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MLB 13: The Show

MLB

Sony’s MLB: The Show series has become as synonymous in the build up to the upcoming baseball season as pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training. It rolls around every March, satiating fans of America’s favourite pastime with the best approximation of the sport available, adding new features and refining its mechanics year after year. With MLB 13: The Show, the focus is purely on the latter, foregoing vast new additions in favour of implementing smart new tweaks and redesigns to its gameplay, providing a much more accessible version of The Show that should appeal to series stalwarts and newcomers alike.

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“Intelligently opened the hitting window”That accessibility takes the shape of a reworking of The Show’s infamously difficult hitting. All too often an at-bat would end in a frustrating pop up or a weak dribbler down the first base line – and that was when you were actually able to make contact. For MLB 13 your timing doesn’t have to be as perfect as before; Sony San Diego have intelligently opened the hitting window up, providing you with a little extra leeway when you step up to the plate. Contact is more regular allowing you to foul off difficult pitches and look for something you can drive into the outfield. Weak hits into the infield are less frequent and even outs have a little more oomph behind them. The frustration of missing seemingly hittable pitches is gone, but it hasn’t sacrificed its challenge either, striking the perfect balance that doesn’t make you feel underpowered or overmatched.

You still have to be patient and avoid wildly flailing at every pitch, but there’s a little more room for error that makes hitting much more satisfying. New push/pull physics extend this further, tracking how players spray the ball around the ballpark and placing them into categories that range from extreme pull to extreme push. This allows you to tailor at-bats to the skills of individual players, taking someone like Ichiro Suzuki and hitting the ball to the opposite field to successfully move a runner up. With these improvements you’ll find your batting average falling much closer in-line with the actual pros, adding tension to tough pitcher/batter duels and giving you the feeling that anything is possible. It removes the steep learning curve that plagued previous entries in the series and gives newcomers a chance to learn the ropes and improve without growing discouraged all too early.

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The newly implemented Beginner Mode will help with this too. It functions as a kind of training and introduction to MLB 13’s mechanics, taking place in a standard game situation that allows you to play a regular nine-innings and learn as you play. As a batter you’ll start by seeing fastballs straight down the middle. As soon as you’ve proven you can handle this the difficultly will gradually ramp up, introducing more and more of the tools and mechanics you need to learn to be successful. The series has always been fairly poor at showing newcomers how everything works but Beginner Mode does just that and even proves helpful to veterans who want to brush up on their fundamentals.

However, a change to the Guess Pitch mechanic may throw off players who’ve become accustomed to it over the years. Before, you could guess the location and type of pitch about to be thrown, helping players narrow down the strikezone and look for specific pitches. If you guessed either the correct location or correct pitch you’d be handily notified. In MLB 13 this has been reworked in an aim to move closer to realism and appease those who have issues with it being used in online games. Now you must guess both the location and pitch type correctly for the notification to appear, if you guess one right but not the other you get nothing. It’s an understandable change for Sony San Diego’s aims, but for a series that has encouraged customisation with various control schemes and alternatives, it seems strange that the previous system has been removed completely. Playing without it is a big adjustment for those who have become accustomed to it so it’s something to consider.

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“Plethora of animations”Elsewhere, pitching has remained much the same, while fielding has seen a throwing meter added to generate a little more challenge. Dubbed Button Accuracy Throw, a meter governs accuracy while how hard you press the button governs speed. It’s an interesting concept but using static buttons to adjust speed can be a little touchy. You’ll want to throw a little underhand to first base and end up launching a rocket straight at his head.

Fielding has always prioritised animation over gameplay, however, and that remains true here. The plethora of animations on offer is staggering, maintaining that you almost never see the same play twice. Visually, MLB 13 remains one of the better looking sports games available. Shadows during daytime games are a particular highlight and you’ll instantly recognise every player all the way from Albert Pujols to whoever is actually on the Houston Astros roster. Matt Vasgersian and Eric Karros return to the commentary booth once again, this time joined by newcomer Steve Lyons. He brings some new lines of dialogue to the booth but a lot of what you hear has been recycled, relying too much on uninteresting play-by-play and lacking any sort of cohesion between the three talking heads.

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Fortunately, commentary has been minimised in Road to the Show, MLB 13’s returning adventure from Double-A chump to Major League star. It now accentuates the ambient noise of each stadium, further immersing you in the game. Fellow players will shout out the current pitch count or number of outs, while base coaches will lend advice. It feels much more personal and organic, while adjustments to camera positions gives you a much better sense of the field. You can now watch fly balls when you’re on the basepaths so you know when to run or stay put, averting your eyesight at the press of a button to see the third base coach. When you’re playing the outfield you now follow the path of the ball in the air rather than relying on a big reticule in the middle of the grass; a smart refinement that makes it enjoyable to play every position on the field. Road to the Show may not have the same depth of role-playing as something like NBA2K’s MyPlayer, but these changes add to its addiction.

And that addiction creeps into every nook and cranny, with a new Postseason mode (that probably should have been here a few years ago) and another robust Franchise mode, there’s still plenty to delve into over the upcoming baseball season. MLB 13: The Show successfully continues the series’ trend of fantastic annual refinement, creating a sports game that’s almost uniformly excellent. Troublesome netcode has been improved and everything expands out from the ameliorated hitting to create the best version of the sport yet. It may not be a huge leap over last year’s game but its satisfaction is almost endless. There’s never been a better time to step out onto the diamond.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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