The grass is getting greener. The days are getting longer. The sun is getting brighter. Spring is here. And so too is baseball season, along with its virtual representation in MLB 15 The Show. Sony’s lone and inveterate sports franchise bears its cleats firmly in the mound as it continues to transition to the PS4. So, naturally, the question becomes; does Sony’s second foray into next-gen territory bear fruitful, or does this outing fall prey to unrealized ideals that so often plague conversions to newer hardware? Hopefully this MLB 15 The Show Review will answer these questions and more.
First things first. MLB 15 is not a big leap forward over MLB 14, which, as you well know, played similarly to its previous entry, and even the one before it. Homogeneity across an iterative series is oft considered a sign of stagnancy and perhaps regression. Yet, incremental and oftentimes indiscernible improvements atop a solid foundation have propelled The Show into the top tier of sports gaming. When trying to recreate a sport that is readily observable, developers are afforded little opportunity to innovate in a theatrical manner. Such is the mantra of the development team that is SCEA; an ostentatious implementation of a feature founded on reality is rarely successful, and Sony’s team has never succumbed to the pressures of feature quantity or, shall we say, feature dramatization. So it goes that MLB 15 continues the trend of providing gamers with subtle gameplay improvements that undoubtedly updates the gameplay, but at the same time, those improvements will hardly be noticed by the more casual fans.
This year, MLB 15 The Show boasts advanced AI logic that results in outfielders taking more realistic routes to the ball, a new Inverse Kinematics engine, (which is just smart person talk for player limbs that procedurally adapt to various situations, which is average IQ person talk for improved animation quality) and a new directional hitting interface that combines timing with left-stick movement to influence ball direction. Minor additions aside, it’s really the wealth of new animations that supply
greater immersion and breathe more life into a series that prides itself on gameplay and contextual animation. Ultimately, the features, though inconspicuous and unexceptional they are, are layered on top of the core gameplay experience, an experience that more accurately reflects its sport than any other game on the market. Batting continues to generate realistic hit dispersions with great variety in hit types. The controls are tight regardless of which control scheme is utilized. The same goes for pitching; traditional meter pitching, pulse pitching, analog pitching; it does not matter. Each configuration fosters realistic pitch locations. Better yet, the realistic outcomes for both batting and pitching in no way preclude the influence of player ratings. Sony strikes a perfect balance between precise controls, realistic outcomes, and player ratings that increase or decrease the user’s room for error. And again, like every year, the computer behaves realistically as well; pitchers will attempt to get you to chase out of the strike zone when ahead in the count, hitters display real-life tendencies pursuant to their real life stats, and even fielders appropriately bobble, overthrow, or otherwise misplay balls in the field. The core gameplay is nearly perfect.
As always, Sony presents vast customization options to offset one’s aversion to a particular control scheme, allowing one to tailor their experience to their own satisfaction. Extensive customization extends to specific gameplay settings as well; through sliders, a gamer can adjust each facet of the game to cater to one’s style of play. However, although sliders can neutralize many perceived deficiencies in gameplay, the unrealistic player movement in the field cannot be mitigated through sliders alone, and thus requires a new animation and logic core. Fielders lack fluidity when running full stride, and transitional animations are occasionally but noticeably choppy. Unfortunately, small chinks in a gleaming, lustrous coat of armor are always more perceptible. There are, however, more glaring issues. Most glaring is the little respect held for the conservation of momentum, enabling fielders to alter directions too quickly with respect to their speed. Not only does it look bad, but tangibly, the running animations in the field enable players to correct their trajectory to the ball with little to no consequence, resulting in less extra base hits than there should be and runners being held up when they would naturally advance.
Beautiful lighting permeates the beautifully rendered stadiums. Watch in spectacular fashion as the lighting alters in real-time over the course of a game. The improved lighting certainly highlights a plethora of graphical refinements, complemented by more variations to skin tones with gloss and specular improvements, along with better grass and dirt textures. The graphics are beautiful, and the game looks even better in motion. The frame rate rarely dips below 60 frames per second, and does justice to the generally fantastic animation quality. The presentation similarly flourishes; a Matt Vasgersian led broadcast resembles the MLB Network, and real-time animations and events drive the presentation instead of cutscenes, lending a more authentic look and feel to the broadcast. The commentary, while similar to previous years, still hosts an enormous library of dialogue that offers a level of insight and professionalism rarely found in sports games. At the same time, the booth includes Steve Lyons and Eric Karros, and they lack a necessary camaraderie or banter that should inject a dose of fun and realism to the broadcast.
Unfortunately, there are minimal improvements to the game’s core modes. Franchise mode adds General Manager contracts, forcing you to consider ownership expectations when running your team. Additionally, a highly marketed radio show provides dynamic box score updates in your league, but lacks real substance. Likewise, Road to the Show doesn’t feature any improvements worth noting. Of course, the requisite annual upgrades to various simulation engines were touted, but not necessarily noted. More extensive testing is required to prove said improvements. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, initial reports for online play are a mixed bag! Some have reported lag-free experiences, while others have expressed less-than-stellar online play. In a game that demands perfect timing, a lag-free experience is essential. We’ll see how the servers hold up as more gamers get their hands on the game, but if the improved online infrastructure does as its bid, online leagues may finally be a viable option. But only time will tell.
Undeniably familiar over the years, but undeniably consistent, MLB 15 The Show continues the trend of supplying fans the game of baseball in its purest virtual form. It doesn’t differentiate itself much from previous iterations, but it still offers and will continue to offer the ultimate baseball simulation for years to come. The question is, is there enough change to warrant a new purchase? The choice is yours, but objectively, MLB 15 The Show knocks it out of the park.
FINAL SCORE: 9 out of 10