Like an aging Willie McCovey
One-hundred thousand years ago, a caveman was out hunting on the frozen wastes, when he slipped and fell into a crevasse. In 2008, he was discovered by some scientists and thawed out. He was then drafted by the San Francisco Giants and became…Unfrozen Caveman Ballplayer.
Ah, the rites of spring. Deer frolicking in the melting snow of Wisconsin. Spoiled American college kids jetting off to exotic locales they can’t actually locate in geography class. And my annual creation, Unfrozen Caveman Ballplayer—a strapping Neanderthal lad from Paleolithic Düsseldorf who’s made his way to the bustling, hipster-infested streets of 21st-century San Francisco—aiming to fulfill a very modern-day ambition. He’s just a caveman, and our strange world may frighten and confuse him, but he’s still dead-set on fulfilling his dream of making the Bigs in MLB 13: The Show.
Yes, the standout feature this year is, as usual, Road to the Show, where your created player—be he a representation of your bygone high-school glory days or a 6’7” cave-dweller with a heckuva four-seam fastball—attempts to make the arduous journey from minor-league bus rides to places like Frisco, Texas, and Jackson, Mississippi, all the way to the Major Leagues and the world of multimillion-dollar contracts, adoring groupies, and limousines lined with Cristal champagne.
This segment, along with the excellent core gameplay, realistic-yet-engaging pitcher-batter showdowns, and seamless fielding and baserunning, are at the heart of what’s made The Show—along with perhaps only EA’s NHL series—the most enjoyable sports title of this console generation. That hasn’t changed. No one can deny that.
But my job is to judge MLB 13: The Show specifically, not the series as a whole.
My major gripe with this edition is something that’s already causing a bit of a stir: the team rankings. I can fill two hands with my issues here (hell, I could even max out Antonio Alfonseca’s notorious polydactyl digits), but I can boil it down to fourteen simple words.
The Red Sox are ranked third.
The World Series champion Giants are ranked 17th.
I don’t care if the reanimated corpses of Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx shamble into the Fenway Park clubhouse this year—the Sox are not a top-five team by any statistical measure. They lost 93 games last year in a disaster of a season that led embattled skipper Bobby Valentine to pine for his days as the beloved manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan’s Pacific League (where they even built him his own shrine outside the stadium). Bit-player additions like David Ross and Shane Victorino ain’t gonna fix what’s broken in Beantown.
The NL West rankings are completely out of whack as well. Much as it pains me as a Giants fan, I can at least understand pegging the Dodgers first in the division this year, as MLB 13 does. They’ve got a good team, they’ve added enigmatic hurler Zack Greinke to the rotation, and they’ve got Magic Johnson and Friends’ bottomless pockets at their disposal. But to rank both the Rockies and Diamondbacks ahead of the Giants, too? The Rockies lost 98 games last year. They’re a mess. They’ve got a joke of a pitching rotation that’s so bad, they’ve decided to experiment with a 75-pitch limit for their starters. They were so desperate for pitching last year that the ancient Jamie Moyer—a dude one year younger than Barack Obama—made their team.
And let’s not forget that the Dodgers made all those splashy acquisitions at the trade deadline last year when S.F. and L.A. were tied in the NL West race—and the Giants proceeded to slaughter them by 8 games in the standings (and it likely would’ve been more if the Giants hadn’t clinched the division with nearly two weeks left in the season). It wasn’t even close. The Giants are not a fourth-place team. Maybe developer SCE San Diego still feels burned by 2011, when they ranked the club third overall after their surprise World Series run and the Giants failed to make the playoffs. (Of course, there was that little incident in May of that year when Buster Posey’s left leg got destroyed in a violent home-plate collision. That might have affected the standings just a tad.)
I’m not just a bitter Giants fan talking here. These rankings are crucial to the sports-videogame experience; they’re the statistics that represent a game’s ability to provide a reasonable, believable rendition of what baseball fans watch for 162 games. I ran 20 simulated seasons in MLB 13, and the Giants didn’t win the NL West once. I know, it’s a small sample size—as the modern-day baseball fan likes to say—but the reigning World Series champions should win their division a decent amount of time in a baseball videogame.
But I can’t stay mad at this game for too long. While I’ll forever question the logic behind the team rankings, the action on the field—where it matters most—is certainly authentic. I was particularly impressed with how well the Giants’ starting rotation held true to form: Matt Cain dominated with impeccable command of his pitches, newly shorn Tim Lincecum dazzled out of the windup but melted down with runners on base, and succeeding with Barry “Zeets” Zito and his “searing” 84-mile-per-hour heater was a balancing act from the first batter on.
On the opposing side, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp formed a formidable, challenging one-two punch that I needed precise strategy to counter when going against the Dodgers, and Brewers slugger Ryan Braun’s gigantic, Biogenesis-infused power zone was always a threat to go deep.
This fun simply doesn’t transfer when you take the game online, though. Aside from the consistent lag issues that are the bane of baseball videogames, I had multiple dropped games while playing my retail copy with users across the country—including one back-and-forth thriller that was 7-6 in the top of the 9th inning. Also, while players performed precisely as I wanted when I played offline, bizarre glitches consistently spoiled my online experiences.
One time, portly (to put it kindly) Pablo Sandoval decided that it was a good idea to steal second with reigning MVP Buster Posey at the plate. I didn’t touch a button. Pablo just took off running like he spotted a banana cream pie at second base. Another time, I tried to start a double play on a chopper to third by throwing to Marco Scutaro at second…and Sandoval inexplicably flipped the ball to nearby shortstop Brandon Crawford 50 feet from the base. I could fill another couple of paragraphs with examples like these, but you get the idea.
MLB 13 does offer a few notable improvements when it comes to presentation, particularly with the new Postseason mode—which includes the new single-elimination Wild Card round and attempts to add a bit more atmosphere to the experience. In my view, though, it doesn’t go far enough. In real life, I get a knot in my stomach every time the playoffs start due to the pageantry and pumped-up pre-game shows—even when my team’s not involved—but that pins-and-needles feeling just isn’t adequately replicated here. The Show’s solution to replicating an intense playoff atmosphere? Have the fans cheer more loudly. Simply making the fans go berserk—and at bizarrely inappropriate times, too—doesn’t add to the atmosphere. The National League Championship Series at AT&T Park comes off like a Justin Bieber audience got transported inside, squealing at a 2-2 pitch in the top of the second for no discernible reason.
Some folks aren’t fans of The Show’s audio, but I think that, technically, it’s always done its job well—and that tradition continues here. The banter flows (mostly) believably, like a real baseball broadcast, in a way that other sports series, like Madden and FIFA, haven’t been able to replicate. This is, unfortunately, where you’ll find another one of MLB 13’s “enhancements,” though: Cornball ex-Red Sox utilityman Steve Lyons replaces folksy former ESPN analyst Dave Campbell in the booth. Look, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Campbell myself, but if there’s one thing baseball fans didn’t ask for, it’s more Steve Lyons. This is a guy who parlayed the fact that he once accidentally pulled his pants down at first base into a broadcasting career, and his inane commentary adds nothing to the experience.
I know some of my complaints may sound harsh, but I do want to reiterate that The Show has always been a first-class experience when it comes to the action between the white lines (at least when you’re playing offline), and all of the issues here don’t change that. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still the most fun you can have with a sports game—Madden feels like a chore to me at this point, and FIFA feels like I’m playing a cartoon soccer game. But as the hours fly by, the questions start adding up.
Why can The Show produce spot-on facsimiles of lesser-known Giants players like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, yet completely botch superstars like Matt Cain and Buster Posey? (Though the game does get manager Bruce Bochy’s vacant, glassy-eyed stare down perfectly.)
Why start Road to the Show in double-A, when the vast majority of prospects start in low-A ball—yes, even future household names like Tim Lincecum—making $35 a day? Make me earn that trip to the Bigs and really savor it.
Why are the game’s draft prospects a faceless, unseen collection of statistics? I want to be able to take a look at who I’m drafting and see them in action on the field, like in Madden. How do they look at the plate? Can they nail the runner at third trying to turn a double into a triple? Furthermore, why is the real-life 40-round draft reduced to a truncated 10 rounds here?
Why does every player have the same reaction rounding third when they hit a dinger into the right-field bleachers?
Why do the crowds still look so canned and pixelated in this day and age?
Why does extremely Caucasian middle reliever Dan Otero transform into a large black man when I send him down to triple-A?
The answer? To me, it seems obvious that SCE San Diego has taken this thing about as far as they can on the current generation of consoles, and we’re going to have to wait for the PlayStation 4—and next year’s edition—before we see any striking changes.
In fact, it’s so obvious…even a caveman can see it.
|Developer: SCE San Diego Studio • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.05.2013|
|7.0||MLB: The Show is still the premier baseball experience on consoles, but some very questionable team rankings, minimal improvements to the overall package, and subpar online gameplay mean that MLB 13 isn’t a huge leap forward for the franchise—we’ll have to wait for the PS4 for that.|
|The Good||The players, stadiums, and action between the lines are all as authentic as you’ll find.|
|The Bad||Who created these atrocious team rankings? Red Sox Nation?|
|The Ugly||Buster Posey’s dashing, Norman Rockwell–esque face after getting hit with the ugly stick in The Show.|
|MLB 13: The Show is available on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was on PlayStation 3.|