I just got MLB 12: The Show on Tuesday. I’ve gotten every copy of The Show since 2006. Before that it was MVP Baseball, then Triple Play and so on. Basically I’ve gotten a new baseball video game every year since I was a teenager. I’ve loved MLB The Show since I first starting getting it and this year is no different. However once thing has changed. I suck at it. At least that’s what I thought until I made a realization that is in no way sour grapes. I’m not worse, the game is just harder.
Hear me out. When I first started getting baseball games in the 90’s it was not uncommon to play out a season and go undefeated having lead the league in pretty much every category (except walks because who the hell wants to walk?). This trend would continue throughout the years only the margins would not be as wide. Mike Piazza would go from 80 home runs in 2002 to 65 home runs in 2003. A couple years ago I hit .350 with David Wright, but barely cracked 40 home runs. Last year my team leader in average hit .325, and no one broke 30 home runs. The settings are the same. I’m still winning but it’s not nearly as much as I used to. It wasn’t until this years version that I really started to figure out just how real the game is. Hot zones, cold zones, pitcher confidence, momentum. Other games had it before, but it never meant so much. You used to be able to open a game up and do well right away. Now, you better be prepared to do the work first. Get your pitchers mechanics down. Learn when to take the extra base. Work the count, don’t miss the cutoff man, know your ballpark (yes, KNOW YOUR BALLPARK). If you just trying to use power swing on every at bat you’ll get one-hit by the Rockies (just ask me).
The Show is hardly alone. All of the best sports games have taken steps to be more realistic by being more difficult. Learning to shoot in NBA2K 11 was a nightmare at first (forget about fast breaks). Running the ball well consistently in newer installments of Madden has been a real chore. Make a lazy pass in FIFA and see what happens. All of these games are great in their own ways, but gone are the days where you can just pick them up and start playing. You need to put serious work into acquiring specific skills. They even admit this with training sessions. I swear it’s easier to hit an actual baseball than to hit one in The Show.
I should have seen this coming a lot sooner. Every developer in the history of ever has always talked about making games more realistic. The goal was always to make you feel like you’re a part of the game. To simulate real action with real game flow and moments. Madden wants a third down conversion to be as epic as the real thing. NBA2K12 wants you to tense up when shooting free throws in the closing seconds. The Show wants you looking for answers after your ace gives up 4 runs in the third, and then to rejoice when you come back with a walk off single in the 10th. Not just a home run, a single. This process naturally had to result in turning 14-11 games into more respectable 5-3 or even 1-0 games. To do this however, all of these games had to cut some corners and that is where is gets frustrating. Does every bad pass I throw need to get picked off (and does any opposing corner ever drop one)? Do that many high fly balls really go off the top of the wall and not over it? Is the goal post nothing but a puck magnet? For the sake of realistic results, I’m afraid the answer is always yes.
The other part of this is in overcomplicated gameplay mechanics. The first one I remember was using the analog stick to swing in baseball games. Hitting X was too easy and this was meant to make things more natural. This would get adopted by almost all other games and a means to swing, throw, shoot, tackle, kick and a million other options. Essentially the left stick is now your legs, and the right stick is the rest of your body. The 2k baseball franchise too it to a knew level by require different motions to throw different pitches. So now before you can throw a curveball, you have to learn how to throw a curveball. Just like real life, if you don’t do it right, you pay for it immediately. The worst culprit for me is the qb vision mechanic in Madden 06. Here, the right stick acts as your quarterbacks eyes, so before you throw to your receiver, you actually have to “look” at your receiver using qb vision. It was difficult enough to read a defense and look out for blockers while waiting for my receiver to get open to I can throw to him using the appropriate button and angle. Now I have to control my virtual player’s eyes and well as my own? Too much.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy all of the sports games. I’m also sure (at least hopeful) that after I put enough time into it that I’ll get better at The Show just like I have before. It’s just not enough game for me. I like that I can play a tight 2-1 game, but I also want to be able to open things up into a slugfest a little more often if I want to. Do I need to pay that much attention to controlling the baserunner on first (I know I can set it to auto but then he gets picked off)? Do there have to be so many settings to properly run an offensive play? Do I really need to change my coverage on the x receiver, shift my linebackers to shadow the TE, and watch for a hot route on very play? Without going to NBA Jam style antics, would it be bad if we took these games in a little more of a “video game” direction? No offense(actually, yes please. MORE OFFENSE), but if I want to play a realistic game of baseball, I think I’d rather play an actual game of baseball instead.