The MLB: The Show series has long been one of the strongest sports franchises around, making meaningful changes each year that keep the player coming back. This year, developer Sony San Diego seems to have gone all out in revamping their Diamond Dynasty mode, but what else has changed within this MLB: The Show 15 package? The gameplay of MLB: The Show has received little innovation over the years, but will 2015 be the time we see the implementation of a game-changing feature? On top of that, will the UI that has been getting progressively worse over the years finally be rectified? After MLB: The Show’s stellar debut on next-generation consoles last year, the pressure was on Sony San Diego to continue impressing fans.
A majority of the push for MLB 15: The Show has been centered on the Diamond Dynasty mode that has been prevalent in the series since 2012. The mode is based around obtaining cards that act as players on your fantasy team. You can then add those players onto your own personal created team. You obtain more cards through playing games and, of course, winning. This year, the mode has experienced some new additions, one of which being that you can only create one custom player, as opposed to being able to form a roster full of custom baseball stars. The reason for this focuses on Sony San Diego wanting players to focus more on their one player and shape them into a jack-of-all-trades star.
This means that your player can bounce between positions, play first base or second base, or even be the closing pitcher at any point during a game. as long as you build your player well, you could have him relief pitching a few innings, and playing second base the next. You level up your player in an interesting way, by feeding useless cards in your deck to him. For example, say you have Robinson Cano in your deck and you do not want to use him any longer. You could “feed” Cano to your created player, which would then increase the custom player’s abilities according to Cano’s abilities. So in this case, the custom player would get a boost to practically every stat, especially power and contact.
The way you earn items in Diamond Dynasty has also changed in MLB 15: The Show. You still gain a card from completing Diamond Dynasty games, but you also obtain them through partaking in other modes. They come infrequently in other modes but you will still acquire a random card every once in a while. The real issue in playing Diamond Dynasty is the fact that you start off with such a useless amount of cards.
Your first lineup will be littered with people who do not have enough talent to be starting a Major League Baseball game, making actually playing as them a complete bore. There is no connection you and anyone on the field, which just makes you want to fall asleep instead of hit a home run. Of course, eventually, you will acquire bigger names and form a true fantasy team that can consist of stars like Masahiro Tanaka, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, etc. but the slog up until that point makes playing Diamond Dynasty an afterthought, despite the new changes. The quickest way to get these stars is to pay for in-game currency with real money, something that should never be forced upon you in a game that costs $59.99.
With the new changes to Diamond Dynasty not doing a whole lot to entice players, one would hope that the gameplay also featured some major changes. Unfortunately, that is far from the case. There are a few minor changes, one of which being the implementation of simplified batting. A few years back, MLB: The Show added pure analog batting to their game, meaning you could swing the bat using the right stick, pulling it toward you for the batter’s stride forward, and flicking it upwards for the batter’s actual swing. Since then, there seems to have been a strong movement away from these controls as the standard face-button-batting (X for contact swing, circle for power) has been the default when launching The Show.
Despite this, you could also switch the controls back to pure analog, if you like. That has changed this year as Sony San Diego has attempted to simplify all batting control methods and removed the ability to pull back in order to affect the player’s stride. Instead, you can now only press up on the right stick for a power swing, or flick right or left for a contact hit. While simplifying controls is understandable, it makes no sense why you would not just implement an option for people that enjoyed performing the stride part of a swing as it made the at-bat’s feel more realistic and interesting. Now, instead of having to perfect timing in order to get a good hit, you simply throw the stick up and hope the dice rolls your way and you get a good hit. At least in previous iterations you felt like you had a legitimate effect on whether or not you were hitting the ball. Ultimately, you do become accustomed to the change, but it still removes the satisfaction of timing your at-bat perfectly and knocking out a home run.
Some of the other in-game changes that you will experience is a pitch trail system that will show you the arc of a pitch before it is thrown. This can be pretty helpful for sliders and curveballs, but they tend to get in the way when you try to throw a perfect fastball. Interestingly, you can now challenge close calls such as a batter being called safe when you thought he was out. This is a smart addition that is handled really well, as you see your manager sprint out to the umpire and have a chat with him while a timer gives you a minute to decide if you want to use your one challenge or not. While it is far from a huge feature, it is a welcome addition.
MLB 14: The Show’s visuals upon its jump to the PS4 were really impressive. They added a level of detail to the crowd and baseball field that was previously unseen on the PS3. Sadly, MLB 15: The Show seems to be spinning its wheels to some degree when it comes to visuals. There are some improvements, such as player models looking slightly better and some framerate hitches being erased, but none of these changes really stick out unless you look closely for them. While last year featured a pretty admirable leap in visual quality, it seems like we will have to wait another year or so to get a significant jump in visual quality.
The menu design and UI in MLB: The Show has always been a mess, and that continues to be true in MLB 15: The Show. Many of the menus look very similar, but the biggest frustration arises in modes like Road to the Show and Franchise. There are multiple times where you will need to find one specific feature that is hiding somewhere beneath a host of tile-based menus that just get increasingly more annoying the deeper you get.
The specifics of Road to the Show and Franchise, like so many other modes in MLB 15: The Show, have not changed very much. The biggest addition, and easily the most impressive new bullet-point feature of the game is the ability to bring in saves from MLB 14: The Show. Because of this, you can now take a franchise you had been working on tirelessly in MLB 14: The Show and bring it over to the newest version. This transfer is easy as the game reads your saves from the previous MLB: The Show and copies it directly to the new game. Apart from that neat change, you can now place advertisements for companies (Under Armour, etc.) in the on-screen graphics during baseball games in order to gain more money in the Franchise mode. This inclusion ends up feeling dirtier than it does interesting.
MLB 15: The Show
I've never been one to buy into the concept that sports video games do not change enough from year to year. I have always felt that if you are dedicated to a series, you will notice the changes. Unfortunately for my positive mind, MLB 15: The Show broke that idea as the game I called the "king of sports franchises" last year, has put out a mostly underwhelming product. There are one or two minor additions that are enjoyable, but the Diamond Dynasty continues to bore despite its overhaul. The King's crown has fallen off with MLB 15: The Show, and only time will tell if Sony San Diego can pick it up come MLB 16: The Show’s release.