When Sony’s MLB: The Show first hit the scene, it didn’t waste time establishing itself as not only as the best baseball game on the market, but as one of the best sports simulations period.  The only question every year was would it be able to sustain its excellence without any drop off. Where MLB 13: The Show is concerned, the answer is yes.

Whenever I fire up The Show, I get a kick out of people’s reactions who are fooled for a moment thinking that it is a real baseball game on TV. The game looks that good and in ’13 the visuals have never looked better. The graphics look sharper than they did in ’12 and the different stadiums look great.  Commentary wise, Steve Lyons replaces Dave Campbell in the three-man booth and is a welcome addition but while the guys do a decent job calling the game, I still feel The Show’s announcing lags behind other areas in the game. That’s not to say it’s terrible, because it’s far from it but sometimes there’s an emotional disconnect pertaining to the action on the field. There have been upgrades with new commentary lines added, but there are a lot of familiar ones as well.

Sony’s goal this year was to make the game more forgiving for the heads less skillfully inclined on the sticks and they succeed because it’s easier to hit in this year’s edition than last year’s. I usually start out on the default All-Star level and from the jump I noticed it was more hitter friendly thanks to the bigger timing windows the game boasts. A beginner mode was also added in an effort to make The Show more accessible and help users learn the fundamentals of the game. The mode uses an adaptive AI system that dynamically updates your skill level on the fly. Veterans of this series might find the All-Star difficulty too easy and might want to start out on the Hall of Fame or Legend levels. Building on what they started in ’12 the ball physics have been upgraded and the results are even more hit variety. I’ve already seen more choppers, bloop hits and screamers down the line than I’ve ever seen in this game. The amount of ground rule doubles have been reduced as you won’t see as many balls hopping over the wall as we saw in ’12. The win celebration has some new presentation, as you’ll now see players lining up on the field for high fives before they walk off the field. There’s been a nice amount of new scenes, new cameras, new music and new audio implemented that help make MLB 13 a polished product.

Now up until this point I’ve raved about the game, but it’s not without its flaws. The indestructible pitcher has returned. Those annoyed by the amount of hits that rocket off the pitcher that was present in 12, won’t be happy to know it still persists. Worse, the pitchers are able to recover and still throw you out which isn’t very realistic. Now I understand that seeing a pitcher get drilled is one of the worst sights you can see in baseball and maybe Major League Baseball requested that Sony doesn’t replicate that in their game by having them get injured, but at least have them fall down or something. I’ve also encountered some pitch stuttering, nothing that was game breaking but enough to be an annoyance. Sometimes right before the CPU pitcher releases the ball there will be a slight pause. As you can imagine that isn’t very hitter friendly as it can mess up your timing. It doesn’t happen every time, but enough that I noticed it. SCEA has a good track record though when it comes to these things, so I’m hoping this gets fixed via a patch.

Franchise mode returns and while the core remains the same there are some new wrinkles that breathe some life into the mode. Additions include a newly implemented team budget that focuses on a reward-penalty system which is tied into a team’s performance on the field. And believe me it works. In one season I simulated with my Yankees, I had a very poor season and finished 75-87. As a result of that, my budget got hammered and I was working with significantly less than I started out with. After retaining Robinson Cano with a 5-year deal in the offseason, I had to let Curtis Granderson walk among other key members because we couldn’t afford them. That hurt my Yankee soul, but I like that the game forces you to make decisions and it’s not easy to just throw around the gwop resigning whoever you want. Retirements are also handled better. Not everyone who's 37 automatically retires. In my season with NY, only Pettitte and Rivera retired, Kuroda (39), Jeter (38) and A-Rod (38) all returned for another year. Jeter and A-Rod regressed significantly though, as both were products of the new progression/regression mechanic.  Both were down in the 60s and their overall abilities were diminished. Overall I like the way progression/regression was handled this year, no more seeing guys still progressing once they're in their 30s.

Damn A-Rod what the f*ck happened to you?

On the flip side, you’ll see some young studs in their 20s get significant boosts year to year so that they reach their peaks much faster than before. The training system has been revamped so now you can have a player solely concentrate on a specific area to improve. If you just want a guy to focus on contact or power, you can do that for four or five years, and you'll really see the change. Scouting was redone as there will be guys in the draft who will be first-round busts, as well as some surprise players who may not get drafted until the later rounds, but turns out to be a superstar. If I had one concern it was the amount of ‘A’ potential guys I saw available during offseason free agency. I was able to sign at least four young players with 'A' potential as the cpu teams seemed to completely ignore them.

The Show Live is a new mode (which borrows heavily from 2K Sports’ MLB Today feature) provides an exhibition-based mode that utilizes data from giving users the opportunity to play in an environment that matches the real world.

On the surface, MLB 13: The Show may not look much different from its predecessor to the casual eye, but new additions like the Post Season mode that allows you to jump in and fast track to the playoffs, the enhancements made to Road to The Show and Franchise, Show Live  and the newly implemented Push/Pull Hitting Trajectories Engine prove that SCEA wasn’t going to just slap a fresh can of paint on an already established game and instead rolled out a worthy upgrade.

XXL Rating: 9.2