Last year the MLB The Show franchise took a big step. They completely overhauled one of the main game modes, Diamond Dynasty. It turned out to be incredibly addicting and successful and was a great compliment to the already excellent Franchise and Road to the Show (RTTS) modes. So before release the question became where could they go from there and could they do enough to make this year’s version worth the price of admission? I can happily say that Sony San Diego took some ambitious steps that mostly pan out, as this is a year of MLB The Show you don’t want to miss.
Let’s throw the opening pitch of this year’s edition of The Show with a look at the gameplay. For the most part very little has changed here, it’s still as excellent as ever. It both sounds and looks wonderfully authentic, from the ivy at Wrigley field, to the pop of the catcher’s mitt. Sony San Diego seems to be going with an, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality and I can’t blame them. Gameplay options are similar to last year, and there is a control scheme for everyone. Mostly there have just been a few under the hood tweaks. Pop ups and roll overs are much less common and for the most part if you time a swing well, you’ll hit it hard. The biggest change is to the umpires. Umpires now have different and unique strike zones. This means that some umpires will always usually call low pitches strikes or some pitches in the left side of the zone balls. It’s a welcome addition as it allows you be more tactical and exploit the umpire while pitching. It also adds a dynamic element to each game forcing you to adjust, something real baseball is all about.
Speaking of real baseball, the MLB The Show series has always focused on authenticity and they brought even more to their Franchise mode this year. In general Franchise mode is as close as you will get to the real deal from budgets, to scouting, you can micromanage and look after anything you wish. The big edition this go around is player happiness, a feature that relies on a series factors contributing to player morale. If a player is happy their overall stats will go up and vice versa. While I was initially skeptical I found this feature really enjoyable. It essentially means that the things you do off the field, like signing good contracts and hiring a skilled medical staff, can directly have an impact on the strength of your team. You can also do your best to build a team with great synergy. For example, many players want exceptional managers and having one makes them happy, but other players don’t care about who their manager is at all. You can build a team of players that don’t care about how good their manager is, hire a mediocre manager on the cheap, and instead spend that money on things they do care about like perhaps their contracts. This feature means every big decision you make can have an impact on each player, leading to more strategic thinking and an overall more enjoyable experience.
Let’s head down a different road, the Road to the Show that is, the mode that has always been the bread and butter of the series. It’s back, and while most of the off the field aspects are the same, there has been a rather significant on field change as well as some quality of life improvements. Right off the bat (see what I did there), your created player will now have a scouting day that allows you to boost your draft stock, perhaps skyrocket you into the first round. Furthermore, you can now play game after game, without having to go back to the menu, a feature that seems small but ends up saving you loads of time. The biggest addition however is called Showtime. Showtime is a feature that allows you to slow down time and use special abilities during the game. The slowdown feature can be used to track a ball, pinpoint a pitch, make a catch, or my personal favorite, get a good jump and steal a base. The perks you can use depend on how good your player is and are unlocked as your player improves. They allow your player to gain an ability, like your pitcher breaking bats on inside pitches, for a short period of time. While I thought it was a little gimmicky and not in tune with real baseball at first, something about slowing down time especially, makes you feel like you’re in the game, and adds a new level of immersion. There is a limited amount of Showtime you can use per game however, so pick your moments.
While Road to the Show may have been the MLB The Show series’ selling point in the past, I believe Diamond Dynasty is now that feature. For those not in the know, Diamond Dynasty is a mode where you collect player cards, form a team with them and play against others and the computer. Sony San Diego took what was a good but fairly bare bones mode last year and crammed it with content. Now you can play against others in ranked mode, play against a friend, play against the computer, compete in Battle Royale, or try conquest mode. Of these, the two new editions are Battle Royale and Conquest. Conquest mode is basically a solution to there being a lack of incentive to play against the computer in Diamond Dynasty. It has you travel across the United States, one hexagon at a time beating other teams and capturing territory. It’s basically a tactics based mini-game. And while the mini game itself is fairly average, it’s terribly addicting. The reason being that for each stronghold you capture you unlock more missions. Each mission has you doing a task to get a rare and powerful card. And the cycle continues. These missions then apply to all games played in Diamond Dynasty. Basically, MLB The Show 15 has turned into a loot drop game and the thirst for cards is a very real one. On top of that you can level up certain players called captains and doing so gives you more access to different cards. Each card you can use against others in game to show off your collection. There is so much to do and unlock I simply can’t stop ‘grinding for loot’ and I must admit I’m really enjoying it.
Unfortunately, Battle Royale mode is where this process kind of breaks down. Battle Royale is a mode where you draft a team of players and compete against other drafted teams. You keep playing until you lose twice and then you’re out. The idea is wonderful and it’s quite fun. The execution however is poor. It costs a lot of in game currency to play, and the rewards aren’t worth it. Unless you can have a 6-2 record or higher you won’t be able to break even with what you spent. Seeing as the average player record is going to be 2-2 this limits the mode to only the best of the best or those willing to spend a little extra. It’s fine if you’re just looking to have some fun but because it’s pay walled sometimes you can’t even participate. I have little doubt Sony San Diego could hit a home run with Battle Royale mode in future editions of The Show, but for now it needs to be more accessible.
In my last at-bat I want to talk about something MLB The Show 16 did that could change baseball video games as we know them. It has shortened the amount of innings for certain game modes. A common problem baseball video games have always had is that the games themselves can be long and it can be fatiguing, which makes people stop playing. While Road to the Show addresses this issue in a unique way full length games have always been the norm until now. For both Conquest and Battle Royale modes the games are 3 innings. I think it works in Conquest but not in Battle Royale. Conquest is a mode where games are played against the computer. It works here because you know what to expect going into these games, you’re used to playing against the computer and have a general idea of how they are going to play. But baseball is a game of adjustments, and that reigns true when playing a real life opponent. In Battle Royale, three innings just isn’t enough time to adjust to your opponent’s style, both pitching and hitting. When playing online you discover tendencies/weaknesses that your opponent has such as throwing a lot of sliders, or not being able to hit high inside heat. But it takes a few innings to find this information out and act accordingly. It sort of becomes a chess match, combining raw skill with intelligence. But in Battle Royale, games much more of a, ‘who happens to get a hold of one bad pitch,’ rather who is best. While I like the idea of shorter games perhaps three innings might be going too far, especially for online play.
If you haven’t been whether to step into the batter’s box with MLB The Show 16, for the most part it’s a home run. While Franchise and Road to the Show aren’t too different the improvements are great ones. Not to mention, Diamond Dynasty is perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had in a sports game. MLB The Show 16 is a game made with a lot of care, that also has a lot to do and one you can play for the whole season.