It saddens me that we don’t see that many baseball games anymore. For a while there, the NES got so many titles that we couldn’t even play through them all (I still have yet to touch Baseball Simulator 1.000 – you can blame Basewars for being so damn addictive). Heck, even in the Xbox 360/PS3 era, we had our fair share of both simulation and arcade-style games, before 2K Sports gave up on the MLB license and made Sony’s MLB The Show the only game in town.
Regardless, at least the team at Sony San Diego still knows how to hit it out of the park. It may be the champion by default already (not counting little side spin-offs like the decent RBI Baseball 16), but it’s the only game that goes all-out when it comes to recreating the sheer thrill of baseball right down to its core, including slamming a home run out of the park or earning that great K on a batter at the plate with some great technical pitches.
MLB: The Show 16 continues that tradition, with a fine amount of new features combining with returning ones to make the game feel better than ever. It may not be entirely perfect – some repetitive commentary kicks in and there are still players that look as weird as ever – but when it comes to gameplay, you won’t really find a closer experience that’ll make you feel like you’re batting for the Green Monster.
Road To the Show continues to be the biggest draw of the game, where you can drive a player’s career from the ground up and make improvements with each move they make, eventually turning them into an all-star. It can be a tiresome road, to be sure, but baseball devotees will appreciate the sheer depth that goes into this mode, as well as the many actions that will put a smile on your face as you move up into the big league and, hopefully, a World Series run.
The mode also has a great new speed-along feature where you can jump right into the next game, as well as the awesome Showtime, in which you can slow down moments within the contest and actually make them work in your favor, whether you’re aligning your swing for an ideal base hit (or, better yet, home run) or lining up an outfielder to keep a grounder from getting away. It can take some practice, but it adds a new dynamic to the gameplay that really helps you in creating key moments. You also learn quite a bit from it, probably along the lines of what real players can go through.
Other modes really add on as well. Franchise continues to be a solid recreation of team management, teaching you the in’s and out’s of baseball as you try to create a killer squad of players. Not every decision is your best, but that’s the point – you learn and really nail down what it takes to be an excellent team owner. I also really enjoy Diamond Dynasty, with the ability to put together your own team with cards and eventually creating your own custom locale, logo and more. (Let’s hear it for the DCD Beerwreckers!) There’s also superb online options here, where you can challenge others (or the AI) for full superiority. You won’t win every time, but, boy, will you learn.
The new Battle Royale mode is pretty sweet, as you put together a quick draft to see what players come your way, and then head right into a match. You can really earn some sweet rewards with this mode, and while it’s challenging, it adds a fresh new dynamic to “working with what you have.” Definitely give it a try – even if you end up with a bunch of second-rate players, you could make magic. Hey, it worked in Moneyball. Conquest is another good addition as well, but seems a bit more tactful than it needs to be, as you simply take over territories. Regardless, it’s sure to be yet another addiction for baseball die-hards.
Let’s talk about presentation real quick. The graphics are superb, probably the best we’ve seen in the series to date. The photo-realistic fields are so real, you want to smell the grass. Some of the animations are fantastic as well, especially the fanciful outfield stuff. That said, some of the player models can be a bit iffy, but not entirely so. Just a few select ones that you can’t wait to strike out, that’s all.
The commentary is also pretty good, with most of the play-by-play being on point. I did mention earlier, however, that it has the tendency to repeat. That’s not throughout the entire game, but when it pops up, it can be a little annoying. Still, not nearly as bad as, say, Madden. The authentic in-field noises and organ music is also quite good as well, just like the real deal.
As for gameplay, it’s still incredibly balanced. There are plenty of options here for both rookies and seasoned veterans alike, so you can find that ideal style of play that won’t make you uncomfortable. The gameplay options really hit it out of the park – literally – especially with Showtime turned on to make those plays your own. There are slight moments when the timing can be a little off (like when you want to throw to first and accidentally throw home), but, again, these don’t occur often enough to turn you off. You just get over your little mistakes and go on to creating your dynamic moments, in which there are plenty. I really dig how this game plays.
Sony could’ve easily slacked off with MLB: The Show 16, like 2K Sports did with its final year of baseball with MLB 2K13, but instead, the developers at Sony San Diego continue to innovate in nearly every aspect of the game. The returning modes are still the best around, the gameplay is much improved (especially with Showtime) and the presentation, wrinkles and all, is captivating. It’s just what you’d want baseball to be. Now the only question is what will be introduced with the next game. But, for now, we’ve got a field of dreams to enjoy.