Major League Baseball is back
The 2018 MLB season is finally in full swing, and while there are a few options for baseball simulations on the market, one distinctly stands above all others. If you want the best-looking, deepest, and most polished licensed Major League experience in gaming, then you want MLB The Show 18 for PlayStation 4.
The folks down at Sony’s San Diego Studio have been perfecting The Show franchise for well over a decade, and a lot of that great development is simply carried over from last year’s iteration. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, in fact MLB The Show 18 is better for it – remaining one of the pinnacles of professional sports simulation as it continues to do what it did previously, and do it very, very well.
That said, there are a few tweaks and upgrades introduced since last year’s offering, which for the most part improve the experience, but sometimes subtract from the depth of previous years. Depending on how you like to play MLB The Show 18, you might find this to be a positive or a negative.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Probably one of the biggest changes to The Show franchise this season are the menus and scope of content therein, right down to the number of gameplay modes available from the main menu. Gone are the generic, relatively shallow modes of “Seasons” and “Online Seasons” for example. Instead MLB The Show 18 focuses primarily on 3 distinctly different modes – “Road to the Show”, “Franchise”, and “Diamond Dynasty”.
Some might see this paring down of content as a step in the wrong direction, but for me, it’s a bonus. Too many sports games of recent memory have a main menu so cluttered with modes and variations that they become a hot mess of options, and sometimes it’s difficult to even know where to begin or what mode you really may be interested in. I’m reminded of this year’s NHL 18, which had so many menu options that the game actually prompted you to pick the ones that interested you most so that they could be pinned to the top and easily found amid the slew of choices.
I appreciate that MLB The Show 18 has a minimized approach. It may be relegated to these three main play modes (plus a couple smaller add-ins such as “Home Run Derby” and “Training”, but it does these modes extremely well. I’m definitely the type of gamer that will put many, many enjoyable hours into one or two really good modes, rather than try and stretch my time out across a dozen or more watered-down ones.
The long road to The Show
By far my favourite way to play MLB The Show 18 is the semi-eponymous “Road to the Show” mode. Here you create your own major league player, starting your career in the minor leagues.
You must earn your way up through the ranks based on your performance. Your career tracks across multiple seasons from the minors to the pros and through retirement. If you put up the right numbers over the long haul, you may even find yourself in the Hall of Fame.
When creating your future big leaguer, you will not only select which position you will play, but also what overall type of player you will be. Craving the glory of a big offensive output, I chose to be a power-hitting left fielder. Here again is where MLB The Show 18 does an awesome job of somewhat streamlining your fantasy experience.
Gone are the days of tedious training interludes and trying to spend earned experience across any and all attributes you might want to improve. Instead, Road to the Show gives you a built-in boost based on the type of player you choose to be. From then on, continual boosts to your overall stats occur as you succeed. The more you achieve success in any aspect of the game, the better you get at it.
Built for the round trip
As a power hitter, I started launching home runs and making great contact with pitches the moment I stepped in the box for my minor league affiliate. The result? My hitting power and contact improved with each pitch I slugged, making my player even better the next time around. Conversely, my first attempts to steal a base were met with dismal failure.
Initially I thought that as the gamer in control of my player, I was just really bad at stealing. I soon realized that it wasn’t my fault. My power hitter simply wasn’t built for it.
Being primed for power and contact had come at the cost of speed and base-running. My sub-par attribute combined with my early failures had simply cemented that aspect of my player’s reality. My coach even took me aside and told me in so many words “if you want to steal, keep it to practice. Don’t blow the game trying to be something you’re not”.
Some might see this streamlined advancement of your Road to the Show character as taking away depth. I really found it to be brilliant though. I like being rewarded for doing what I do well, and knowing my role. The new system advances a player grounded more in reality and less in the realm of a jack-of-all-trades. It eliminates the abstract idea of boosting every attribute with a wealth of XP that can be doled out without discretion.
If you really do want to boost areas where your player is weak, there are intermittent training sessions that offer attribute improvements. Luckily these improvements occur instantaneously without the need to perform the training ritual itself.
That said, they are limited. Ultimately it becomes a question of whether you are better off trying to slightly improve a poor aspect (such as stealing in my case), or if you would be better off raising the cap of an attribute you are dominant in, allowing you to reach even greater heights of performance and success.
Building a dynasty
Like nearly all modern sports franchises, MLB The Show 18 has shaped its online mode around a digital marketplace. The prime objective is collecting players and building teams in the form of digital trading cards. These assets purchased with digital currency earned in-game. Of course currency can also be purchased directly from the online store using real money.
As is always the case with these types of games, those who choose to spend the most money will ultimately obtain the most content and arguably the most complete experience out of Diamond Dynasty. Still, I found that MLB The Show 18 was fairly generous with its currency (dubbed “Stubs”). This at least in comparison to other recent sports titles with similar online marketplaces.
Stubs can be earned from playtime in any mode across the game. There are multiple ways of earning a decent payout within Diamond Dynasty mode that don’t involve opening your wallet. Regardless, make no mistake, if you really want to milk enough Stubs out of MLB The Show 18 to purchase content on a regular basis, you will need to trade off some serious time and effort.
Shine on you crazy diamond
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which mode you decide to put most of your time into. The real gem of MLB The Show 18 is its incredible graphics and outstanding game play physics. Playing on a PS4 Pro, every aspect of the game pops on the screen, from perfect colours and textures to fluid and intuitive movement and animations to the sheer beauty of every ballpark itself.
Everything from the variety of uniform fabrics to the localized weather conditions scream authenticity and attention to detail. I’ve never been so lost in a simulation as I was in the unequivocal realism of MLB The Show 18.
MLB The Show 18 is one of the best-looking games out there, not just among sports sims but simply in general. With its outstanding graphics and unmatched physics it’s not hard at all to get lost in the MLB fantasy. It’s an absolute joy to play.
Some might argue that previous iterations of the franchise may have had a bit more depth. In my experience these changes bring out the best in the game. It only leaves behind most of what really wasn’t necessary to begin with.
MLB The Show 18 finds a great balance. It offers a satisfying experience for casual players, as well as a deeper one for those who want to put hundreds of hours into living out their Major League dreams.
+ Eye-popping graphics
+ Streamlined menus
+ Fun and intuitive player progression
+ Realistic physics and sharp controls
– Tough grind for content in Diamond Dynasty mode
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5