Baseball is fun for everyone to play out in the field, and that magic may never fade. Major League Baseball, however, is finding out the hard way that the magic of playing baseball can not sustain the magic of watching baseball. Adapting to the times is a vital process for the short and long term survival of the sport as a national spectacle. One tendril of influence that the sport boasts is the magnificent MLB The Show franchise. Unfortunately, even that has had a slow ooze of stagnation envelop the game much like it has with the real world sport.
MLB The Show 18 is an ambitious attempt to stave off that stagnation with a series of overhauls to several of the game’s popular modes. There are tectonic shifts within each of the game modes the game boasts, but the game itself consists of the same modes available prior, and the gameplay is largely unchanged as well. Why mess with near perfection, I suppose, seeing as how The Show has largely mastered the translation of baseball into video game form.
The gameplay of the show is impressive as always. Pitching is a smooth process that rewards knowledgeable pitch choice and placement, and the fielding is a similarly painless process that lacks in a lot of fine control, but feels like an active challenge while maintaining simplicity. The Road to the Show mode has a more complex fielding style that demands a bit more fine control with aiming and timing throws.
Everyone just wants to hit, and the hitting is the most difficult part of the game by far. Timing and discipline at the plate have to be developed, you see. Once you get the hang of things, the game opens up for you and progress starts to come easily. Each of these elements of the game have different forms you can choose to play with, be it using button presses, or a pure analog system using the right stick to throw to base, hit, and pitch. One small change is a swing feedback “node” that appears after each swing of the bat, showing the sweet spot and how far off you were from hitting it. This advanced feedback has given me a chance to improve my timing far better than just being told the swing was early or late.
The bigger changes come in the game modes themselves. The franchise mode is not vastly different than before, but the game sets up three levels of difficulty as opposed to a list of franchise options, giving you a more visual indication of how complex you want your Franchise mode to be. I like the streamlining of options, but overall just want to have full control of the franchise. Giving me the option to slim the mode down does not hurt, though. Gone is the online franchise mode, which is a massive loss to a large subset of The Show faithful. While the mode never was able to capture the feeling of on-the-couch multiplayer, its absence feels less like streamlining and more like a gutting.
Road to the Show is massively overhauled, from the tryout stages all the way through to the end. You showcase your abilities in a short one-two process of a combine and a game, like before, but instead of being a truncated draft process, this year’s RTTS mode has a massive draft pool of several dozen rounds that will excite or humble you, based on your draft position.
Rather than depending on a point system like before, RTTS also develops your player based on performance, using a sliding scale of experience points to determine your ability as you play. If you field well, but can’t hit, your stats and your attributes will reflect that. You won’t be able to skill point horde your way out of poor performance any longer, and the result will be RTTS careers that more reflect your actual ability to play. The hall of fame is further away than ever before, and I love that.
The mode has also been fleshed out to feel more like an RPG experience, where you have several outside baseball moments that you must navigate with other players, agents, the media, and other people in the orbit of the sport. These interactions are mind-blowing, and anything that adds to the experience outside of just hundreds of consecutive baseball games is a welcome addition.
Diamond Dynasty mode, a card collecting frenzy that allows you to create your own team and populate it with the players whose cards you’ve collected. The multiplayer mode demands lots of grinding (and maybe some cash payments to skip some of the grind) and plays the same as before. However, Diamond Dynasty now boasts dozens of different challenges and “programs” to clear, each with lots of prizes and special cards to claim. So the grind is much larger, but the variety of challenges means you’ll get to use more of your card collection and have much more opportunity to build up a stellar team through completion of the programs.
Even the practice mode has been overhauled and this is my favorite improvement of the bunch. You can make changes to the practice scenario on the fly, repeat specific scenarios on repeat, and overall just have so much more control of the practice sessions than ever before. If you have some specific issue that you need to work on, you can fine tune the practice for it and I can see this helping players improve their skills faster than ever before.
There is a long road for The Show 18, and franchise in general, to tow to get to perfection, but there is very little to not like about the game if you are a fan of baseball. The stadiums look alive and the game is displayed beautifully, with each player looking true to life as always. The sounds of the show bring the stadiums into your living room effectively, and the game has a diverse soundtrack of songs with a few gems included. The game’s menus are a bit less intuitive than they were with the prior release, but still fine and not a hindrance.
The game includes the fun and light retro mode from previous releases, and also allows you to play franchise games in this mode as well for the first time ever. Also featured is a challenge mode, where you compete against all other players for real world prizes including signed bats, jerseys, and baseballs.
That said, the game will have to do more than just update the game modes to keep being a must-buy product in the world of sports gaming. I could not help but feel like other than a few shiny elements, I was playing the same game I’ve played year after year after year. Looking at an empty card book and low amount of in-game currency in the Diamond Dynasty mode felt look looking out over a vast, empty desert and just does not call me to task like it usually does with each release.
MLB The Show 18
MLB The Show 18 is another fantastic baseball experience, and a game where high quality has become routine. The gameplay is the same, for the most part, but the game’s modes have all been vastly updated with improvements, additions, and overhauls to the way progression through each mode is accomplished. These improvements are welcome additions to a game that flirts with stagnation in spite of its perennial brilliance.