Major League Baseball 2K13 Review
You know, I don’t mind if we see only minor improvements in a sports game. Most are annual releases and after all, there’s only so much you can do to increase the realism and authenticity. There are limitations to all hardware and perhaps we have to wait for the next generation before more strides can be taken in the realm of realism. But when you show no progress whatsoever and you appear content to sit on your laurels, the result is an outdated, unsatisfying simulator that is technically flawed and generally unimpressive.
I’m not sure what’s going on with the erratic visual presentation in Major League Baseball 2K13. Some character models are nice while others are just plain weird, and the animations are often choppy and disconcerting. The number of graphical hitches and glitches are actually alarming; it’s almost as if this one didn’t pass through a requisite QA process. Some of the background effects are decent and there’s a lot of appealing color but for the most part, this is a disappointing graphical production. The wonky physics only amplify the screwy movements, which in turn translates to downright comical situations. A few player faces are borderline disturbing.
The audio is better, as we have the benefit of solid ambient effects and some good commentary. Recognizable color men Steve Phillips, John Kruk and Gary Thorne do an excellent job relating the on-field action, and this is the one and only aspect of MLB 2K13 that outshines the vastly superior MLB 13: The Show. But beyond the entertaining commentary and cool stadium sounds, the soundtrack isn’t anything special and the effects suffer from major balancing issues. The music selections are diverse but almost too much so; I think they shoud’ve picked a couple genres and stuck with those. It’s odd to go from hip-hop to classic rock.
I used the term “outdated” above and that’s primarily because MLB 2K13 doesn’t appear to be any different from last year’s entry. And I mean, no different at all. In fact, the only difference might be less technical stability and even more unrealistic ball physics. And in an industry that demands constant progress and advancement, this doesn’t feel like mere stagnation; it feels like several steps backward. The competition in the form of Sony’s MLB 13: The Show did very much the opposite. It took a step or two in the right direction and was far more polished and refined.
The latest from Visual Concepts and 2K Games sports a roster update and the new season’s schedule but that’s about it. I really can’t find anything new and I’ve really looked. How did they manage to produce the same game twice? Seriously. Shouldn’t that be part of the QA process, too? Shouldn’t someone be going, “Uh…didn’t we just do exactly this last year?” I will say that too many sports games face the “oh, it’s only another roster update” accusation year in and year out, but I can honestly say that this is one of the few times where such an accusation is appallingly accurate. Most new sports entries try something new, even if it’s minor.
All the same features from the 2012 iteration are here, except we’re minus online multiplayer league support this time around. Without those leagues, the online portion of this game feels almost barren, as the die-hard fans will almost always want the option of participating in leagues. As for the gameplay, we get something that’s painfully familiar. Sure, there are some great mechanics, but they’re the exact same mechanics from before, and all the flaws are back, too (and they somehow seem more prominent). So yeah, I really like the Total Control pitching system, because it feels somewhat realistic, and hitting isn’t overly complicated and yet has some semblance of authenticity.
And one has to accept that this series has always erred a little on the side of arcade entertainment, while The Show has focused more on staunch realism. This means that MLB 2K13 actually feels a little more accessible than its competition, which might draw in some less ardent baseball followers. I’ve also found that because of this accessibility, playing with friends who aren’t big-time sports fanatics is pretty easy. Of course, this is just another aspect of the franchise that has been reinstituted this year. Most all the installments in this series have been less demanding when it comes to simulation mechanics. So no change here, either.
The Show has the dynamic and engaging mode, Road to the Show, while a comparable mode in 2K’s effort would be My Player. You start in the minors and work your way to the big leagues provided you perform well. Reaching the show isn’t too difficult and some may enjoy lighting up amateur pitching from the start. My Player is well-presented and nicely implemented, and it’s by far the highlight of the production. Again, though, it’s just no different than it was before. If you enjoyed it last year, you’ll probably enjoy it again; I’m just not sure it’s worthwhile to pay another $60. I mean, unless you’re really jonesing for that roster and schedule update.
Online play works well enough but I didn’t really find enough players, and opting for multiplayer doesn’t erase the obvious problems. The physics are the most suspect element of the game, which is just plain wrong. We’ve come too far in the world of interactive sports experiences to have such issues plaguing our entertainment. The ball reacts strangely when it hits players, for example, and the flight of the ball doesn’t seem quite right. Fielding can be a frustrating chore and due to an unreliable camera, you’ll often commit embarrassing blunders. But in truth, they’re not all that embarrassing because you’re not entirely to blame. There are just too many lingering mechanical problems.
Last year’s 2K entry wasn’t bad, but it was still a significant ways behind The Show. This year, the competitors went in opposite directions. While SCE San Diego picked their game up and gave baseball fans a tight, hugely in-depth, technically proficient title that boasted a few small yet appreciated upgrades, Visual Concepts apparently did nothing. They dusted off MLB 2K12, shrugged, and handed it over to 2K. “Here,” they said. “Sports fans just want the new rosters, anyway.” Yeah, well, that’s not entirely true. The same positives exist; Total Control pitching is fun and interesting, the accessibility can be a plus, and My Player is well-paced and entertaining.
Still, the end result is just a ho-hum been there-done that situation. Factor in the glaring flaws and miscues and you’ve got a sports game that falls flat.
The Good: Great commentary. Decent control and high accessibility. Total Control pitching is still cool. My Player is a worthwhile highlight.
The Bad: Numerous graphical issues. Soundtrack is too unfocused. Physics are still way off. Significant camera issues. Online suffers due to lack of league support. Basically the exact same game as MLB 2K12, so who cares?
The Ugly: “Woah…déjà vu. I know I played this same game this time last year.”
3/18/2013 Ben Dutka