MLB 13: The Show is the eighth title of one of the most critically acclaimed series of sports games ever. Though this area is not usually one of expertise for me due to the lack of epic quests, I thought I've give it a whirl, and that's when I discovered something very strange... sports have the absolute biggest nerds in the entire country.
I grew up in the 8- and 16-bit era of gaming. The last baseball game I played with any regularity was Bad News Baseball, which I loved more for the animated close calls at the plate than for any other real reason. Still, I played sports games. Super High Impact for football, NBA Jam for basketball. To me that's what a sports game was.
And something like Madden or MLB 13 just isn't a sports game for me because in the end it isn't a video game. It's a sports managing simulator and that is frankly not all that fun.
Let me give props where props are certainly due. The game is phenomenally detailed. Minute Maid Park doesn't look that good in person, even if the train that announces home runs looks like it was rendered on the N64. Not to mention the physical representations of everyone from star players to coaches is uncanny. The motions are fluid, the controls are pretty simple, and you have to be a rare dumbass to not have a handle on playing in the beginner's mode within a game or two.
That's not really where the game is selling itself, though. You have the option to endlessly configure your teams based on stats, moving positions, running simulations to project how they will do, indulge in trades, etc. Every single aspect of controlling baseball as if you were some kind of omnipotent god of the bat, then testing your might against other gods is presented right from the start over an endlessly repeating soundtrack that thankfully is better than what you get in a Madden game.
I have a few fantasy football friends, and the length to which they go to managing their leagues, every little detail meticulously calibrated against every other detail, is mind-boggling. The only thing I have ever seen like it is watching tabletop gamers set up for something massive like Twilight Imperium, which takes an hour to get ready and six hours to play.
MLB 13 seems like the high-tech extension of that, a chance to immerse yourself in the ability to control a league, or just a team, rather than engaging with them as avatars of yourself. It costs you suspension of belief. When I throw a pitch, I don't feel like the pitcher. I feel like the coach, and what kid dreams of being a coach?
More and more as I played my bittersweet home team of the Astros (Against the American League All Star team because, yes, I am that petty of a bastard) I found myself bored. The fielders reacted brilliantly or incompetently without my input, just as if I was watching the game on TV. Batting is fun, but pitching is a mind-numbing chore where you simply wait as each effort plays out as the odds would have it.
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I guess this is just me missing the days when games didn't have the ability to match the actual season, roster, and stats of every major and minor league player currently signed to a contract, or could offer a compulsive league manager the ability to recreate such a thing perfectly. I just liked watching guys cartoonishly explode when I managed to tackle them as they received in Super High Impact, or the ridiculous dunks Hakeem Olajuwon made happen in Jam.
I'm not knocking the desire to rule baseball, nor MLB 13's amazing ability to let you do so. I'm sure sports fans are equally baffled by my collection Doctor Who novelizations. If that kind of thing is what you like then run, don't walk, and pick it up now on PS3 or PS Vita. If you're like me, though, and you are looking to walk into a sports game where you just swing at pitches, run for fly balls, and try to pick off a runner with a big lead then you aren't going to find much.
The beginner's mode feels like being told to go free read while the big kids get on with math at best, and like watching a game at worst. The rest requires entering a world beyond that of a casual sports fan, and not really that of a dedicated gamer either. I applaud you, sports nerds, but establishing yourselves so well. That said, this RPGer is going back to something with a damn dragon in it.
MLB 13: The Show is out now on PS3 and PS Vita.