Sports games take a lot of abuse for their one-year production cycles. It's hard to jam in innovations alongside the usual schedule and roster updates, given the lack of development time available in the measly 12 months between seasons. Still, you generally get some sort of new feature or cool new physics to take the sting out of spending $60. And then there's MLB 2K13, a sports game that lives up to all the cliches about publishers doing little besides changing the packaging and the number in the game title. This ostensibly 2013 baseball game from 2K Sports looks, sounds, and plays exactly like the 2012 baseball game from 2K Sports. Aside from new rosters, a new schedule most noteworthy for the oddly annoying move of the Houston Astros to the American League, and the deletion of online leagues, this is simply a repackaging of what has come before.
When we say that MLB 2K13 is the same game as MLB 2K12, we mean it. The feature set has been fully carried forward with the one noteworthy exception being the removal of online league support. Perhaps it wasn't being used that much, or perhaps it was removed for budgetary reasons. Either way, it's a loss, since online leagues are a staple of sports games. The only significant changes are to the schedule and the team setup; the game does move the Houston Astros over to the AL West and out of the National League, where they comfortably resided for the past half-century.
Gameplay on the diamond is just about identical, with the same positives and the same flaws. So, yes, the game still comes with the same fantastic Total Control analog pitching mechanic that has made for such great moments on the mound in recent years. Pitching is tense and enjoyable, especially when you get runners on base and the pressure mounts.
The game also still comes with easy-to-approach hitting that lets you get good wood on the ball from even the first moments of play, whether you're leading a whole team in franchise play or a solo wannabe major leaguer in the My Player career mode. Opposition managers might be a little more intelligent this year. Pitchers get yanked at opportune times now in late innings, and pinch hitters are brought in mostly smartly (no more pitchers hitting with runners aboard in one-run games in the eighth inning, huzzah). There seems to be more situational awareness all around, which makes for more-challenging, more-realistic matchups.
Retread or not, you get a decent game of baseball here. It might be a little more oriented toward arcade action than a true simulation, but it's a satisfying experience that walks the line between re-creating big league baseball and letting you pretend you're Babe Ruth and pound the ball for a couple of hours. The game is also great for pick-up-and-play with friends, because its easy accessibility lends itself well to quick exhibition games, or when taking on a buddy over the Net or on the couch. Still, all this ease-of-use accessibility was available last year. And the year before.
My Player is still a compelling way to experience MLB 2K. Role-playing a young player from riding the buses in AA to the bright-lights, big-city vibe of the bigs is addictive along the lines of a good turn-based game, where you can get hooked on playing one more matchup until the wee hours of the morning. Progression also moves along fairly quickly. Light things up on the farm, and you can be brought up pretty fast. It might not be entirely realistic, but it's certainly fun being a phenom. Load times are zippy, too, especially in comparison with the competition over at the Sony-exclusive MLB 13: The Show. This can make a big difference in My Player, because there is a lot of downtime between at-bats and fielding attempts, unless you've chosen to play as a pitcher or catcher.
But MLB 2K13 still comes with oddball physics. The ball moves strangely at times, seeming to speed up or slow down in flight. Players themselves are like pinball bumpers in the way that they can get drilled by hit balls and spring up ready for more. Line shots back at the pitcher that might well kill people in the real world just bounce off harmlessly or are impossibly fielded. Graphical hitches interrupt at-bats. Choppy animations continue to get in the way of fielding attempts. Players shudder and jerk through games like they're robots running out of power. Animations speed up and slow down randomly, as if there are frames missing.
Player faces are all over the place. It's a toss-up if a star is going to look like his real-world counterpart or a creepy blank-eyed zombie that would fit in better in The Walking Dead than in Yankee Stadium. There are no showstoppers that break the game. Still, it's frustrating to see the same old problems after so long. All of these flaws were more forgivable a few years ago, when standards were lower and the game did so many things right. Then, the game looked like it was on its way up. You sure can't say that three years later.
Audio and sound effects hold the line as well. In this case, that's a good thing, because the atmospheric park noises are very true to life, and the three-man team of Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk does a stellar job in the broadcast booth. A fair bit of the play-by-play and color commentary seems fresh, too, so this is one part of the game that feels somewhat new. The soundtrack is all over the place, however, with a strange mix of alt rock, college rock, hip-hop, and one classic rock straggler. There isn't any identity created by the soundtrack; the songs are as anonymous and forgettable as the rest of the game.
Not much serious work seems to have been done to the MLB 2K series since the 2010 edition of the game. You have to wonder how much time was even spent on prepping this game for release, since 2012 was believed to be the last in the series until a surprise January announcement that the series was back from the dead. At one time, this was a franchise with promise, a serious rival to Sony's MLB: The Show. But the game has fallen so far behind its competition that there isn't any sense keeping it going unless 2K Sports commits to a complete design overhaul. Without that sort of work, we'll likely be back to a single baseball game next season. And even though a monopoly is never a good thing, it's not like there is any real competition going on right now, anyhow.'