Major League Baseball is seemingly at a crossroads. In an effort to appeal to a younger audience and grow the sport, fundamental changes — things like pitch clocks, limiting mound visits and starting extra innings with a runner in scoring position (a change making its debut in the minor leagues this season) — are being made to a game that has largely evolved a glacial pace.
Any change made to a game as steeped in tradition as baseball is sure to ruffle the feathers of some longtime fans and that is exactly what happened. Critics were especially vocal in voicing their displeasure at the extra-inning rule change that could one day make its way to the major leagues.
Sony’s Major League Baseball franchise, “MLB The Show 18,” finds itself at a similar crossroads.
On the field, this year’s edition of “The Show” looks and plays better than it ever has before, with more than 800 new animations and a number of small, under-the-hood improvements that veteran players will instantly notice and newcomers will surely appreciate. Little things like improved hit variety and fewer dropped third strikes may not sound like glamorous additions, but they go a long way toward making “MLB 18” the most realistic console sports game available.
The issues begin once you step away from the field and take a look at the game’s modes. It’s pretty clear that Sony has made supporting the card-collecting Diamond Dynasty mode a priority and I’m sure there is data to support that decision. Similar modes have become commonplace among modern sports titles and many young players I’ve talked to really enjoy them.
I, on the other hand, prefer to spend my time in traditional Franchise mode where I can spend multiple seasons building my team from cellar-dweller to contender. In “MLB 18,” Franchise mode returns largely unchanged from last year’s release, save for some updates to the front end. Worse yet, Online Franchise mode and Season mode have been removed altogether. My friends and I always looked forward to fantasy drafting squads in Online Franchise mode, and the ability to play fewer than 162 games made Season mode a great way to experience teams you would otherwise never commit to doing a Franchise with. With a shortened development cycle and a limited amount of resources, I can understand the decision to devote more time and effort into one particular area. But that shouldn’t mean other modes get eliminated in the process.
The other signature mode in “MLB 18,” Road to the Show, offers a welcome fresh take on the familiar create-a-player formula by introducing player archetypes and a new way to earn XP. Player archetypes allow you to choose the type of player you want to become, giving your created player a more defined career path. Your performance on the field directly correlates to how your various attributes improve. Instead of completing in-game tasks to earn XP that could be distributed as the user saw fit, in “MLB 18” your XP is directly tied to your actions on the field — hit a home run against a left-hander and your power rating against leftys will go up; strike out and your contact rating takes a hit. It’s an intuitive approach to player progression that eliminates the need to micro-manage your way to the big leagues.
Despite the missing game modes, “MLB The Show 18” remains the pinnacle of console sports gaming. No other sports game looks better, sounds better or, most important, plays better. Whether you’re a baseball fan from the old school or the new, “MLB The Show 18” will keep you swinging away all season long.
“MLB The Show 18”
Developer: Sony San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Available for: PlayStation 4
Rating: E for everyone