There has been no more consistent sports series this generation than SCEA’s MLB: The Show. It has shined in gameplay, depth, and authenticity while struggling mightily along the way in areas such as online play and commentary. MLB 12: The Show was no different than the titles that preceded it. A lack of general advancement and some post-release issues were notable but those satisfied with the product in the past likely remained that way.
The ranking of games in the best of 2012 list is based on number of factors including the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take and one with the advantage of tracking the games beyond just the release frame and does not act as some sort of recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those high in fun factor while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.
The introduction of analog controls in MLB 11 (which finished 4th for 2011) helped provide a sense of newness that had been lacking for the franchise. SCEA went away from that for pitching – though keeping all sorts of options available for users to select which is always appreciated – with a default of the new “Pulse Pitching”. That feature did make pitching more challenging and differentiated talent better but was almost physically painful and nauseating to use. Otherwise people would be hard pressed to identify major changes to the game from MLB 11 to 12. That’s probably why no pre-release demo was offered.
What appears to have been the biggest reason for that was the decision by SCEA to divert development time for the PS3 version to the Vita version of the game. A Franchise mode overhaul and upgrade to the lighting system were among the things sacrificed in the process. It may have made sense at the time, not knowing that the Vita was going to tank, but shifting resources from a version that sells in the hundreds of thousands to one that at best would move only tens of thousands was a questionable call to make. The potential reward was simply outweighed by the risk. Sales of the PS3 version have now fallen off for two straight years after peaking with MLB 10.
The sense that not enough was done with a product has most recently hurt the NCAA Football series and may be starting to affect The Show. The tolerance level though is higher here as the game excels in several areas – outside of online play – so most have found themselves satisfied regardless. How long that feeling can last though from individual to individual is the question and SCEA may have to do something more drastic to avoid getting stuck in a rut heading into the PS4. Some new features and satisfactory online play would probably even be enough for now.
Of course the standout areas of the game – the actual gameplay, options, graphics, and authenticity remain excellent. Competition or not that deserves recognition as the company has continued to build on its strong points. There is no discounting how well The Show produces a true sim baseball experience. Better ball physics, a more strategic and engaging batter-pitcher battle, and new animations were somewhat subtle but worthwhile improvements.
Diamond Dynasty, an attempt at an “Ultimate Team” mode of their own was conceptually sound but poorly executed. The 10 team playoffs and division tie-breaker game did not make the cut despite the competition getting them in. Start times for games in Franchise mode were wrong and patches attempted to fix that and other problems but caused severe new issues of their own. The Online Home Run Derby feature was promoted for the game, missing for four months, and then introduced as a promotional stunt. Commentary was dry and dated (well behind that of the competition) and load times remained extensive even with the ability to install a large chunk to the hard drive.
Beyond all that though online play continues to be the achilles’ heel for The Show. Even the NBA 2K series, long having accompanied this series in level of online ineptitude, has been able to improve performance leaving The Show as the only major sports series to constantly ignore such a significant aspect of the product. Even when severe lag and disconnects didn’t plague attempts at games they heavily favored pitching creating a frustrating and all around unenjoyable time. To add insult to injury an “Online Pass” was introduced this year.
For both the good and the bad MLB 12: The Show continued the stretch of steady and consistent releases while easily remaining the best baseball game on the market. It’s arguably the safest sports game for consumers to buy because they know exactly what they’ll be getting. Gameplay, depth of modes, and authenticity will be exceptional while some presentation elements and online play will be undoubtedly poor.
Year in Review
Much more to come throughout the month!
•#7 of 2012: MLB 12: The Show
•#8 of 2012: NHL 13
•#9 of 2012: NCAA Football 13
•#10 of 2012: NFL Blitz
•Vote for the 2012 Community Choice Awards
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: Lawsuits Faced by Electronic Arts
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: Disingenuous Marketing and Unfulfilled Features
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: The Disastrous Road Towards NBA Live 13