MLB 12: The Show

I’m not 100 percent certain that this even needs to be said anymore.

I sang the praises of last year’s installment of The Show long enough and loud enough that basically it should come as no surprise to discover that one iteration later, the folks at Sony Computer Entertainment America have still managed to create what is easily the best baseball simulation that you can spend money on. At this point, the only real story here would be if MLB 12: The Show was an awful game.

So, in a nutshell, you can boot up The Show and play baseball that is really, really fun. Additionally though, this year there are (apparently) additions to the ball physics that to me aren’t terribly noticeable — although this obviously doesn’t mean they aren’t there. What I am most impressed with in this year’s game is the intelligence of the fielding AI, as well as (more importantly, really) the addition of more player animations, which really does make situations where two outfielders are about to collide seem a little less jerky and horrible. Your players now call each other off and will actually notice that they are about to collide and act to avoid the collision, rather than just allowing the two characters to run into each other with no discernible reaction (I’m looking at you, basically every edition of the MLB 2K series).

Also improved are the models themselves, as they manage to actually look like the players that they’re supposed to represent. However, it is sad to see a Jose Reyes without his dreads, but damn if it doesn’t look like Jose Reyes anyway, grin and all. My one bit of confusion? Dusty Baker looks way thinner than he actually is. Perhaps Sony just felt like flattering the managers of the MLB by making them look like they’re in shape?

If you happen to be the sort of person following this season of baseball, you’ll doubtless notice that it has been a fairly odd beginning thus far—the Mets, for example, seem to be playing far above their expected performance, while the Yankees have been in something of a death spiral that they’re only just now starting to come out of. You’ve also got teams like the Oriels doing surprisingly well, while the Phillies are seemingly self-destructing before the season gets a chance to really get underway (also the Red Sox are not doing so well, which warms my heart). Other teams, like my beloved Cincinnati Reds, are doing just about as well as I, anyway, expected them to do, which is to say they are causing me to tear my hair out on a regular basis (a problem of offense and not defense, as well as what is frankly a bizarre decision to keep Chapman in the bullpen rather than letting the new, more controlled version of Chapman into the rotation, which is where we wanted to have him in the first place).

In other words, baseball is surprising us this season, and while I’m sure that all the initial surprises will even out as we get further into things, it is downright exciting to see where things are going to end up. What The Show does is rank the teams based on their performance last year (meeting older expectations of teams), while still giving the player an opportunity to pull off the sorts of upsets and surprises that we’ve seen thus far.

Control-wise, I’ll just come out right here and say that I am so enamored of the old school, “push this button for this swing” style that the Show has had from day one that I haven’t really taken the time to give the direct analog swinging controls the series has been pushing for the past two installments a fair shake. I’m terrible at using them is the long and short of it because what it comes down to is that the control gets to be almost a little too granular for me.

When I’m playing baseball, I find it hard enough to get the timing right, much less have a smooth shifting of my weight from the back to the front foot, and attempting to aim the hit is something that I have never been good at (because obviously this is something players have been able to do in the 2K series forever). At the risk of sounding lazy, that’s just a little more work made necessary than I want to put into hitting a ball with a bat.

The same goes for the pitching controls. I think that it’s great that people who want to can have the sort of granularity made possible here in how they release the pitches and where they go, but I’m going to use the good old fashioned meter every time and to hell with all this fancy-pants analog control (I will now embark on a lengthy discussion of “kids today” and their inability to stay off my goddamn lawn). I’ve gotten a lot better at using the pitching meter this time around, though, so I actually did not use the ultra-simplified, “push this button and we’ll take care of the pitch” mode, which is great.

Of course, like most sports games, MLB 12: The Show really shines when you are able to play with friends. I have severe problems with being beaten up by strangers on the internet when I try to engage in normal online play, so it is always nice to have the opportunity to be beaten up by people that I know sitting on the couch next to me. It’s a real refreshing change of pace.

The presentation of the game is fantastic. The announcers are surprisingly not so annoying that I want to stab myself in the ear, and honestly when they do get to that point. there’s always the option of just turning them down. The production overall makes the games look like actual television broadcasts (complete with rundowns of the starting lineups, commentary on the weather and past matchups, and the odd instant replay), which is nice sometimes and at other times annoying. It all depends on how much of a hurry you are in to finish a game, of course, and make no mistake, the length of a given contest can go on for an awfully long time, just like actual baseball. I’ve had a few games go for 12 or 13 innings, which have involved a lot of incredulous swearing from both me and the guy that I was playing against.

The real gem remains the “Road to the Show” mode, at least as far as the single-player options go. The developers have added more options for customizing your player’s look, as well as made the actual mode itself a little more forgiving in the early going. There still is no greater joy than hitting a walk off home run with your customized player, even if it is only playing for a minor league team.

There are more training options for your player this year as well, and like always, focusing too much on one skill will cause other skills to degrade accordingly. Trying to create a jack of all trades will ensure that you are master of none, but become too focused on hitting and your fielding will suffer, which can cause you to lose your spot in the lineup, relegated to DH status (if you happen to be on an AL team, anyway, otherwise you’re just going to wait around for a pinch hit situation).

Franchise mode remains a great way to play around with bobble-head nights and hot dog prices, while Manager mode still allows you to let the computer worry about pitching and hitting while you worry about whether or not to pinch hit someone or whether or not you should try to steal third. Granted, you can do all this stuff and worry about pitching and hitting, but really in the end. it’s up to you. The Show has always been great about giving you as much or as little control over the outcome of a game as you want, and this year’s offering is no different.

This is a must-buy game, and indeed, when I finally broke down and decided to buy a PS3, it was because I wanted to be able to play The Show. As far as whether or not it’s worth the upgrade between last year’s installment, well, the new rosters are certainly nice and the improvements to the ball physics and animations are indeed noticeable, but it really comes down to how much you enjoy baseball. Those who want to be able to play with this season’s rosters (and update those rosters as they change) will definitely want to run out and buy this — but, I mean, that’s just preaching to the choir. If you’re that sort of person, chances are that you’ve already bought it. If you’re the sort of person who likes to hold off every so often, well, you probably could hold off this year. There are improvements and Vita owners will be happy to discover that you can transfer your save data between the Vita version and the PS3 version (meaning that you can take your franchise or “Road to the Show” player on the road with you, which is very cool and the sort of thing that I would be inclined to go for if I owned a Vita), but it’s not as obvious of a choice as say, the upgrade from FIFA 10 to FIFA 11 was.

RATING 9 / 10