MLB 13: The Show Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Sony PS Vita
You couldn’t say the UK has baseball fever. Heck, FIFA sits atop our charts all the year round and we’ve even got our own version of the sport, only we call it ‘rounders’ and play it during summer at school. We don’t do home runs, big leather gloves or the Elephant Walk. And, because we do none of this, it might be why MLB 13: The Show is so compelling to play for a newcomer to baseball. It also helps that it’s one of the most complete and comprehensive sports games out there, supporting everyone who has dreamed of hitting a home run right down to those who have never witnessed a game.
Names like Bautista and Saltalamacchia swirl across the screen, praise heaped upon them but totally unrecognisable to a baseball beginner. Imagine Dragons’ ‘Radioactive’ (this year’s most overused song after Kanye West’s ‘Power’ held the title in 2012) blares out in an opening movie celebrating the players, venues and idiosyncrasies that surround Major League Baseball. It’s hard not to get caught up in the pulse-pounding music and flashing lights and that’s before the players have even walked onto the field! Admittedly, the dry and serviceable menu that greets you once the game has loaded isn’t as fun – more overwhelming, given the number of options and explanatory text for each mode.
Looking to just jump in to a baseball game? That’s catered for. Looking for something resembling a campaign, taking your team from the bottom of the league to champions? That’s there too. How about actually managing the team – you’ve always wanted to be Brad Pitt in Moneyball, right? THAT’S THERE TOO! It’s astounding how many different ways there are to play, each one presented in a professional, accurate and attention-grabbing way. MLB 13: The Show conveys baseball in a television programme style, hammering home the authenticity of watching the game on the box. It’s not understated – graphics and overlays fly about the screen – but neither is it excessive, perfectly capturing the spirit of a broadcast game. There’s always the option to skip a team rundown or cut to the pitch but it adds a distancing layer of realism to what could be a very dry, artificial experience. Throw in callouts to corporate sponsors and what is authenticity for the US becomes a curious slice of Americana for European territories.
Actually playing the game is a simple affair deepened by different pitches, substitutions, team management and tailoring the controls dependent on experience. Novices are guided through matches, building up the skills needed to play on higher difficulties – for example, the fielders are controlled automatically until the player deems it necessary to control with a new catch system that is intuitive. This learning curve is an excellent introduction to beginners – there are no fastball mechanics to throw you, potentially souring any further play.
Every stadium has been carefully reconstructed, the details appealing to long-term, critical fans while newcomers will revel in the sounds and pageantry of a baseball game. Players have seen the same level of detail applied, although many animations are shared and they stay resolutely mute even in post-game interviews. Luckily the commentators have enough hot air to fill the airwaves with their incisive chatter. During some of the longer modes – seeing your team play a number of games in the run-up to the final – the commentators will relay stats and events that have occurred in previous matches. It’s not all jaw-dropping material – repetition occurs far too often, cheapening the realism that’s so prevalent everywhere else but it all contributes to the telecast presentation. Once the novelty of the commentary has run its course the option to turn it off is welcome, especially as it allows you to really hear the atmosphere of each game. The crowd heckles and cheers with crippling accuracy – each shout is rare enough that you won’t hear them all that often but any snarky jibes that do get through are sure to rile you.
Away from the standard Exhibition Match modes and the customisable rags-to-riches of Road to the Show lies The Show Live – perhaps the most astounding contribution to the longevity of the game. As long as you are connected to the internet current results, transfers, injuries and batting averages are updated within the mode allowing players to get as close as possible to playing in a real-time league. With the baseball season not fully underway it’s not reached full effectiveness quite yet but it’s easy to see how fans will love to pore over every stat change and surprise roster switch.
Play MLB: The Show 13 for too long and certain cracks begin to reveal themselves. While the different fields look amazing to begin with you’ll soon start noticing that the crowd look a little flat. Hit a home run too far and it might just ping off a cardboard cut-out of a TV camera manned by an equally 2D cameraman. But, for all of these minor flaws, baseball fans have plenty to keep them occupied. If the scalable controls and genuinely different single-player modes can’t hook in fans then there’s always multiplayer – incorporating traditional player vs. player matches as well as leaderboards to compare your own team’s progress – to keep aficionados satiated. Local multiplayer is available for quick, ad hoc matches while the online side of things is bolstered by Sony’s always welcome cross-play giving Vita owners the chance to play their PS3 cohorts.
For those unfamiliar with baseball MLB 13: The Show is probably a curiosity at most. The fact that the game is also PlayStation exclusive further segregates its European audience so that it occupies a limited niche at best. Still, for those looking for a baseball game there is nothing better on the market. A few minor peeves and some cut corners stop MLB 13 from attaining sports game nirvana but it continues the trend of solid, entertaining and surprisingly deep releases from Sony. It might not hit it out of the park but any sports title that’s as fun to watch as it is to play deserves attention. Buy it and succumb to the sponsor-infused thrill of American baseball - just don’t mention rounders.