Building the best sports game isn’t always about making the biggest additions possible year over year. Rather, it’s often about taking aspects from previous installments and adding more details to make the in-game experience more authentic.
Even the smallest additions can make a game more fun than a big new feature can.
It’s a reason why the MLB The Show series has been on top of the sports gaming food chain for so long. Instead of constantly throwing big new modes that may be riddled with bugs, the team at Sony San Diego Studios focuses on improving what’s already in place.
MLB The Show 18 is a prime example of this as the game doesn’t see any new modes added, but nearly every mode in the game has been given an upgrade in some way, shape, or form. In addition, the gameplay has become the standard-bearer that all sports titles should look to emulate.
Playing your way
The main modes here — Diamond Dynasty, Franchise, and Road to the Show — have all seen new elements added or changed in a way that makes each mode more accessible and entertaining for players.
Franchise mode used to involve tediously searching through menus just to find what tasks needed to be completed next. That’s all gone thanks to the addition of “Phases”. With 19 in total, each phase throughout the year includes a list of responsibilities that players need to make sure get handled. From managing sponsors for the broadcast to making sure draft picks are signed ahead of the deadline, players will never miss important tasks again. And if you just want to make a few decisions and then play your games, tasks can simply be toggled between manual and auto with a simple press of a button.
Menus are easier to read, Retro Mode is available to play within the mode, and even the AI trade logic has been reworked to act more realistic than ever. Then again, to see how the Yankees managed to acquire Giancarlo Stanton during the offseason, maybe the logic within MLB The Show wasn’t so bad after all. It isn’t on par with franchise modes from other titles like NBA 2K, but it’s an enjoyable experience in its own right.
Unfortunately, there is no online franchise this year due to the number of changes to the game’s online framework that were put in place to create a more stable online experience.
That experience, through the first few days with online servers available, has been issue free in the games I played. There was some lag, but that was more a connection issue between the two players than anything else.
One thing that was also removed but never mentioned is the game’s season mode. With season, players were able to set the custom length of the year and the amount of games played. That’s not available this year leaving franchise mode the only option to play a full year.
With Diamond Dynasty, it has often been said that getting started with the mode could be a bit daunting solely because of the amount of content at your fingertips. MLB The Show 18 looks to ease players into the popular card-collecting mode by introducing what is known as the “flexible program” system. This will allow players to pick and choose what missions they want to play, allowing them to carve their own path within the mode. That said, with so much to do, it can still feel a bit too intimidating for those who’ve never touched the mode before, or who consider themselves simply casual players.
The Create-A-Player feature within Diamond Dynasty has been retooled to tie player progression to player-specific programs. There are also 30 new legends to collect including Babe Ruth and Mike Piazza, and the attribute cap for these players goes above 99. This is MLB The Show 18’s way of separating the current-day All-Stars from the legendary players, and it works quite well as you definitely notice the higher abilities of the better players.
Of course, the star of MLB The Show 18 is once again Road to the Show which returns utilizing the documentary-like experience that debuted in last year’s game. The mode largely remains the same as it has since its inception over a decade ago as you create a custom ballplayer, play in a prospect showcase game, get drafted, and then try and work your way up from a minor league prospect to an MLB Hall of Famer. That part isn’t likely to change anytime soon. However, what has been changed this year has made the mode more enjoyable than it has been in years, and that’s the overhauled progression system.
First, MLB The Show 18 introduces archetypes to the player creation for the first time. With a total of 15 to choose from — five for outfielders, six for infielders, three for starting pitchers and two for closers — the various archetypes essentially act as a guide for the type of player you want to build throughout your career. Each comes with two strengths and one weakness.
Rather than allocate training points yourself as you go along, players improve based on on-field performance and various training exercises. No longer can you just buy attribute points and boost your player all the way up to a 99 overall while still in the minor leagues. Not only have microtransactions been removed from the mode, but attributes come with caps depending on your archetype as well.
To make the game even more personalized, the new batting stance creator is a fun little tool to enjoy that allows you to alter any player’s stance. It’s cool to check out, but it’s not something many will use more than a couple times.
Swinging for the Fences
On the field, MLB The Show 18 is as beautiful as ever. From player models to stadiums to fans in the crowd, everything looks as polished as you’d expect from a Sony San Diego baseball game.
The MLB Network presentation returns this year, but there are some changes. Out is Harold Reynolds as one of the analysts and in comes Mark DeRosa to join Matt Vasgersian and Dan Plesac in the booth. The new three-man commentary team took to the studio together for the first time in the series’ history to record their lines, and the results are a more fluid, conversation-like broadcast. While there are still times where they come across as canned and robotic, it’s much fewer and far between than in the past. Also new to the presentation are full-speed replays and new ball velocity trails.
Now, everyone knows how different weather impacts how a game plays out. Well, in MLB The Show 18, fans can finally experience that in a way that’s never been done before. Rain delays make their way into the game resulting in new strategy when the event occurs. Should your game get hit with a delay, you’ll have to make a decision about your pitcher depending on how long the delay lasts. There won’t be cases of postponements or doubleheaders due to rain, but the inclusion of delays is a step towards true realism.
On top of the rain, environment variables like location and wind also impact the game in more ways thanks to the updated ball physics. Though most casual players won’t notice, the way the ball comes out of a player’s hand or off a bat depending on the circumstances adds a variable that makes each pitch, throw, and swing unique.
There are hundreds of new animations — some subtle, some not so subtle — to help with the flow of play and how players react to various situations. You won’t see b-lines to a ball nor will you see runners sprint in a completely straight line when trying to steal a base. What’s more is the fact that the delay between fielding and throwing has been tightened up to the point where those who exploited the system in MLB The Show 17 won’t be able to cheaply get to a base safely. Catchers also react to balls in the dirt a lot quicker, making it harder to bunt for a hit or steal on every pitch that hits the ground.
Since 2013, MLB The Show has been the only AAA baseball title on the market. While it may be easy for the developers to slip into a form of complacency during the five years as the only show in town, it’s clear that the team at Sony San Diego Studios is doing anything but resting on their laurels.
MLB The Show 18 is as deep an offering as Sony has ever put out despite the lack of an online franchise and a few smaller issues. From the incredibly in-depth modes like Road to the Show and Diamond Dynasty to the gameplay changes that see weather impact how a ball flies through the air and the way hits come off the bat, MLB The Show 18 is easier than ever to become invested in and enjoy.