Hands-on with MLB 13: The Show
I’m not big into baseball; I make an annual stadium pilgrimage to root for the home team in person and I check in with the World Series every year, but that’s the limit of my passion for our nation’s pastime. I don’t really play baseball video games either (I'm told Mario Superstar Baseball doesn't count as real ball), but I may change my tune this March when Sony debuts MLB 13: The Show for PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita.
It’s the only ball game bearing the MLB license you can expect to see this year, and after spending some hands-on time with an early version of The Show I'm itching to give the full game a spin.
Back to basics with Beginner Mode
The highlight of our hands-on session was Beginner Mode, a new mode designed to help ease rookies into the game without boring you with slow tutorials or lengthy written explanations about how to help your batter better swing at a pitch. Instead, you launch Beginner Mode and play a practice game pitching and batting against a computer-controlled opponent that gradually gets better as your skills improve. It seems to work, too; I loaded up Beginner Mode without the faintest idea of how the game works or how to pitch against a batter’s weak spots.
After playing for roughly 20 minutes I felt comfortable choosing pitches based on a batter’s stance, then delivering those pitches to a specific spot in the strike zone. Batting works pretty much the same way: The pitcher begins by out throwing gentle fastballs straight down the middle, then starts changing things up once you can regularly knock the easy pitches out of the park.
Beginner Mode feels sort of like a warm-up mode for The Show proper, and it makes the daunting prospect of learning the ropes feel intuitive for new players and baseball dilettantes like me. A little too intuitive, in fact; the pre-release version of Beginner Mode I played didn’t make it clear why certain pitches or batting angles were successful, and it was difficult to understand why some strategies were more effective than others. Thankfully The Show provides pages of instruction on how these systems work (buried in the game’s menus), but Beginner Mode could be more helpful by allowing players to summon more information about baseball strategy and statistics at their discretion.
As it stands, I'm glad The Show is stepping up to the plate and helping players better understand the game—I just wish the game made a more explicit effort to explain the systems in play. Of course, the game we played was a preview build and the final version may well include that sort of explicit guidance.
Covering the bases
Since our preview build was locked to Beginner Mode we missed our chance to experiment with the real meat of the game, a full-fledged franchise mode for players who want to dig in and get their hands dirty managing a team, growing players, and fussing with budgets. You'll need to hire and manage a team of scouts, balance player salaries against your bottom line, and flex your managerial muscle to get your team to the World Series.
Frankly, as a baseball neophyte I'm more excited about the new Post Season mode in The Show, which lets you skip the full season and take your favorite team right to the playoffs. As a PlayStation Vita owner I'm also curious to see the revamped Home Run Derby multiplayer mode, which pits up to eight players on both PlayStation 3 consoles and Vita handhelds against one another in a real-time batting contest; batters take their swings simultaneously and compete to see who can hit the best home runs, which looks like a lot more fun than slogging through an entire seasons’ worth of baseball games. We'll find out for sure on March 5th, when Sony plans to release the game simultaneously on PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita.