Baseball is a game of patience. Innings can drag on for what feels like hours, and unless you are in the stadium with a dog in one hand and a tall one in the other the thrill of the game is lost in long moments of batter verse pitcher battles. Yet, it’s America’s game, the traditional pastime that’s practically stitched into our flag. As the season begins fans across the country can’t help but get excited to see how their favorite team looks at a run for the pennant. And like clockwork we get another installment in the venerable MLB The Show series, looking to tap into that fan excitement and hopefully drum up enthusiasm in its new features, visual overhaul, and enhanced gameplay mechanics. MLB 12 The Show is no different in its attempt to stir the pot, and for the most part it succeeds.
On the surface--and really if that’s as far as you look at any annual sports game release, you’ll wonder if you accidentally bought last year’s game—MLB 12 looks strikingly similar to MLB 11. Yes, there are visual improvements across the board, and new lighting and the focus on the broadcast side of presentation gives this game a slick new coat of polish, but it’s very much the same looking MLB game we’ve loved for the past several years. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. This is a great looking game, and sounds and looks extremely authentic—that could be because of the new True Ball Physics system. Balls fly off bats like never before and skid across the grass just like in real life. You can really tell when the ball has spin. Details like this, and simply watching the clouds roll in and the shadows change helps enhance the baseball experience.
But don’t stop reading because you think this is just a slightly enhanced version of MLB 11. There are a number of additions that make MLB 12 The Show standout, but the first that will grab your attention is the cross-platform play between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita versions. You have probably seen Sony advertise this as its game changer, and while that’s a bold statement, the facts are clear. You can now take your save files to the cloud and play Franchise, Season, and Road to The Show on either PS Vita or PS3. You can only do this with one save file per mode per PSN account, but you can overwrite it as many times as you like. For the diehard fans, this could be a massive selling point, and for the casual fan, this is just extra incentive to keep playing months from now.
In the gameplay department, Sony’s San Diego Studio made a number of small under-the-hood changes that all add up to a more complete game than its predecessors. Last year we saw the addition of analog controls, and MLB 12 takes it a step further and irons out some of its wrinkles. Your right analog stick is still used to control stride and swing, but the left analog stick controls where you swing in the zone. A word of caution to those new to the series: these controls are truly difficult to learn, and even harder to master. It’s hard enough relying on split-second instincts to determine if the pitch is in the zone, now you have two sticks to control your swing. Of course, the veterans will likely love the more authentic, controlled swing. It’s a bit pointless to complain that Sony didn’t create more interesting options for the beginners since you can change how you control pitching and hitting in the options, but if playing as a beginner it just takes one button to swing and pitch. This adds up to a pretty boring experience for the true beginner.
To say The Show is a difficult sports game is an understatement; it’s a hard game in general. There is so much to consider when on the field and pitching that it’s easy to forget you are playing a videogame. It’s almost like you need to make a grocery list of responsibilities before you throw the ball. This isn’t a complaint at all, it’s just simply pointing out that Sony did a great job of making you pay attention to what’s going on in the game. Other sports games give you a bit of leg up in terms of attention span. You can easily sneak by a sip of your favorite beverage at nearly any point of a Madden game, and you can even take a phone call when playing FIFA. That’s not the case in The Show. Your best bet is to simply pause, do your business, and then put your attention back at the task at hand.
The other major control change this year is pulse pitching, which feels oddly out of place as a mini-game, or an arcade-style feature. You still use one button as in the classic format, but now you must time it with an on-screen circle to ensure your accuracy. This function just feels off compared to the rest of the game, both in execution and presentation. Pulse pitching should either be canned or reworked for next year. Again, as with the changes to the batting system, you can simply turn this off in the options. San Diego Studio is really smart to let players decide which new features they want to keep, and which old features they’d rather use. You really can play any way you like.
Outside of the changes to visuals, ball physics, and controls is the new Diamond Dynasty collectible card game feature. You will find something similar in Madden and FIFA. There is a lot to this function, just like Ultimate Team, but it’s really geared to fantasy players, or those that like management decision making. You get a budget to buy cards—dynasty players are a long-term investment that need training, while MLB players are short-term investments with predetermined attributes—and you earn virtual money playing ranked head-to-head online games or verse the computer. Okay, so there is a lot to this mode not covered here, but that’s because there isn’t space in this review for something a lot of people will check out once and then forget.
Online was not available at the time of writing this review, but this will be updated as necessary. One small change this year is that online play is tacked onto their respective areas within the menu. Want to play an online Exhibition game? There’s a quick option for that.
This year you can control the game completely through your Move, which is a great addition and works quite well, but doesn’t really work as well as your standard controls. You’ll also get 3D capabilities—couldn’t test that on my setup—and some small tweaks to Franchise and Road to The Show modes. Road to The Show now has enhanced training modes, but your created player is also starting at the Double-A level as a bit of a superstar. You even have more control over your trades and your line-up, which is a massive benefit for those looking to go a bit more in depth.
MLB 12 The Show is yet another extremely solid baseball game, and with some minor additions, it’s hard to recommend it to casual fans. However, the simple ability to play your game on both PS Vita and PS3 is a huge benefit for those looking to play a nice long season. Real hardcore baseball fans are going to love this game because it looks like the real deal and you can play it exactly how you want. You can switch on Move controls, use analog, or simply revert to your standard button controls. The commentary is still strong, but a bit outdated. Despite needing some bigger changes to game modes like Franchise, this is still rock solid. Baseball never looked this good.
-The Final Word-
One of the best baseball games to date, MLB 12 The Show gets an overhaul just where it needed it. With cross-platform play, hardcore fans can take their long season wherever they want.