Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Show Goes On

By The Common Man

The Common Man did not plan to buy MLB12: The Show this year. He bought and enjoyed last year’s version (when the Twins were much, much better), and didn’t see the need to shell out $60 to stop living with the lie that Vernon Wells is a good player and that Justin Morneau’s career wasn’t in jeopardy. Plus, there were some truly annoying features of the game that TCM had trouble ignoring. Namely, the baserunning in Road to the Show is incredibly boring, the Franchise mode is bogged down by tedious and mundane details, and the minor league system of having to continually re-sign players makes very little sense.

Then he started hearing good things. Namely, that Steve Berthiaume loved it. Bert is a good dude who, despite his well-documented weakness in picking NL Central champions, plays video games openly and unrepentantly. That endears him to me. He’s been addicted to The Show for years, and so was sent an early copy. He was ecstatic that,
“The game's programmers have completely replaced last year's code and thus changed the way the baseball behaves with what they call True Ball Physics, which uses actual math for a spinning baseball that ricochets off bases, the pitching rubber and other field surfaces. The spin of the baseball off the bat is now accurate with realistic RPMs and the ball gains or loses energy like a real baseball, resulting in more hit type varieties. Line drives rise or sink and infield chops quickly become difficult to handle.”
That sounded very promising. So, on Tuesday night, TCM stopped at Target on the way home and bought it, and over the last two nights, after washing the dishes and putting the kids to bed, TCM has played around with it in both Road to the Show and Franchise modes as an “experienced” player and using a standard controller (you can also use PS3 Move, if you have it). Here are the game’s features, and TCM’s reaction to them:

True Ball Physics

  • This is what Berthiaume is referring to above. And he’s right about the ball behaving differently. Which is kind of neat.
  • However, it really didn’t seem to impact the game as much as Bert implies it does. TCM had no trouble fielding as a shortstop, and fielding as an outfielder wasn’t really that much more challenging.

  • Last year’s baserunning in RttS made it very hard to steal second base because of the time it took to build up your runner’s momentum. But it was ridiculously east to steal third base, especially when the pitcher was trying to pick you off second. Both of those problems seem to have been fixed.
  • However, the rest of the baserunning still sucks. You stand on first base for pitch after pitch after pitch, while the batter at the plate can’t get anything done. You don’t even lose points for being picked off. Life would be better if subsequent batters only got one pitch (or two if you wanted a chance to steal, to either walk, strike out, or hit the ball so that the game’s momentum wouldn’t be slowed down.
  • Also, the baserunning A.I. could be greatly improved. TCM had his 3B coach call for a hit and run with runners on first and third in extra innings. The batter missed the pitch, and the runner on third was out by a mile.  Hitting and running with the runner on third? Have the programmers ever seen a baseball game?
New music

  • TCM cannot stress how tired he was of the old music on MLB11.
  • That said, he anticipates being just as sick of this music by next year. Can we get a music patch every couple of months?
Roster updates

  • Yes, it’s nice that Vernon Wells isn’t considered a star anymore. Hooray for Mike Napoli getting his due.
  • But does that really change the experience all that greatly? No, it doesn’t, especially in Road to the Show.
Pulse pitching and Zone Analog Hitting

  • The new pitching system consists of a rapidly expanding and shrinking circle, which moves differently for each pitcher and each pitch that pitcher throws. The smaller it is when you hit X, the less variability there is regarding your pitch’s speed and location. You’d think that would be a huge draw, with the introduction of some randomness and legitimate difficulty into the pitching. But the circle moves with seizure inducing speed and is just unpleasant to watch. Frankly, it’s obnoxious.
  • Last year, The Show used the right analog stick to control your swing. This year, you can use the left analog stick to control your swing’s location, while using the right analog stick to swing. It is…difficult.
  • However, as Bert points out in his review, all of this can be turned off. The Show can be a button mashing game again, and you can use or combine virtually any of the game’s old pitching and hitting systems to make your life easier. Why introduce these new, profoundly unpleasant, systems? Was there a single person at Sony Entertainment who actually preferred the new ones? No clue, but it’s hard to imagine.
Better training sessions

  • The training sessions in Road to the Show are much improved, with more variation and different goals attached to different skills. This makes it much more challenging to improve your reaction time, for instance, and can also help you improve your throwing arm in addition to your fielding ability.
  • But…no buts, this is great.
Road to the Show

  • For new players, this is The Show's central feature, a role-playing component that allows you to create and play as a minor leaguer, building up your skills on the way to the Hall of Fame.
  • Your player is automatically a prospect and a starter in Double-A, which is nice. It gives you some playing time security as you try to upgrade your player.
  • Again, no buts. This is a good thing. While it eliminates some risk if you start to suck and some of the sense of accomplishment you can feel when you succeed (yes, TCM realizes how ridiculous that sounds), it essentially gives you more playing time, which means more fun for you.
Franchise Mode

  • Nothing has changed, really. You are still stuck with having to ignore your team’s budget altogether or having to delve into the incredibly mundane minutiae of scheduling ticket promotions, managing advertising campaigns, improving the services and attractions at your ballpark, and selecting TV and radio contracts. Woo. Look, if TCM wanted to manage all that stuff, he’d play SimCity: Baseball Team Edition. All he wants is to control trades, free agent signings, the amateur draft, lineups, call ups to the Majors, and the 40 man roster (which, by the way, you still can’t sort by position, dammit). Everything else should be automated. Also, why is The Common Man having to sign new draft picks to two year contracts? Just give minor leaguers a standard minor league contract that doesn’t impact the team’s Major League Budget, and give new draftees signing bonuses that do come out of that budget. Also, where are the international signings, or is TCM just missing that entirely? The Common Man wants to dominate the German and Aruban markets. Franchise mode is, by far, the biggest weakness in this game.
  • They're perhaps even sharper than before.  Especially in between the action, as you watch player's reacting and moving around.
Diamond Dynasty

  • Apparently, this allows you to build your own team online with real and fictional players, customizable uniforms, and stadiums, and join online leagues. TCM didn’t play this, and can’t speak to it.
In all, while TCM thinks the game is marginally better than last year, he can’t say he’s really glad that he spent the money to buy it. It still is the best baseball game on the market, but the improvements are not worth the money, nor do they cover over significant flaws in the game. TCM would have been almost as happy sitting at home and playing MLB11, and putting the $60 toward Skyrim. In fact, that’s probably what you should do too.


Chris St. John said...

Nice review. I never even bought 11, I still have 10. I play RTTS exclusively and the baserunning is the biggest problem I have. I end up turning it off. My player has 100 speed and base stealing but he still can't do a thing on the bases. Plus, it's impossible to get a huge lead without the pitcher throwing over 10 times in a row. And don't get me started on perfect timing turning into grounders to second...anyway good to know I'm not missing much.

Bryz said...

1. Agreed on the music becoming repetitive. I usually lower the volume on the TV and fire up iTunes while I play, even while playing games, because the in-game commentary becomes repetitive as well.

2. I don't know if you notice this with in-game AI, but in the past couple The Shows, the opposing team ALWAYS incessantly brings in LHP from the bullpen. Even if Darren Oliver or Rafael Perez has pitched 3 games in a row, they still are typically the first out of the 'pen.

3. Franchise mode is all I play, and the very first time I did it, I did do all of those mundane tasks. Second year, and every year since, I've ignored it.

I know I'm going to get this game, but the lack of a middle ground between Season and Franchise modes has bothered me for years. Season mode lacks the ability to play multiple seasons, and if you start a new season, the rosters revert to the old ones because I can't download current rosters and I make all necessary changes manually. Franchise mode has that obnoxious stuff, and in between seasons, even if you turn off computer teams trading with each other, the offseason becomes full of players going to new teams, and others retiring because of "age" (even if the player is 34 years old) or "poor free agent market" (alkasldkf Glen Perkins, you're not a free agent!). I've had A-Rod retire in the last two The Shows I've owned because of age. Yeah, that's realistic! *hyperventilates*

I want a Season mode with 40-man rosters, the minor league teams, and will keep the same rosters for more than one season. That's all. If this does exist, well I've missed it because I've only done Franchise mode for the past couple years.

tl;dr, I am in full agreement with what you say here:

All he wants is to control trades, free agent signings, the amateur draft, lineups, call ups to the Majors, and the 40 man roster (which, by the way, you still can’t sort by position, dammit).

(By the way, I'm confused with what you mean by "you still can't sort by position.")

Finally, I get an unhealthy high from the "Edit Player" function. Years ago, the developers didn't even give Carlos Silva a 2-seamer as his primary fastball. This showed me that I had to fix the players on my own. Once I learned that PITCHf/x existed.... well, you do the math.

I think I should consider myself lucky I still have a girlfriend.

Andrew said...

MLB 11 the Show completely destroyed my love for "Free Ride." I shutter now on the rare occasion I hear it on the radio.

Bill said...

One thing about that--I haven't tried it in 12 yet, but in 11, if you turned off all the music, it just plays radio & tv highlights from last season. Those get old too, eventually (got to where my then-3 year old could chant along with a few of them), but at least it mixes things up.