Evolution. A curious thing. When examined through a narrow lens, it’s nearly imperceptible. But pull that lens back, take a look at the broader picture, and evolution becomes visible. It’s a magnificent process. A process that undoubtedly exists in SCEA’s MLB The Show Franchise. So, aware of the existence of evolution within their own series, the team at Sony attempts to gradually evolve their legacy with MLB The Show 16; a process made increasingly more difficult as the game pulls ever closer towards authentic replication of the game of baseball. But as we’ll soon discover, MLB 16 continues to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. How does Sony do this? Well, let’s play ball.
The same can be said every year, but MLB 16 is not a big leap forward over MLB 15, which, incidentally, played similarly to its previous entry, and even the one before it. Right off the bat, MLB 16 introduces a wealth of minor gameplay additions that serve to inject greater authenticity to the series, including but not limited to hundreds of new fielding and batting animations, more realistic routes taken by outfielders for fly balls, the reintroduction of the stride component to analog hitting, a new batting camera that provides greater depth and perspective, more realistic and more varied hit dispersions, more realistic bunting outcomes, and much, much, more. Of course, these are relatively minor changes, but taken together, the improvements yield a more refined baseball simulation.
There are, however, more significant alterations to gameplay. This year, the game places greater importance on user ability over player ratings; a transition in design philosophy that poses drastic implications for the series going forward. Ultimately though, Sony’s attempt to provide the user with increased control over the outcome of the play is met with fantastic results.
Most importantly, the increase in user control never overpowers the game’s numerous RNG elements that are fashioned to generate realistic outcomes. Rather, the outcome of a play simply assigns greater weight to player inputs than in previous years. Perhaps more than any other year, SCEA strikes a near perfect balance between player ratings, precise controls, and realistic outcomes. It’s a delicate balancing act that has been the downfall of lesser sports games, but The Show 16 knocks it out of the park.
Moreover, MLB 16 simply moves better than last year’s edition. Not only does the game benefit from the abundance of new animations, but the engine has been further refined to allow for increased branch points necessary for more fluid animation blending. Over the course of a play, many independent animations blend seamlessly into one another, sculpting the illusion that a single canned animation is being triggered. Rarely does an animation sequence unveil this façade; almost always, MLB 16 is poetry in motion, a series of independent animations that dance in harmony to form a well coordinated symphony of player movement.
So MLB 16 The Show’s gameplay is fantastic, but it’s not all a grand slam. Upon release, there are balancing issues that hamper the game’s realism. Currently, home runs constitute far too great a percentage of balls put in play, ultimately transforming the game into a bit of a home run fest. Likewise, fielders are too prone to wildly inaccurate throws, resulting in games with unrealistic amounts of errors. And finally, outfielders are far too quick in the field, covering vast seas of grass with little regard for the limits of human nature.
Granted, while post-game support will more than likely mitigate particular balancing issues, use of the extensive customization options via sliders can neutralize these gameplay deficiencies immediately. However, at its core – minor quibbles aside – MLB 16 feels like baseball. And that’s the greatest compliment it can receive.
The Show’s third year on PlayStation 4 hardware yields spectacular results, bringing in a plethora of graphical refinements and upgrades, along with substantial improvements to the commentary engine. Graphically, the introduction of physical based rendering allows light to more realistically reflect off of various surfaces, and general improvements to the lighting engine permits the night lighting model to flex its beautiful muscles. Beautiful in still image, but even better in motion. MLB 16 is the best looking sports game on the market. Period.
As good as it looks, The Show might even sound better. The commentary engine has finally been modified to allow for greater amounts of branching dialogue, group dialogue, and interruptible commentary, rendering the Matt Vasgersian-led broadcast as a dynamic trio that reacts dynamically to the events that unfold both during the course of a game and during the course of a season. Even the commentary, a long considered soft-spot for the series, is beginning to blur the distinction between game and reality.
However, the franchise mode radio show -“Inside the Show” – doesn’t fare nearly as well. The commentary provides box score updates around your league but lacks the proper audio stitching to keep from feeling robotic. Perhaps another announcer would prove more effective.
Finally, The Show 16 is fraught with thousands of new player personality animations, all of which are triggered at appropriate times. Individual and team personality animations lend greater context to the events that unfold throughout the course of a play and inject some much-needed emotion into the game. Most importantly, these animations perfectly accentuate the gameplay animations such that they flow smoothly into one another without transitional hiccups.
In general, animations play off one another beautifully and are further bolstered by the game’s refusal to drop below its buttery smooth 60 frames per second. The Show 16 is unrivaled in its presentation; a near perfect package of quality graphics, animation, and audio neatly tied under a large bow.
Numerous improvements and additions abound in the game’s core modes. SCEA has incorporated more RPG elements to both Road to the Show and Franchise Mode, including a new perk system that provides enhancements to your created player or team. For example, a new ShowTime perk allows users to slow down time in critical moments to maximize control over pitching, hitting, and throwing. Stay tuned for guides on how to use this feature at a later date.
Likewise, a new player morale system serves to modify the stats of your teammates based on a multitude of relevant factors, including individual playing time, team success, financial security, etc. So keep everyone happy. You don’t want an Adam LaRoche situation on your hands.
Additionally, scouting has been revamped and now includes an authentic 20/80 player rating scale, complete with new player skills to scout. While the game mode improvements are noted, the simulation engines that govern these new systems have not been extensively tested to prove their authenticity.
There are two new modes, “Battle Royale” and “Conquest”.
In Battle Royal you compete versus other players in Diamond Dynasty after drafting a team. Winning will you a chance at some awesome rewards. The first time you enter is on the house, but after that it will cost you 1,500 stubs each time you wish to enter. Win or lose you get a standard pack, so you get something out of it regardless of how you do. Here is a breakdown of prize milestones. Once your team is drafted you face off against someone else who drafted their team in a three inning contest. Exclusive flashback and legend cards are available through this mode as prizes for getting certain amounts of wins.
The second of the new modes they added into MLB The Show 16. Conquest is an online single player mode where take your diamond dynasty team versus 30 MLB CPU teams. You compete with other teams for fans, which will determine which difficulties you can play on. Conquest is a turn based strategy game where you need to obtain fans and conquer new territories using your fans. Conquest games are also three innings. Depending on how many fans you have in an area, you can chose to sim a game and it will tell you if you have a low, medium or high chance of winning the game. Check back here for additional coverage on those modes, as well as Diamond Dynasty, very soon.
Sony has once again expanded upon the best playing sports game on the market without compromising its best qualities, instead furthering its artistic vision in a way that seems to be approaching its limits. Still, MLB 16 is not much different than its predecessor. For veterans of the series, such familiarity – fused with the balancing issues at launch – may breed feelings of apathy.
But don’t let its familiarity fool you. Now more than ever, the new focus on player determinism truly enables you to become the player you’re controlling. You become the bat. You become the glove. You wear the jersey. What happens on the field? It’s all up to you. So pick up the controller, head out onto the virtual field, and play ball. It’s never felt better.