Sony has had a lot of success during the past few years with its MLB: The Show franchise. MLB 12: The Show sees a number of changes and introductions being made that touch upon all aspects of the sport. While some of these might not be immediately noticed by all, they help make MLB 12: The Show yet another attractive and enjoyable entry in this popular series.
The most pronounced changes to The Show come in two parts, highlighting both pitching and hitting. With pitching, the change comes in the way of a new pulse pitching system that removes the pitching meter seen in previous years. The pulse pitching system has a pulsating circle on the screen that helps determine accuracy. After selecting the pitch you want, a circle appears on the screen that changes size. The smaller the circle is when you release, the more accurate your pitch. The size of the circle is related to the pitcher's command of the pitch, energy, and confidence. The more reliable the pitch, the smaller the circle will be; less-accurate pitches will have significantly larger circles, and it will be much more difficult to trigger accurate throws.
To combat this, batting now has a zone analog system that gives the batter more control in the strike zone. To focus your swing on a specific part of the strike zone, you move the left analog stick around. This control in the batter's box opens the door to hitting more pitches that come your way. As long as a ball is thrown in the strike zone, you can get the best possible contact.
The new pitching system is easy to grasp but takes some time to get used to before it feels natural. It requires proper timing, especially because every pitch and pitcher will have different sized circles. But, when you manage to pull off an accurate throw, it's a joy to throw strikeout after strikeout. As for zone batting, it may not appeal to everyone, especially those who find it difficult to properly time their swings. Quick reaction is needed to pick your spot, and you still need the time to swing properly. Those unable to grasp the system are better suited to swinging normally as you can still get a base hit without bothering moving around the zone.
The same great modes from last year return, including the headliner Road to the Show. This mode is still one of the better career modes available in any sports game. This year's version includes even greater player customization and ways of improving skills. On top of that, your career begins as a double-A starter. You still need to play well, be productive, and work hard to make it to the big leagues, but being an important part of your club from day one is quite the treat.
Of course, there is a new mode available this year. Taking a cue from what EA Sports has done with Ultimate Team, Sony has included Diamond Dynasty, which lets you take control of a team of players in the hopes of achieving baseball greatness. The objective here is to take a fully customized team of players--both real and fictional--and maintain or improve your squad. You improve your team through various leagues as you play against both human players and the CPU. You can play against teams created by other players, or against AI-controlled MLB teams. Based on your skill, the difficulty level and the opposition, your cash rewards for winning vary. If you beat the Texas Rangers in Legendary difficulty, then you will be heartily rewarded; if you beat the Astros in Rookie, your reward is only a few thousand dollars more than if you end up losing.
MLB 11: The Show allowed players to use the PlayStation Move controller to swing for the fences in the game's Home Run Derby. For MLB 12, Move support is available in all modes and is used for every aspect of the game. While it works in some facets, it doesn't work well for others.
Hitting is exactly the same as it was last year and allows you to guess the pitcher's throws. Pitching lets you pinpoint the location of your pitch. Once a pitch has been selected, you simply hold the trigger on the controller and swing back, as you would a normal pitch, to get the amount of power you want in your throw. For accuracy, pitching uses the old pitching meter; letting go of the trigger in the sweet spot results in an accurate throw.
Though both the pitching and hitting work well, the Move loses its appeal when used for fielding and baserunning. To collect a ball for fielding, you have to properly time your press of the trigger button for a successful grab. Pressing the trigger too soon or too late results in the ball going past the fielder. To throw the ball, you have to gesture in the direction you want the ball to go and release the trigger in time. Not only is timing important here, but the response to the action of the throw also feels a bit off and often results in a baserunner getting extra bases.
The issue with baserunning has a lot to do with your body's position in relation to the screen. While hitting has you standing with your shoulder to the PlayStation Eye, all baserunning notifications require you to stand facing forward. The gestures you make are pretty standard, but the transition from hitting to baserunning, which can result in missing the opportunity for a better offensive play. Because of these issues, the Move support is little more than a curiosity, to be tried once for a few innings and then abandoned.
One aspect of baseball in which The Show has always excelled is its presentation. The three-man team of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Eric Karros still delivers a solid listening experience. All three are extremely knowledgeable, and their spot-on references to events happening in the current game, throughout a given season and historically, are always interesting. The latest installment of The Show has amplified the broadcast presentation elements to better replicate the feel of a televised game. Cuts between pitches and innings focus on certain players on the field and in the dugout, frequently showing them from different angles. This makes it feel like there are 1,000 cameras in the stadium covering everything. Additionally, player animations and ball physics have been greatly improved. Players move much more realistically and try to avoid colliding with each other. The transitions between an infielder receiving and throwing a ground ball are also much more fluid.
The online experience for The Show is still very much a sticking point. Match performances vary greatly, depending on how busy the servers are, but even at low periods, slowdown during games may occur. Issues, such as slow-reacting outfield players, momentary pauses between a pitch and catch, and other smaller questionable scenarios occur. They're also a factor in determining a match winner and loser. The Show has struggled in past years to fix online net code issues, and people who want to take their game online may have to endure some less-than-stellar games.
Although the pitching and hitting changes, as well as the increased emphasis on delivering a true-to-life baseball viewing experience, are welcome additions, it's likely that only those who have played the game for years will appreciate the new stuff included in MLB 12: The Show. For newcomers, especially casual players, most of these features won't be apparent. Those who prefer to rush through games and skip as many out-of-game sequences will completely miss out on a lot of the improvements and additions made to the presentation.
Another issue that has hurt the series in past years is its inaccessibility. Unfortunately, even on the casual setting, MLB 12: The Show requires a big time investment before you can start to really enjoy the game. It can be quite discouraging to play a game and struggle, even on an easy difficulty setting. But if you take the time to come to terms with it, you'll find a fun baseball experience underneath that initially intimidating complexity.
The changes and additions made to MLB 12: The Show are welcome ones. Fans of the series should be able to instantly make use of them and become a dominating force. There is still one month before the start of the baseball season, and MLB 12: The Show manages to fill that void nicely.