Spring training is coming to a close, which means it’s time to prepare for the start of the official MLB season. Or another year of saying “There’s always next year” for us Cubs fans.
Much like professional baseball players, it took me a while to shake off the rust of not having played MLB The Show for quite a while. Unfortunately, it took me a bit longer than usual thanks to the new pulse pitching feature — a change I’m not too fond of.
As a long time play of The Show, I’ll admit I’m a little biased towards the traditional pitch meter. Regardless, I was willing to give the new pulse pitching a try. While I recognize Sony’s attempt to speed up pitching, I can’t help but feel that they removed an element that gave me that much more control over my pitching. Rather than filling the meter up for speed and stopping it in a certain location for accuracy, pulse pitching has a pulsating circle grow and shrink in the strike box; you must perfectly time when the circle is at its smallest for more accuracy and power. Problem one: you can’t individually control pitch speed and accuracy like you can with the meter.
To put it simply, I was terrible with it at first, but after finally getting a grasp of it (or at least as close to mastering it as I will ever get), I realized it wasn’t just my lack of timing that was a problem. Even when timed perfectly, the ball rarely went where I commanded it, even with some of the best pitchers in the game. Here’s where my ultimate disatisfaction and frustration stemmed from. As a Cubs fan, playing as my favorite team doesn’t always allow me to use an all-star caliber pitcher. So when I do manage to stop the pulsating circle perfectly (which is extremely hard to do with a sub-par pitcher), I want the pitch to at least go where I commanded it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do that. Needless to say, after ripping my hair out over frustration, I decided to switch back to the traditional pitch meter — and the game was suddenly as great as it used to be.
Regardless of how you, or I, feel about pulse pitching, there’s no denying that MLB 12: The Show remains the best baseball game on the market. Over the past few years, The Show has continued to make improvements both graphically and technically to become the most realstic, authentic baseball simulation game available for consoles.
MLB 12: The Show doesn’t do anything to harm that reputation, but I’m not so sure the additions to this year’s title do enough to separate from past games of the series. There are some subtle additions, like pitcher’sand catcher’s reactions to hits, more camera cuts, and what I feel are even more impressive character and stadium models.
The first thing to take note of is the remarkable graphics. I honestly feel this is one of the major improvements of the game, and it’s a huge advantage The Show has over its competition. For the first time in sports gaming, I feel character models are unique to the individual players. Stadiums look as great as ever, and all-new camera cuts, player reactions, and presentation changes make it a truly great and authentic baseball experience. All that’s missing is the scent of stale popcorn and cold beer. Or that two foot hot dog that the Texas Rangers now have.
Before the game’s release, Sony spoke highly of the game’s presentation. Yes, the presentation is pretty realistic, but as with most sports games, after playing for a while, you’re bound to get the same repetitive lines from the redundant announcers. While the announcers do talk about relevant stats in the season, there’s only so many ways you can hear them say “he fouls it back and out of play” before you put them on mute and put on your own background music. Is it a flaw in the game? Probably not, but one day I’d like to see a sports game pay particular attention to its broadcast team.
Up until now, everything I’ve covered, aside from pulse pitching, has been all aesthetics; so let’s get down to the technical elements of the game — ball phsyics in particular. This year, ball rotation plays a pivotal part in fielding. No longer does the ball operate in a perfect arc and find its way to the outfielders glove. This time, depending on the speed and rotation of the ball, hits can be hard line drives, bloopers, or light ground balls. Don’t forget the ricochets off the actual bases — something the game might overexaggerate a bit.
As for gameplay, it’s about as smooth as you’d expect from a MLB The Show title. Fielding is fluid as players seamlessly transition from fielding the ball to throwing the runner out. Don’t expect runners to go down so easily this time around. The game improves AI awareness in the field, this time introducing proximity awareness for other players on the field. Batters and runners will attempt to avoid the tag, break up double players, and contort their bodies to find a way to the bag. It all makes for some really entertaining replays.
Hitting using the new Zone Analog batting system also takes some getting used to, but I was way more comfortable with this new feature — though Analog batting is still a selectable option. It’s a new feature, but once again, not necessarily one that was a must-change.
For those who enjoy acting out the motions, MLB 12: The Show offers PlayStation Move support, but this time for all aspects of the game: batting, pitching, and fielding. I’m not particularly a fan of using the Move with The Show, but the batting is surprisingly fun. Of course, it was fun last year in the Home Run Derby.
Franchise and Road to the Show make a return this year. There are some small, but notable improvements including more accurate lineups and smarter trade logic. They’re small changes for already great modes that add ton of replay value. The biggest change, and most welcomed for me, is the cloud save support which allows me to continue these on the road, literally. Now, I can save my game and load it up on the Vita version of The Show and play at work, in the car, or even in the bathroom. I don’t recommend playing while driving or hunkering down for a big poop. While the Vita version isn’t exactly the same as the console counterpart, it does provide a similar experience.
MLB 12: The Show doesn’t stop there with the modes, however. This year, the game introduces a new Diamond Dynasty mode. Imagine a fantasy baseball game in which you micromanage your team via collectable baseball cards — or something similar to EA Sport’s Ultimate Team. In this mode, you will create a team from scratch: designing the uniform (with a ton of creative options available), selecting the city, etc. You receive a pack of player cards (both fictional and MLB players) to fill your roster; by playing games both online and against the CPU, you earn budget to buy new packs of players. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you figure it out, it’s a mode you will grow to love. It’s a mode I hope they expand on in future titles.
Overall, MLB 12: The Show is another solid installment of the baseball franchise that any fan of the sport will love. Sony took some risks in the gameplay department, which I particularly didn’t care for. However, after switching to the ones I prefer it was just like last year’s version. This could also be viewed as a negative considering MLB 12: The Show doesn’t make any major advancements. It has a new mode, cloud saving, some new ball mechanics, and an updated roster. But remember, MLB The Show was already a solid game, so it’d be hard for anyone to really improve a whole lot on it. Bottom line, it’s a great game and must have for any baseball fan that owns a PS3.
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