mode this year. That honor will instead be bestowed upon the game’s “Diamond Dynasty” (DD) mode.
In all reality, I think I can review Diamond Dynasty as a stand alone title. It’s really that much to take into consideration and almost too much to cover to make it into this review. It takes team management and player progression to whole new levels. If you’re like me, a hardcore Road to the Show guy, Diamond Dynasty and all the baseball micromanagement that comes with it will be just what the doctor ordered.
Warning: baseball information overload. Does it make sense to say that the best features about The Show are also its biggest issues? Both RTTS and DD are very compelling modes, but I can’t imagine your average player delving into both too often.While I just raved about RTTS and DD, the problem with both (and well, the game in general) is that the barrier for entry is just too damn high.
Sure, a gamer and baseball lover such as myself will absolutely fall head over heals for that high level customization and depth. On the other hand, it’s hard to have an enjoyable pick up game with a non-gamer friend or family member who wants to just check out the title because he or she is a baseball fan. Sure, I can whip out the move controllers, but it shouldn’t be the only go to option.
The online functionality, like last year and the year before that, still continues to perform below standards. With a game about split second decisions (especially playing on All-Star or higher), there shouldn’t be as much lag as there is. To put things in perspective, I played against a friend in my city, both of us are on FiOS and our game still managed to be choppy as all hell. It stinks and if the game’s single player stuff wasn’t as good as it is, this would have shaved more points from the review.
To put all of this in perspective, I think it’s clear that MLB 12: The Show, places the series at the very top of it’s game. It’s a showcase not just for sports simulation but for video games in general. Right off the bat I proclaimed it a system seller, but don’t be surprised if it helps Sony sell some PlayStation displays, Moves, and PlayStation Vitas along the way. Sounds like it would make one hell of a bundle if I’ve ever seen one.