Another trip around the sun means another installment of SIE San Diego’s lauded baseball simulation franchise MLB The Show. Last year saw the release of MLB The Show 18. This edition looked to build off the steady improvements added to the prolific series over the PlayStation 4’s lifespan.
The result is a game that falls into some of the trappings that annualized sports games tend to struggle with. MLB The Show 18 rests too much on the laurels of past entries. It fails to innovate modes and features that would entice yearly buyers to put down the money for another go. New players, however, will find the most comprehensive video game donning the MLB license at the time of its release. You could spend dozens of hours batting, pitching, and managing through all MLB The Show 18 has to offer.
From its wonderfully cheesy opening cinematic, it’s clear. MLB The Show 18 is made by people with the love of baseball running through their veins. Shots of children dreaming about becoming the next Clayton Kershaw or Kris Bryant don’t convince you of the game’s authenticity? Then, getting a feel for the tight controls will surely make you come around.
The game transports you right into the action of the starting plate through the responsive controls. You can choose the easily digestible directional style or go for the precise nuance of analogue control. Likewise, pitching has a satisfying degree of organic feedback. The pulsating rumblings of the controller cued me into the best possible execution of timing and aiming.
I just wish that this information was presented in a dedicated tutorial mode. Instead, force fed explanations in-game come off as nagging interruptions rather than helpful guides. This won’t be an issue for MLB The Show aficionados. However, new players may feel stranded and overwhelmed by the game’s half-hearted attempt to welcome them in.
If the controls effectively pulled me into the action of a game, then the pitch-perfect presentation drew me into the experience of one.
The engaging commentary of Matt Vasgersian, Mark DeRosa and Dan Plesac is impressively versatile and scenario-specific. I noticed only a handful of incorrect calls during my time playing. The broadcast style of presenting the games brings a sense of occasion to each match. This makes MLB The Show 18 just as interesting for those sitting on the couch next to the person actually playing it.
Cutting away to read through a team’s batting line-up, obsessing over a particularly great hit through replays, and dynamic camera angles are all small touches that blur the line between video game and consumable televised sports even further.
The stadiums display their brilliant scope in impressive detail, such as the domed roof of Roger’s Centre looming over play as 45,000 digital spectators do the same.
The vast roster of players covers every Major League team and all Triple-A and Double-A Minor League clubs, capturing a sizeable chunk of America’s baseball elite. The character models for players are well rendered, with clothing textures looking as realistic as ever. However, I could have done with more facial animations to counter the robotic expressions perpetually frozen on everyone’s face.
Other than an updated player roster and tweaked gameplay mechanics, modes are the main draw card for MLB The Show to entice returning customers into another go. Unfortunately, this is where MLB The Show 18 feels disappointedly uninspired. There was little thought put into creating exciting new ways to play, even if the existing modes remain relatively solid.
The story-driven career mode “Road to the Show” makes a return from MLB The Show 17. There have been a few new options added to the robust character creation feature. You can choose individual animations that best express one’s baseball personality. There is still a rush in seeing your player climb their way through the leagues. The dialogue sections add a sense of immersion to the process, even if voice acting would have been appreciated. Also, the removal of micro transactions is a huge plus.
Meanwhile, Franchise, Diamond Dynasty and Retro Mode are all still here and individually offer unique experiences that will cater to different styles of gamers. However, that’s really all that the game has to show for itself in single player. I wish the developers had taken the time to offer something more than what we already know. To make matters worse, Season and Online Franchise are completely absent, leaving behind a bitter taste in terms of their content offerings.
MLB The Show 18 feels more like a targeted bunt over shortstop than a soaring home run. It does enough to move things forward, but doesn’t take a huge leap into the future of this historic franchise. I enjoyed my time when the precise controls and physics immersed me into the experience. The high-quality presentation bolsters the game. But, there is also a sense that the developers are beginning to run out of ideas for new ways to evolve baseball video games. I just hope that this series doesn’t get stuck on the starting base before it strikes out.