I’ve loved baseball as long as I can remember. Despite being the “American Pastime,” I get that it isn’t for everyone. The pace of baseball is from a bygone era – slow and deliberate. It is chock full of statistics – sure you have batting average, but there is on-base percentage, slugging percentage and more recently OPS (on-base plus slugging). Then there are the tiny details – how big of a lead are you taking at first base? Is the infield playing in? Does the pitcher have a hitch in his windup? Maybe he throws off batters by delivering sidearm?
When baseball is great, it is all about tension. The excruciating wait between pitches, the endless mind game of what pitch is coming next and then the explosion of action when a ball is put into play. This is all great stuff, but for me the problem with video game baseball has always been that the real game of baseball is a marathon. Real life games can last four hours (thankfully the video game versions can be sped up quite a bit) and there are 162 regular season games each season. Playing an entire season in video game form is a monumental commitment. Sure you can play a shortened season, but then all your stats will be thrown off. How many home runs can you possibly hit in a 16 game season?
The marathon aspect is why I personally have never been able to get too deep into a video game version of baseball. That is until I tried MLB 12 The Show’s “Road to the Show” (RTTS) mode. This feature has been around for a few years, but it is new to me, and it was a revelation.
In RTTS you create your own player, pick a position and are given an allotment of points to apply to a large set of baseball skills. There is everything from “power vs. left hand pitching” to “drag bunts” to “throwing accuracy”. You start out on a AA baseball team, and work your way up to the Majors and hopefully do well enough that after you retire you will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Everything is done from that player’s point of view. You take all of his at-bats and handle any fielding duties. The rest of the game is mercifully skipped. You can plow through a game in a few minutes instead of the normal 30 to 45 minutes a regular game might take. On top of that, you get a level of detail you wouldn’t get otherwise. In the field you might need to position yourself properly for a cut off throw. If you get on base, you will find yourself staring at the pitcher’s back leg to see if he is going to push off to pitch or take his foot off the rubber to throw over to first. This abbreviated view ends up feeling much more authentic than your typical role as puppet master of the entire team.
I ended up becoming emotionally invested in my player, and sank hours and hours into helping him progress. It helps that he sort of looks like a more athletic version of myself. Also, his name is “Michael Dinardo” which was the closest I could get to my actual name. I just went with the idea that the announcers had a hard time pronouncing it.
There are plenty of other modes besides RTTS. Season will let you play through a year of baseball, which you can make as short as 14 games. Franchise will have you controlling every aspect of the club of your choice. Everything from the financials of the team to making trades. The goal isn’t to win the World Series, it is to build a dynasty. There is also a Rivalry mode that allows you to play a series with your favorite team against their nemesis.
New to The Show this year is the Diamond Dynasty mode which lets you customize your own team and then either take it online or play against CPU controlled MLB teams. You will need to name your club, give them a hometown, pick colors and customize uniforms and create a logo using up to 1000 layers of graphics. Playing games will earn you in game money which you can use to buy packs of random player cards to build up your team. You can also auction off players to other users online or send real life money to buy more packs.
I could see myself getting sucked in by the Diamond Dynasty mode. You should see my amazing orange and red uniforms, and that logo! Unfortunately when I took my team online, I had some serious issues with how the game handled. Hitting was the biggest problem. The animation seemed to stutter and not line up with the buttons I was pressing. Everything seemed to work, but it was very disjointed. It would look like I had swung through a pitch, and missed it, but a fraction of a second later, the ball would go sailing into the outfield. Offline the game handles so perfectly that it make these jitters and disconnects pretty much intolerable. I’m sure you could adjust eventually, but why should you have to?
PS Move support has expanded beyond the Homerun Derby this year, and can be used throughout. Using the Move is good for a laugh, and hitting is especially fun, but overall it is clunky enough that few people will choose using it over the standard controller.
There are a variety of control schemes to choose from, including the analog pitching and batting from previous years. I found the new “pulse pitching” worked well for me after a little practice. You are presented with a circle that is pulsing back and forth between large and small. The more endurance and confidence your pitcher has, the smaller the circle will get. You move the circle to where you want to throw your pitch, and depending on how well you time your button press and the state of your current pitcher, you can have anything from pinpoint accuracy to a pitch that can end up anywhere. It gives pitching a real sense of unpredictability which brings quite a bit of realism to the game.
For batting I favored “Timing plus Zone”. If you want a more casual experience, you can go with just timing, and all you need to do is swing when the ball gets to you. The addition of zone means that you will need to use the left analog stick to position a “sweet spot” in the batting zone. If the ball is coming inside, you will make much better contact if you move the sweet spot to counter.
Before you swing you will need to get into the head of the pitcher. You can guess what pitch he is throwing, and where. On screen cues will tell you if you guessed correctly, and give you bonuses for how well you hit the ball. There are also three different swings. There is the general “all purpose” swing. If you are down in the count, you can use the contact swing to fight off bad pitches and stay alive. If the count is in your favor, or if you are feeling confident, you can swing for the fences.
One of the coolest features in MLB 12 The Show, is the ability to save RTTS, Season or Franchise games to the cloud, and then transfer them over to the PS Vita version of The Show (see our review). Not many people will want to shell out the cash for both versions, but for someone with a long commute, or who just enjoys a change of scenery, this is an amazing thing. Read our review of the Vita version of The Show to get all the details, but the short version is that it plays almost identically to the PS3. You absolutely can take your game with you.
What MLB 12 The Show does better than anything else is capture the feel of baseball. It is all there, from the high level ideas to the tiniest details. The stadiums are gorgeous, the players move the way they should. The presentation will have you swearing you are watching a TV broadcast. The depth is also amazing. Of course you have the major league teams, but you also have all of the AAA and AA minor league teams. The only gripes I have offline are the lengthy load times, even with the optional five gig installation. Online play, sadly, is unacceptable in its current state.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of MLB 12 The Show provided by Sony. It is also available for the PS Vita.