MLB 13: The Show preview - Learning to hit all over again

Realism and interactivity have proven to be bedfellows-at-odds in recent MLB games. Between esoteric stats, precision pitching, and ever-fluctuating lineups, casual fans face a stiff barrier to entry, and that's a problem Sony hopes to address with MLB 13 The Show. The developer has created a mode that feels like a cross between a mini-campaign and a robust tutorial, aptly named Beginner mode. Sony admits that accessibility has been one of the problems of the previous versions of The Show--getting people to understand the controls is one thing, but turning that level of understanding into actually winning games is a grand slam.

The most promising aspect of Beginner mode is its tutorial-based thoroughness. It starts off simple by giving you easy fastballs to hit, but The Show won't progress unless you've shown you can hit. If you could handle those straight fastballs, you'll graduate to changes in velocity as well as movement of the ball around the strike zone. This kind of hand-holding also applies to pitching and you'll undergo a series of exercises before the game feels you're ready for the next level: Rookie mode.

Despite this emphasis on training new players, MLB 13 will have more than enough authenticity-tailored content to keep the series faithful busy. There’ll still be the expectation that most batters will only have one or two hits per game, just like in real life. The return of Legend mode will ensure you're facing an AI team where every fielder has perfect Golden Glove skills.

With memories of MLB 12 still fresh, we were able to spot subtle changes to the camera work in this year iteration. There are new camera angles and it felt like there were more camera changes and zooms within a given play.

This console generation has given sports game studios enough resources to truly emulate the TV production experience, down to the over-saturation of glossy graphics and transitions. So far, MLB 13 has done a good job copying that TV-network aesthetic, though it’s admirable the game for keeping those camera angles that no real life on-field camera man could pull off. This drive to improved ambiance can also be found in the newly added post-season national anthems and the expanded variety of Jumbotron visuals.

For a 162-game-season sport like baseball, you can't have true realism without keeping up with the ever-changing line-ups. Past MLB The Shows have had weekly roster updates and Sony plans to improve upon that for MLB 13. Not only does this include trades among active players, but also players who have been called up from the minor leagues. New to MLB 13 are updated mugshot photos so in the unimaginable event that the Giants' Buster Posey gets traded to the Washington Nationals, the game will update his mugshot with the same red, white, and blue uniform that MLB has.

In terms of visual realism with the players themselves, we didn't notice any improvements with textures, but Sony was proud to show off the player-specific swing animations. While we're used to seeing sluggers' trademark stances and walks to the batter's box, this is the first MLB The Show to have the players' distinct follow-through animations of in-field hits and home runs.

For the statistics nut, the newly added The Show Live is going to ensure you'll be playing MLB 13 every day from April to October. This feature pulls the current day's stats and line-ups right off Teams turn in their lineups hours before the start of each game, so you could actually play that evening's game with every miniscule change factored in--say, if Josh Hamilton ended up batting seventh instead of clean up.

Sony isn't waiting for the competition to motivate them to improve The Show. TV network production values could always use fine tuning and the loyal fans will hopefully appreciate the subtle animation changes and constant stat updates. With the amount of work put into Beginner mode, this also looks like the year that Sony manages to grab a considerable amount of new customers.

As a Sony exclusive, MLB 13: The Show will be available for both PlayStation 3 and PS Vita on March 5, 2013, right in the middle of spring training.