MLB 2K13 review: Shameless

MLB 2K13 review Shameless
"Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford has a sweet mustache. The commentary team in Major League Baseball 2K12, Steve Phillips, Gary Thorne, and John Kruk even spend time talking about it when he's on the mound, throwing strikes. Yes, dialogue was recorded specifically to discuss the pitcher's facial hair – and yet Axford's player model is clean-shaven with some average-joe sideburns."

So began my review of MLB 2K12 a year ago, though it could just as easily serve as a fitting introduction for a review of MLB 2K13. Axford's facial hair hasn't changed in MLB 2K13 – and neither has the game. I take that back: The Online Leagues feature has been removed, the Houston Astros are now in the AL and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price is on the cover. There, I think we're pretty much all caught up.

The exclusion of Online Leagues aside, this game is, appallingly, the same as last year. There's simply nothing new here, no glaring bullet points that shout, "this is what everyone will be talking about." I experienced the same stuttering player animations as seen in MLB 2K12. Tiny bouts of lag popped up while batting in an online game all over again. As I write this, over 5,000 people are online in MLB 2K13, getting the only sim-style baseball fix that's available on a Microsoft console and is supposed to be considered new. How many will be online in the coming months?

MLB 2K13 review Shameless
It was disappointing to see no added nuances to the game's batting or pitching systems, which could always use fine-tuning. There are also no glaring improvements to My Player, a single-player career mode that could use a new coat of paint. While we're at it, it's seemingly impossible to truly differentiate between this year's game and last year's game at a mere glance; there doesn't appear to be a single cosmetic improvement to the player models, or the still-great broadcast style of the game. No fan could be blamed for asserting that MLB 2K13 is really just 2K12 with a new logo.

After booting up the MLB Today mode, I immediately looked at the roster to see how my Brewers were looking. The game's "living rosters" are set up so that I should be able to play the same game my team is playing in real life that day. I found Aramis Ramirez starting at third base, apparently unharmed from his recent sprained knee, and Mat Gamel surprisingly still playing first base after his catastrophic, season-ending ACL tear. Corey Hart was still out of action, because the last sign of life from this living roster must have been from weeks ago. Even during spring training, shouldn't fans expect the "living" part of "living rosters" to hold up at the game's launch? How can players put faith in a publisher with a history of poor post-launch support for its online modes, let alone one that releases a product like this?

MLB 2K13 review Shameless
MLB 2K13's issue isn't that it's a terrible game. The problem is that it's exactly as okay as MLB 2K12 was. It's still fun, as long as you can erase the part of your brain that remembers what MLB 2K12 was like, or if you happened to miss it the first time around. A plateau in any sports game series is arguably as bad as a severe dip, and this is one of the most significant flat-lines a series has seen. We need to see something new.

As much as other series attempt to advance the genre in new and exciting directions, this clear lack of effort is an indelible grass stain on baseball games, and leaves us with more questions than answers. It's as much a shame on 2K Sports for releasing this game as it is for the MLB to carelessly stamp its name on it. Whether it was sheer apathy or contractual licensing obligations that caused MLB 2K13 to exist in this state, it certainly wasn't a love for baseball, sports games, or its fans.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of MLB 2K13, provided by 2K Games.

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