The road to the Show.
The start of the baseball season is a special time of year for me. The weather is changing, the grass is coming back, and the air is filled with the sound of cracking bats and snapping gloves. Likewise, the spring also brings about another longstanding and anticipated annual tradition, the release of the newest entry in the MLB: The Show series. Long considered among the premier sports franchises, The Show typically brings a buttery smooth and continuously improving experience unexpected from a series that has no real competition in the marketplace.
This year is extra special to me because I skipped out on last year’s game. Because I am coming off a hiatus of sorts my anticipation for this year’s title was off the charts. I’m pleased to report that the game has lived up to my lofty expectations in the critical areas, while still needing some polish on the edges.
Full disclosure, I’m playing this year’s version on a PS4 Pro in 4K with HDR and the game looks phenomenal. The stadiums look better than ever before and the lighting is exquisite. They have some additional animations in place this year and they flow together very well. I love the fact that they have put work into making sure that animations are realistic and appropriate for the situation at hand. Throwing animations are where this stands out the most. As long as players have their throw pre-loaded, they’ll see a dramatic reduction in the “c’mon, c’mon throw the freaking ball already” animations of years past. They have in most cases been replaced with a much faster but still realistic looking throwing animation.
Create-a-player models are much improved, although players will still run across some quirky ones here and there created by the system to populate minor league rosters. Hair is hit and miss, but mostly a hit. There are still some occasional styles that look plastered down or unrealistic, but they are in the minority.
All the modes people have come to expect from the series are present. Franchise mode has undergone some major quality of life improvements. The two most impactful changes are the additions of critical moments and quick manage.
Critical moments are perfect for people like me who tend to sim through most of a season in Franchise. As players are simming through games the system will occasionally stop to give the option of entering the simulated game at a “critical” moment. One example might be a tie game in the bottom of the ninth with the player’s slugger up to bat. Players can, of course, skip these moments if they wish, but I found all the ones I came across to be perfect examples of the exciting moments in games that I actually want to be in control of. After the critical moment (if it doesn’t end the game) players have the option of kicking back out to the simulation or continuing to play. This is the perfect franchise addition for someone like me who might enjoy the mode but doesn’t have the time or patience to play through an entire 162 game season.
Along that same line of thinking, quick manage allows players to take control of a single game in the franchise season and make high level managerial decisions for as many or as few batters as they wish. When the team is batting the options include things like instructing the team to swing away, bunt, steal, or even more complex options like the suicide squeeze. On the pitching side players can choose to have the pitcher pitch normally, attempt to pick-off runners, pitch to contact to try and force that double play ball or even pitch around tough hitters. I found the best way for me to play franchise mode was a mixture of these two options. Simulation with Critical Moments turned on for most games and quick manage for important divisional games.
Those of you who have either read my Show reviews before or have listened to me discuss the games on our podcast know that I spend 90% of my non-review time with these games every year in the Road to the Show mode, and it has some big improvements this year. Perhaps the most noticeable is the injection of some NBA 2K or FIFA style personality, as the mode gets conversation trees and a voice over narrator for the “documentary” about the young player’s career. As much as I love this idea (and I have been a huge proponent of this type of expansion) I can’t help but be a little disappointed in the implementation choice of a voiced documentary style narrator instead of voiced interactions between the player and his manager. I know this was probably in response to past criticism of NBA 2k for their limited number of player chosen voices, but honestly I would prefer that to this “Dukes of Hazzard” style omnipresent voice discussing the importance of young players earning the trust of their coach.
Other than that small criticism the mode is fantastic. Moving straight from one game to another is fast and slick, making it easy to get through a large amount of games in a short period of time. I also love the new gameplay additions to the mode, such as the target based fielding. With this on, characters gets a circular target over the base they’re throwing to as time slows to a crawl. With the right stick, players need to guide a circle that represents the throwing accuracy over top of the target circle and press the right trigger. While it sounds complicated, in practice it is so smooth and natural I can’t imagine fielding without it now. I also love the addition of “Showtime”, a function on the right trigger that allows a limited amount of opportunities a game to slow time down and focus the player’s attention. While on the surface this may seem to break the realism of the game I found in practice it felt more like my player was dipping into an extra reserve of concentration in critical moments versus it taking me out of the reality of the game.
Also returning is the Diamond Dynasty mode, a card collecting series of game types that has players create their own team and then use them to compete in several different mode types, both multiplayer and single player. I’m not a huge fan of these types of modes in sports games in general, and this one is no exception. For those that do enjoy them though they’ll find some cool things here, including a conquest mode that allows players to steal fans and market share from MLB teams. Be warned though, this game has some online connectivity issues that led to some fairly long load times during my experiences with the mode. I also ran into these connectivity issues (lag, etc.) when attempting to play online against other players.
Commentary has been updated this year. Matt Vasgergian returns but now he’s flanked by Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac. I like the interaction of the new team and they flow together well. You’ll also have the opportunity to change presentation themes between the MLB Network theme and two others, which does a good job of making each game feel a little bit different.
Perhaps my favorite addition is the new Retro mode. This mode is a flashback to 16 bit baseball games like Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball. Complete with situational commentary from “The Kid” himself, players can even apply an “8 Bit” filter to make the game feel even more retro. Essentially this mode is what everyone remember baseball games from their childhood feeling like, complete with limited buttons, limited pitches, and a selection of fun sound effects. While most people probably won’t spend most of their time in this mode, it’s a really fun distraction that I’m glad made its way into the final product.
To say I’m pleased with my return to the series after a brief hiatus is an understatement. This feels exactly like the Show I remember with some fantastic additions. The only thing that keeps it from getting higher marks are the online connectivity issues and some other small concerns (including some strange ball physics in the outfield that has led to a lot more ground rule doubles than seems realistic). If you’re a fan of the sport and you have a PlayStation 4 you have to buy this game. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on a tremendous entry in this seminal series.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.