'MLB 12: The Show' hands-on preview

December, 13, 2011
By Jon Robinson
MLB 12: The ShowSony Computer Entertainment AmericaLook for "MLB 12: The Show" to hit stores March 6 for the PlayStation 3 and Vita.

Freddy Sanchez just got spiked.

That's right, the Giants second baseman took the flip, touched the bag, but before he could rifle the ball to first and turn two, he was taken down by a hard-sliding Matt Kemp.

Just another chapter in the Dodgers/Giants rivalry, but a great day to be a gamer as Sony has finally added not only player collisions, but collision awareness in "MLB 12: The Show."

Amazing news for anyone who has followed the franchise, as we're not just talking about canned animations at the plate or when a player is breaking up a double play. It's all around the field, complete with all new tag and sliding animations, making gamers feel like the action on the virtual diamond is more real than ever as you will no longer see the random player-through-player ghost-like animations that have plagued the series for years. And since cyber athletes will not only collide, but be aware of the potential collisions, players react in a much more realistic manner, sliding around tags from all angles, dropping the ball more often when going for the sweep tag, and even giving the occasional spike when necessary.

And while that's far from the biggest feature added to this year's game, it's one of those little things that just adds so much to the overall experience as Sony attempts to blur the lines between what's seen on TV and what you're controlling in "MLB 12: The Show." It's an experience that I had the chance to play recently during an afternoon in Sony's San Diego studio, and I have to say, I was blown away by how those lines are now more blurred than ever.

MLB 12: The ShowSony Computer Entertainment America"MLB 12's" new ball physics will increase the variety of hits you'll see in the game.

One of the biggest improvements "Show" fans will notice right away is the improved ball physics. In past games, there wasn't the amount of hit variety you'd expect from a baseball simulation, and that had to do mainly with the fact that the game's math was off. So this offseason, one of the more hard-core members of "The Show's" engineering team took up the challenge and rewrote the entire ball physics code based on the actual math for how a spinning object reacts when it strikes everything from the bat to the playing surface to one of the bases. The results? Incredible. The ball speed off the bat has now been increased to MLB levels, while the spin off each hit now comes into play more as you'll see grounders with topspin actually scoot through the infield faster for base hits. I even had one play where I launched a ball 400 feet toward the wall, and the computerized Matt Kemp jumped up to rob the home run, but as he hit the wall, the ball bounced off his glove and rebounded back onto the field. It was just one of those plays that made everyone in the room shout, with the producers smiling at each other knowing how much a moment like that rocks.

Another big gameplay improvement comes in the form of the new "Pulse Pitching" dynamic. If you're not a fan of last year's analog pitching, you can go back to the old-school buttons, only with a new level of intensity that really helps up the challenge of pinpointing pitches. Basically, after selecting your pitch and location, you'll need to hit X to pitch the ball (same as classic pitching). Only now, there is a giant pulsating X on the screen in the location of your pitch, and you need to time your button press when the X is at its smallest point in order to throw the ball accurately. The more you're off, the bigger the X will be when you throw the ball, making your pitch wild, or even worse, hanging right over the plate for someone like Albert Pujols to crush over the fence. I was a fan of the analog pitching last year, but I have to say, after about four games of switching back and forth between the analog and the pulse, I ended up playing the rest of the games with the pulse pitching and I don't think I'll go back to the analog once the game ships. It just feels right to me.

MLB 12: The ShowSony Computer Entertainment AmericaAlbert Pujols could make the Angels one of the most played teams in "MLB 12: The Show."

But don't think this year is all about the mound as a new way to hit has also been added to the game, even if it's strictly for the hard-core. Sony calls it "Zone Analog Batting," and it combines what gamers loved about the old way to hit with the newer analog approach, as gamers manipulate the right stick to control stride and swing timing, while at the same time using the left stick to control where the batter swings in the zone. So if you see a slider breaking outside, you'd pull back on the right stick to stride, the push forward on the right stick to swing while moving the left stick to your right in order to make contact with the ball. "The Show's" producers say this is the kind of depth the game's community has been begging for when it comes to hitting, and there is one gameplay designer who swears this is the best way to play if you want a pressure-packed, more realistic turn at the plate, but for me, it was a bit too much to handle and I ended up switching back to pure analog controls without the zone. Maybe I'm just getting old, but man, I had a rough time at the plate trying to adjust to using both sticks at once.

Big Ticket Features

And while the gameplay improvements is what will interest "The Show's" hard-core community most, there are a couple of huge new features and technological advancements that will also be of interest to gamers. First and foremost, "MLB 12" will be shipping, not only for the PlayStation 3, but for Sony's new handheld gaming device, the Vita. And the game looks absolutely stunning on the system's eye-popping screen. Everything gamers want in "The Show" is now coming to handheld, complete with Exhibition, Season, Franchise, Road to the Show, and Home Run Derby. You can challenge other gamers online, and even better, you can share save files between your PS3 and Vita games. That means you can start your season at home on your PlayStation 3, play for a couple of weeks, then save your file to the PlayStation cloud, and resume your season on the Vita as you take your game on the road. Sure, that means you need to buy the game for each platform, but for people who commute on the train or are heading out on vacation, this will be an ideal way to stay connected to their favorite franchise. Only downer is the fact that you can't save mid-game on one platform and pick right up on the other. In order to save to the cloud, it needs to be between games, not between innings.

MLB 12: The ShowSony Computer Entertainment AmericaThe new "Pulse Pitching" feature is a great way to play the game.

Another feature that Sony is going to be pushing hard this season is the inclusion of full Move support in "The Show." Last year, you could hook up the Move and use its motion controls during the Home Run Derby, but this year you can actually hit, pitch, catch, run and throw -- making the Move an integral part of your "MLB 12" session, if you have enough room in your house, that is. And the room is important as you're taking full swings with the move while at bat, and the harder you swing, the harder you'll hit the ball. Same goes for pitching, as you actually get in your windup and throw the ball, timing the release of the Move's button in order to release your pitch, with arm speed factoring into how fast you throw.

To be honest, I thought this was going to be terrible, but I actually had a lot of fun playing through a couple of innings with the motion controls. I hit a home run with my second batter, and I felt way more satisfaction here than I did when I hit a home run minutes earlier using the analog controls. Maybe the Move tricked me into thinking I actually hit the home run, not Brandon Belt, but whatever the case, I started grinning like a Major Leaguer who just went yard. I also had a surprisingly good time pitching, although that definitely had more of a learning curve to it. It also made my elbow hurt after a couple of innings (no joke), so I think I might just stick to batting.

MLB 12: The ShowSony Computer Entertainment AmericaThrow like a pro with the Move pitching controls. Just remember to ice your elbow.

"MLB 12": By the Numbers

There's just so much added to "MLB 12: The Show," the only way I could do it justice is a breakdown some of the stats:

  • 500+ new presentation animations

  • 300+ new fielding, throwing and baserunning animations

  • 150+ new batting stances

  • 75+ new pitching animations

  • 14 new umpires complete with their own personalities

  • 2 new training techniques in Road to the Show (baserunning, fielding), as you're now a Double-A starter who is the most touted prospect on the team

    Add to that the addition of Season and Franchise mode in co-op, new pitcher confidence logic, and franchise improvements that include new contract logic, improved trade logic and an all-new free-agent signing process, and you have the baseball game "Show" fans have been waiting for.

    MLB 12: The ShowSony Computer Entertainment AmericaIf Sony can turn its online troubles around, "MLB 12" will be one of the top sports games next year.

    But that's not all as the game's producers are working feverishly to make "MLB 12" the best online product the franchise has seen to date (including an all-new HR Derby with up to eight players simultaneously swinging), and if the online mess of last year gets smoothed out the way they're hoping, we could have the makings of a classic.

    Just remember, if you're playing against me online, please stop spiking Freddy Sanchez. Last thing the Giants need is another injury

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