Title: MLB The Show 18 Released On: March 27, 2018 Genre: Sports / Simulation Reviewed On: PS4 Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment MSRP: £45.99 GBP / $59.99 USD / $79.99 CAD
MLB The Show is back with its 13th installment, proving once again that it is the unchallenged champion of the ballpark and the gold standard when it comes to baseball games. I haven’t played The Show since 2014, so I was delighted at the plethora of enhancements and new features that SIE San Diego has brought to the mound.
Right out of the dugout, my favorite aspect of MLB The Show 18 is how fluid the control scheme is. You can modify both the difficulty and style of each aspect of the game — Batting & Baserunning, Pitching, and Fielding — individually, which really lets you fine-tune the gameplay for the best experience. I found myself bouncing around between the more classic button-oriented mechanics and the more sim-style ‘Pure Analog’ setting, before finally resting on a comfortable hybrid of the two.
The game truly lets you feel out the best way to play, and customize your controls around your play-style.
Stepping up to the Plate
Because of the sheer customizability of the controls, there isn’t time to go in depth into all of the different ways you can control your team, with many of the interfaces (such as Meter pitching or Directional swinging) being longstanding staples of the series. You can opt to play MLB The Show 18 as a realistic baseball sim, or a classic arcade game without as much pressure to hit perfect timing with pitching or batting. As a longtime baseball player, I wanted to have the most realistic experience, which is why I almost exclusively used Pure Analog.
Using the Pure Analog setting puts control of the game almost exclusively on the right stick. If you’re up to bat you flick the stick forward for a normal hit, or pull it back for a power swing, and the direction of the ball depends on the accuracy and timing of your swing. Similarly, pitching requires you to wind up by pulling back on the right stick and then flick it forward — and hopefully straight — at the right time. I stuck to Pure Analog for both Pitching and Batting because it felt like I had a lot more control over the ball, even if it was a harder system to get used to at first from my experience with the more classic arcade controls.
Mechanically, it’s a very tight game. SIE San Diego has been perfecting the systems behind MLB The Show for over a decade and they’ve reached a spot where it’s hard to find a technical fault in the gameplay. I’ve missed balls or thrown wild pitches which I was fairly certain I was on top of, but a quick review of the replay — or seeing how outside my pitch was on the ball indicator — typically put the fault in my glove.
When it comes down to it, the game handles exactly how you would expect and want a AAA —sorry, Major League — baseball game to; smoothly and with precision. Since much of the core gameplay has remained unaltered from previous iterations, not all of the changes to The Show 18 are going to be immediately apparent to players who haven’t been playing the games year-to-year. In 2018 there have been some substantial tweaks to the physics that run The Show, including ball mechanics, and a host of new fielding animations.
SIE San Diego held a number of Twitch streams leading up until the release of The Show 18, focusing on the different game modes and the improvement the development team brought to this year’s game. This includes a complete overhaul of how the ball responds when hit by the bat, ensuring that players experience an accurate flight path depending on how they connect with the ball.
Road to the Show
Road to the Show (RTTS) is The Show‘s campaign mode, which lets you create your own character and make out to stake your own page in the record books. The mode starts you from the bottom and makes you earn your spot on a team in the Minors before you can advance your way to the Major League. In this mode you only play your character’s position; either when they are at bat or when a play would involve your field position. Playing as the Pitcher or First Base offers the most gameplay, whereas Shortstop or Left Field sees you fielding one or two plays every few innings.
The Player Creator in MLB The Show 18 is used both for Road to the Show and Diamond Dynasty; the game’s competitive card-collecting online mode. It’s quite the comprehensive editor, allowing you to fully customize not only your character’s appearance, but their equipment, animations and — new as of this year — even choose from hundreds of different batting stances, running, and pitching styles. My favorite aspect of the editor is how many names they’ve included in the audio; it really makes a difference being able to hear your name being called when you step up to the plate for the first time on your own Road to the Show.
Everything starts on Scout Day, and a series of exercises evaluate your hitting and fielding, before two Showcase games ultimately determines your place on Draft Day. Since I jumped into the campaign mode almost immediately, my rustiness was blatantly apparent to any scouts who were watching the game, and I was lucky enough to be afforded a spot on a AA Minor League team. As much as I’d been hoping to be scouted immediately for the Yankees, part of the joy behind RTTS is working to stake out your own position in the Majors.
The added features in Road to the Show make it more than just playing through a season or two using your own character. There are additional throwing mechanics to determine accuracy, as well as Showtime Mode which allows you to slow down gameplay and make some cinematic plays. As you work your way through the Minor Leagues improving your skills, opportunities begin to arise — from the ability to use different training facilities on off-days to conversations with companies looking to sign Free Agents — and there are some tough decisions that must be made along the way for the sake of your (hopeful) career on a Major League team.
If you want to speed up the Season you can simulate games, or even full seasons, but you won’t improve your character near as much from all of the small bonuses that are given for making successful plays in the campaign. Making it big requires focusing on the type of player you want your character to be, and working to improve those aspects of their performance. If like me you want to be a Shortstop, then your player needs to be quick, have a solid defense, and be able to throw to first like a lightning bolt. Between actions on the field, and training during your off-days, you have to focus on what will make you the best in whatever position you’re fielding, as well as at-bat.
There are major decisions that can affect the trajectory of your baseball career that aren’t always comfortable to make, but can expedite your ticket to the Major Leagues. At one point I was pulled aside by my coach and asked if I was willing to try out Left Field in lieu of Shortstop. As reticent as I was, after about a month of playing Left Field in AA, I was called into my manager’s office for an unexpected conversation.
It’s moments like this that make Road to the Show a fantastic baseball campaign. You really feel like you’ve earned it once you make it to the Majors, and the pressure just keeps mounting from there as you work your way towards your first World Series. Hearing the announcers say your name as you step up to the plate for the first time in a World Series game was a surreal and fantastic feeling.
Diamond Dynasty is The Show‘s comprehensive online mode, which is a combination card-collecting/deck-building game, that requires you to draft your roster based on packs that you can earn or purchase from the Shop. It’s quite the in-depth mode, and it took me some time to fully grasp all of the intricacies that factor into being successful in Diamond Dynasty; namely being able to earn Stubs so that I could keep improving my Squad. The mode also features some of the most competitive gameplay I’ve experienced in the show, far outweighing the vanilla online mode.
Diamond Dynasty isn’t all multiplayer though; it also comes stock with an entertaining single-player conquest mode which pits you against AI-controlled teams in a battle to steal as many fans as possible. It’s kind of like MLB The Show: American Domination, as you have to branch out from your starting area to attempt to encompass the whole of the Continental USA. While it’s not meant to form the core of Diamond Dynasty, I found myself enjoying the additional layer of strategy required to move through the map without losing all of your fans to opposing teams.
Card packs form the crux of Diamond Dynasty’s system, and while the game starts you off with enough players to build your first Squad, it can take a substantial amount of time before you’re able to build a team that you’re really happy with. It’s a double-edged sword; if you’re looking for an online mode that requires a substantial amount of grinding (and luck of the draw), then this is the mode for you. It’s a lot of fun to get a random card after each match in Diamond Dynasty — you can get cards from playing every mode — and work towards completing your collection, but there are thousands of cards which can make it quite the lengthy process if you’re not willing to spend a few dollars. Card packs also give you souvenirs, new stadiums, and equipment to give your players an extra edge on the field.
Thankfully there are several ways to get cards in Diamond Dynasty, so the best way to improve your roster and get equipment is to play the different modes. You can earn Card packs through completing daily challenges (which can be kind of tricky) or buy purchasing them with Stubs at the Shop. If you really stick to Diamond Dynasty and play a lot, you can complete Program missions to unlock some of the legends of the game, from Babe Ruth to Jackie Robinson.
Stubs are the currency of The Show and allow you to purchase card packs from the store. You can earn Stubs through playing the various modes of Diamond Dynasty, as well as from selling any extra cards that have in the Community Market. It can be hard to make a decent amount of Stubs this way though — unless you sell one of your Gold or higher cards — and you’re better off using the Market from my experience to buy players to beef up your squad. Since the market fluctuates with supply and demand, it can be possible to get some decent cards for cheap.
My absolute favorite mode of Diamond Dynasty is Battle Royale, but unfortunately it costs 1,500 Stubs to enter each time after the first. In Battle Royale you draft your team from set Tiers of players — Gold, Silver, Bronze, Common — to ensure that everyone starts on a relatively even footings; you just have to bring your A-game. The more games you can win successively, the higher your rewards are, but unfortunately I came up against some decent opponents the several times I played and did not make it very far. You’re allowed two losses before you’re knocked out, but the mode features some of the most competitive play I experienced in The Show 18.
Diamond Dynasty also includes weekly and daily events — as well as login bonuses — that give you a chance to win exclusive cards, assuming you can stack up some serious cumulative wins. These events come with restrictions on the types of players you can use to form your roster, such as the ability to only use left-handed batters and pitchers. These events, like the majority of Diamond Dynasty, give an edge to people who have better cards and thus are able to take better players into the game. While skill does still form the core of the gameplay, being able to draft Mike Piazza or Derek Jeter can have a substantial impact.
While it is assuredly possible to stack your Roster with the greats just from grinding MLB, there is an inherent advantage given to people who are willing to spend money on Stubs to buy card packs because of the ability to more quickly stack their roster or sell off duplicate cards. There are multiplayer aspects of the game that allow you to go head-to-head with other players on an even footing, but unless you invest a substantial amount of time or money, Diamond Dynasty may not be one of them. When it comes down to it, the mode is fantastic but a double-edged sword; for people like me who cannot invest the time into grinding out Stubs and completing Program missions, it’s hard to stake your claim to the throne on just skill alone.
Franchise Mode is admittedly the mode that I spent the least amount of time with, because it has remained relatively unchanged from previous iterations in the series. The mode is geared towards true baseball sim enthusiasts, and gives you ultimate control over every minute aspect of owning a team, from drafting and trading so that you can create an All-Star lineup, to dealing with team morale and ensuring that each of your players is properly taken care of. Luckily Franchise Mode allows you to delegate some of the responsibilities to the CPU (all at your discretion) so that can effectively set your level of simulation without having to spend hours mulling over smaller details like hiring and firing staff, or Roster moves. The team at SIE did opt to remove the Online Franchise mode from this year’s The Show 18, which is certainly going to upset longtime fans of that mode, which had become a staple in recent years. I personally found that the other online features and game modes more than made up for this omission, but it’s a big change to the series.
If all of this seems too much for you, you can always just pick up your controller and jump right into an MLB game against another player or AI-controlled opponent just for fun, and enjoy everything that MLB The Show 18 has to offer without getting into the somewhat complex online system. The game features both online and offline cooperative and competitive modes, so there are many options for a quick pick-up game if you don’t feel like delving into the more in-depth features.
The Final Score
Even with the quasi pay-to-win structure of Diamond Dynasty, there is enough content offered in MLB The Show 18 to make it the definitive baseball package. DD is still a fantastic mode, and because there is always a new card or mission to work your way towards, it ensures a type of replayability that is often absent from sports games. Road to the Show and Franchise are similarly expertly crafted game modes, both with tens of hours of content that is sure to keep any baseball fan glued to their screen, waiting for the next big break.
You can tell that SIE San Diego has taken all of the experience they’re gained from the past decade to refine not just the game modes, but the mechanics and animations of MLB The Show to provide an experience that I would recommend not just to sports video game fans, but any baseball fan looking to get more out of every season. A fluid control scheme and refined mechanics make this an absolute must for any series fans, and I know I’m going to be sinking some serious time into building my own Dynasty.
Final Score: 8.5/10
While there haven’t been extensive changes from the previous year,
MLB The Show 18 proves that it is still the unchallenged champion of the ballpark. A lack of online Franchise mode and the monetization structure of Diamond Dynasty are the only fouls against a near perfect baseball game.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.