Loosened-up hitting and subtle refinements make MLB 13: The Show another spectacular baseball game.

The Good

  • Hitting adjustments make it easier and more satisfying to lay wood on the ball
  • Beginner mode and other tweaks make this version of The Show more approachable than ever
  • Beautiful visuals and great situational sound effects on the diamond
  • Road to the Show remains one of the most addictive experiences in sports gaming
  • The complete package when it comes to re-creating Major League Baseball.

The Bad

  • No significant new modes or features
  • Lengthy load times, which can be especially aggravating in Road to the Show.

Baseball rites of spring are many and varied. From the day that pitchers and catchers report through Opening Day, it seems like not a moment goes by in the springtime without baseball fans noticing how the grand old game is getting warmed up for another season. Now you can add the annual early-March release date of Sony’s Cooperstown-caliber MLB: The Show series to the calendar. The game hitting stores has become a big reason for baseball fans to celebrate. And the 2013 edition of this long-running Sony-exclusive series is another masterful re-creation of real baseball, from the pitcher-batter duel at the heart of the game through little moments like getting jammed inside and the satisfaction of turning even a routine 6-4-3 double play. Changes and improvements are subtle for the most part, although some superb tweaks to hitting make the game more approachable than ever. As a result, MLB 13: The Show hits a near-perfect balance between simulation-style realism and the pure arcade thrill of hammering ball with bat.

Knocking the cover off the ball just got easier.

Knocking the cover off the ball just got easier.

At first glance, however, MLB 13 doesn’t look or sound much different from last year’s model. That said, it’s one of the best-looking sports games out there, and it would be hard to improve things. Shadow effects are more lifelike than before, especially in day games. Animations include even more running and fielding actions, to the point where you rarely see a player do the same thing twice. Faces are more rounded with realistic features. There doesn’t seem to be a player you can’t identify upon first glance, whether you’re talking about the grizzled, bearded R.A. Dickey or a peach-fuzzed kid like Mike Trout. All that seems to be lacking are some tattoos. So if you’re into Jose Reyes’ extensive forearm ink, you won’t find it here.

Audio is incredible, although much of it has been held over from the past couple of years. Booth jockeys Matt Vasgersian, Steve Lyons, and Eric Karros are dead-on with their observations, which are just about perfectly suited to every play. Some lines have been recycled, of course, although Lyons is a new addition to the team replacing Dave Campbell, so he comes with fresh dialogue. Atmospheric sound effects are even better. Games sound like real baseball on the field, with players talking it up and giving situational advice about the count, the number of outs, and so on. So many sports games resort to canned crowd audio during games, but here, you get background noise that always seems unique to your situation. It’s a great way to immerse you in games.

Bigger improvements can be seen in the gameplay. Hitting difficulty has always been one big gripe from fans of past versions of MLB: The Show. The game has never purported to be easy, forcing you to climb the summit of a steep learning curve when stepping into the batter’s box. Timing had to be nearly perfect, even with basic push-button swinging on the default difficulty, and it was essential to target the ball with a cursor to make serious contact. This made the game frustrating, especially to newcomers who wanted the instant illusion of being a big-league ballplayer at the dish. Thankfully, hitting has been seriously loosened this year with an opened-up timing window. Now you can get solid wood on the ball even if you don’t have your timing absolutely perfect. As a result, you can at least get pieces of tough pitches that you would have just waved at in previous games. Understandably, this does make hitting somewhat easier. But it mostly makes hitting a lot more satisfying, because you can now pound the ball like a major leaguer.

Visual details get a little sharper and a little more photo-realistic each and every year.

Visual details get a little sharper and a little more photo-realistic each and every year.

Adjusted batting doesn’t kick off offensive explosions, either. You can hit the ball harder more often, sure, but that often means you’re clocking a lot of long, loud outs. You’re not going to suddenly start slamming the ball over the fences every other at-bat. Going yard might well be a little easier for power hitters, but there is nothing here that would be out of the ordinary in a real Major League contest. Timing remains crucial, as does picking your spots. You can’t just go up and flail away at every pitch and expect to do anything but give the opposition easy outs. There is just a little more room for error at the plate, which is very welcome given how tough the game has been in the past, especially for rookies.

The revamped hitting also makes the game more lifelike. As noted above, outs have oomph now. Last year’s sad little nubber a few feet down the first-base line is this year’s hard ground out right at the sack. You can now more readily fight off tough pitches by fouling away ball after ball to stay alive in fierce duels with pitchers. Before, contact was so tough to come by that you tended to just whiff at stuff on the corners. Now, you can take the likes of Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia nine or 10 pitches deep into an at-bat.

New push/pull physics also track how players spray the ball around, labeling them in categories that range from extreme pull to extreme push. This again adds to realism and lets you more accurately tailor at-bats to the skills of individual players, a big help when trying to advance runners. All of these improvements ramp up tension at the plate and give you more of the feeling that anything is possible.

By allowing you to hang in there in tough at-bats, MLB 13 creates incredibly authentic pitcher-batter duels.

By allowing you to hang in there in tough at-bats, MLB 13 creates incredibly authentic pitcher-batter duels.

Pitching hasn’t changed as much. It might be a little easier to fool opposing batters now, but that’s about it. With a control pitcher, you can clock a fair number of Ks now, as long as you throw a smart mix of different pitches and play around with speed and location. Enemy batters aren’t as picky as in previous editions of the game. They won’t wave at garbage too often, although you can make even the best look foolish with a good mix. Again, this makes for more realistic pitcher-batter duels. The only lingering issue with pitching in need of a fix is the dark circle of the Pulse Pitching mechanics. It remains a little too arcadey, pulsing so fast and making location-setting too gimmicky. The pulsing circle is also too hard to see in front of catchers with dark chest protectors.

Loosened-up hitting and subtle refinements make MLB 13: The Show another spectacular baseball game.

By Brett Todd