Plugged In

 

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is nearly upon us, but fans looking to experience America’s Pastime on the digital diamond needn’t wait any longer.

Whether you’re looking for a no-frills pick up and play title, an insanely deep text-based sim or a highly detailed virtual recreation of the sport, there’s a video game for that. Here’s a look at this year’s offerings, peanuts and Cracker Jack not included:

“Out of the Park Baseball 17”

Baseball has long been defined by its numbers, and no game dives deeper into the analytical side of the sport than “Out of the Park Baseball 17.”

Whether yoootp17u want total control over an organization or simply to manage the Xs and Os on the field, “OOTP 17” offers a myriad of ways to play the game. Do you want to take over this year’s Chicago Cubs and try to bring an elusive World Series title to the Windy City? Do you want to jump back in time and replay the strike-shortened 1994 season? Maybe you want to pit the 1927 Yankees against last year’s Kansas City Royals in a best-of-seven series to see which is the superior team?

“OOTP 17” lets you do all of these things and so much more — it literally puts the history of major league baseball at your fingertips. How, when and why you choose to intervene is up to you.

Longtime fans of the series will feel right at home, but there are a number of new features this year. First and foremost is complete MLB licensing, which allows for accurate team names and logos (something that had to be inserted into the game via an add-on in previous editions). Other new features for this year include a crude 3D display that showcases the action on the field, a more user-friendly interface and a ton of under-the-hood improvements to AI and player development.

“OOTP 17” isn’t for everyone — those with short attention spans will likely give up quickly — but with its unparalleled customization and incredibly accurate sim engine, the game is pure bliss for baseball diehards.

Score: 9.1/10

“RBI Baseball 16”

Fans looking for a simpler approach to the game may want to check out “RBI Baseball 16,” developed by MLB Advanced Media.

“RBI 16” keeps the focus squarely on the field with a pared-down selection of game modes and options. There is no franchise play and transactions are limited to shifting players around on your 40-man roster. A season mode allows you to play or sim your way through 162 games, complete with stat tracking, but fans looking for a deeper experience will need to look elsewhere.

The good news is the on-field action is the best in the short history of the re-imagined “RBI Baseball” franchise. Every aspect of the game, from hitting and pitching to baserunning and defense, has been improved, even if only slightly. I was especially impressed with how much better my AI fielders performed, though I still wish I had more control on individual plays. Games can be completed quickly, with a 9-inning affair often clocking in under 30 minutes, and my kids and I enjoyed going head-to-head in local co-op games.

Those who find themselves intimidated by the complexity of other baseball games or merely looking for something different may want to take a crack at “RBI Baseball 16.”

Score: 6.0/10

“MLB The Show 16”

Sony’s annual baseball series has become the standard by which all other sports video games are judged. And “MLB 16” does nothing to spoil that reputation.

“MLB 16” improves upon last year’s effort in every way imaginable, from the visuals and commentary to the core gameplay and introduction of addictive new modes. I’m not sure how Sony’s San Diego Studio keeps finding ways to make an already great game better, but each year they do just that.

The most noteworthy additions to this year’s game are found in the Road to the Show and Diamond Dynasty modes.

In Road to the Show, players now have access to ShowTime, a tool that lets you slow down time in order to make spectacular plays at the plate and in the field. Nmlb16ew player perks give you bonuses that can last an at-bat or an entire game. Advancing your career within RttS is easier thanks to the elimination of loading screens between each game you play. And new customization options allow you to tailor your RttS experience to your liking, as you can pick and choose which situations you want to play out and which ones you want to skip over.

Diamond Dynasty, the popular mode based around collecting player cards and building a team, has seen a significant overhaul with two new game modes, a new Captains feature that lets you earn rewards based a selectable team captain, and daily matchup ratings that reflect what’s happening in the actual major leagues. Battle Royale mode is a take on Madden’s Draft Champions mode, in which you build your team through a fantasy draft during which you must select one player each round from a random pool. I’m currently hooked on the other new mode, Conquest. Equal parts baseball and Risk, Conquest mode tasks you with taking over the United States one block at a time as you seek to expand your fan base by defeating the other MLB franchises. With three-inning games and a never-ending stream of rewards, it’s an addicting new way to experience the great gameplay within “The Show.”

Again it is on the field where “MLB 16” shines brightest. Hundreds of new animations, dramatically improved lighting and a host of under-the-hood improvements bring the game closer to the real thing than it has ever been before. No other sports game can match “The Show” for its attention to detail and authenticity.

Not to be left out is Franchise mode, where I typically spend most of my summer. It, too, received some worthwhile new features like the addition of player morale, more realistic budgets including the luxury tax, and overall more intelligent AI. Fans of the series who migrated from the PS3 will also be happy to see the return of Sounds of the Show.

“MLB The Show 16” is the pinnacle of not only baseball video games, but the entire sports genre. I can’t say enough about how the additions to this year’s game, both small and large, combine to create something truly magical.

Score: 9.8/10