There’s little competition left in the world of sports gaming. Madden owns football. EA’s NHL and UFC series are the only game in town. Sony San Diego’s MLB The Show 16 doesn’t quite have exclusivity with the fledgling R.B.I. Baseball series entering its third year, but there’s little doubt which game is dominating the market despite only appearing on the PlayStation (both 3 and 4).
A lack of viable competition hasn’t resulted in complacency for the series, however, as the developers continue to make fundamental improvements while also introducing new modes. It’s that time of year again. Let’s play ball.
One of the things I’ve always admired about The Show is the number of options they provide for playing the game. I’ve long been partial to the pitching meter on the bump and directional batting at the plate, but pulse pitching and true analog are viable alternatives. Baserunning is solid as well, though it seems a little too easy right now to swipe bags on the default settings.
Fielding vexed me from time to time, primarily in Road to the Show (RttS) where, as a pitcher, I could never seem to get a realistic break off the mound to scoop up a dribbler or cover first base. The new throwing indicator allows you to pre-load throws, which helps make up for some of the ponderous reaction times, and punishes those that consistently max out the meter with errors.
Also new to MLB The Show 16 is the Showtime feature. Pressing R2 dramatically slows down whatever you’re doing for big moments. On the mound you might use it in a clutch situation where you really need to spot a fastball. At the dish it allows you to track an incoming pitch, while in the field it lets you line up a highlight-reel catch.
It’s well done, and despite how it may sound it’s not overpowered. It’s not that easy to successfully line up a Showtime throw to a bag to gun down a runner or square up and time an incoming heater. There’s also a meter that keeps you from using it very often.
For long-time players of the series, The Show’s visual excellence has become old hat, but as my visiting mother-in-law came into the living room and saw the TV she asked who was playing. The answer: me. When I told her it was a video game she just started laughing and shook her head. To be sure, the over-the-shoulder pitching view looks nearly photo realistic, and the new physically based rendering system (which affects how light reacts on different surfaces) adds another layer to the realism.
Play long enough and you’ll encounter the occasional wonky animation or awkward wall collision, but to dwell on the minutia in lieu of the overall presentation is foolish. Plus, there are so many little touches — like the no doubt home run animations — that nail the feel of the game that it’s surprising when something doesn’t look spot on.
In the booth it’s another year of Matt Vasgersian (never my favorite when he called Padres games), Eric Karros and Steve Lyons. They generally do a decent job of following the action, though it’s rare for them to add anything meaningful to the proceedings. Odds are they’ll eventually blend into the background. Sounds of the Show allow you to add customized walkup music, chants and more.
Road to the Show has long been my favourite part of The Show, and it gets the honor once again by adding a few nice additions. One great one for position players is the ability to play an entire series without having to back out and reload. It may sound small, but the time saved adds up quickly.
As you train you’ll now unlock perks upon reaching stat levels that can be used to augment your skills. There’s a pretty good range, none of which substantially tilt the odds in your favor, and they are completely optional to use if you’re a purist. Even if the changes don’t resonate, RttS remains arguably the best career mode in any sports game.
Franchise has good depth and is the recipient of some fairly minor improvements. Probably the most significant is the Morale system, which is based on player happiness in their current situation with the club or where they play and so on. Expanded stat tracking is also appreciated, especially in a sport so historically associated with numbers.
While the changes to the main two modes could be classified as tweaks, Diamond Dynasty has received the most attention. There is now a series of challenges delegated by your “captain,” and completing them will net you some rewards. It’s a smart system that encourages you to venture outside of your comfort zone in terms of what players to use.
There are also two entirely new modes under the Dynasty banner: Conquest and Battle Royale. The former tasks you with taking your team and building their popularity, assigning fans to hold certain segments of the country in a setup that’s similar to Risk. You’ll square off against other teams in abbreviated three-inning games, which works well for this mode, to take over the map.
Battle Royale has you drafting a full team and then taking on opposing players’ squads where the more you win the more rewards you earn. Lose too often and you’re out. It’s reminiscent of Madden’s Draft Champions mode, though here you’re selecting an entire team from scratch rather than being dealt a squad of replacement-level players and supplementing via a shortened draft.
Online play feels like a bigger part of The Show than usual thanks to the new modes, but performance continues to be spotty. While it’s still very close to launch and stability could improve, as of now it’s one of the game’s only weak links.
Another year, another successful outing for MLB The Show 16. Its tireless attention to detail and authenticity makes it a great representation of the sport for purists, and the added modes offer new ways for series veterans to enjoy the game.