MLB: The Show gets high praise around here, and usually for good reason. Despite being the only true console baseball title available, the developers haven’t become complacent. Every year, we see some nice innovations and revisions that demonstrate that the title isn’t taking its sole status for granted.
However, if there’s one area (outside online gameplay) that gets a bulk of the criticism, it’s The Show’s presentation. I try to emphasize in my review each year that The Show’s presentation (including commentary, camera angles, replays, etc.) isn’t bad, per se. Developments like authentic broadcast angles and real-time camera shots have revolutionized how virtual baseball looks. And in terms of replays and on-screen stats, no one does it better.
All of that said, MLB 14: The Show, from a visual and auditory standpoint, just feels stale. I’m not sure if it’s because I play so many games (100+ in a season, compared with 16 or so in Madden), but I can recite some lines before they happen. Some of the pre-rendered cut scenes are also pretty predictable.
So, allow me to play head developer for a minute, and recommend a few changes that would spruce things up.
MLB Network Integration
I love network overlays, primarily because of the real-life context it offers. Having familiar hosts, logos, wipes, music, etc., gives us a bridge into the world our games inhabit. They help sell this alternate reality where we control our team and make things happen. The MLB Network is the perfect fit for The Show;it's the “default” channel around my house from free agency through the World Series.
I’m not sure we need a virtual Matt Vasgersian or Bob Costas skirting the Uncanny Valley to make that happen, though. Using familiar graphics, sounds, and terminology can bring the flavor of the network to the game.
I’ll provide more specific examples later, but utilizing the familiarity of the MLB Network would provide greater context and realism to our virtual worlds.
This idea builds off of one of the current strengths of the series: in-game history. I love when the announcers “flash us back to the x inning…” to show a replay of a key moment. Typically, it’s an accurate example of a game-changing play, and usually well-timed within the game broadcast.
However, when I watch a game on tv, the commentators and producers often call up key moments from a player’s year or career, not just the current game. If the broadcasters mention that Chase Utley delivered a walk-off hit the day before, I’d like to see it. If Mike Trout is red hot, let’s see a little package showcasing his successful week.
As someone with little technical knowledge, I’m not sure how possible this is. However, I know I can save full highlights and replays to the PS4. Would it possible for the game to automatically save “key” plays for later use?
Depending on the technology limitations, this could lead to bigger things. Maybe The Show could offer a “Plays of the Month” series, as seen on MLB Network--20 or so quick plays from around the league during that month. Even end of the season awards could come with a video package of those outstanding players.
Greater League Awareness
When I play Out of the Park Baseball, I love reading the news articles from around the league. Even the seemingly frivolous stories help, again, to provide context and promote a league outside my own franchise.
We’ve lost these kinds of details in MLB: The Show. We used to have local newspapers to peruse, but they’ve given way to static menus (Who’s Hot, etc.). I love playing MLB 14: The Show’s franchise mode, but too often I feel like the other teams exist only to play me.
The game could finally provide an rival to NFL 2k5’s weekly Sportscenter show; a feature pretty much unanswered for the past 10 years. Tying into the MLB Network overlay, we could get a weekly or daily “MLB Tonight” style show which breaks down the events from around the league. Again, replays could enhance the scoreboard watching. With baseball’s love of statistics, a quick audio recap of league leaders or streaks would be welcome. The game sims everything; let it highlight special performances or feats.
Beyond these, I’d love to see the implementation of live “look ins”: a quick interruption of “your” game to watch a key at-bat or pitch from around the league. This could also be how the game merges its two primary modes: franchise and Road to the Show. Play your RttS at-bats while playing a franchise game, through a quick look at an “impact prospect's” next at-bat.
These are just a few suggestions, admittedly from a technologically limited perspective. However, most speak to context and setting--placing our team or player into a living world, instead of one just inhabited by text, menus, and repetitive commentary.
What would you like to see, presentation-wise, included in the next version of MLB: The Show?