MLB 15 The Show Review (PS4)
MLB 15 The Show has the look, sound and feel of baseball. The Show doesn't do many things great -- part of SCEA's "if it's not broken, don't fix it" unwillingness to take big risks -- but it does just about everything really well. And in a world where games are shipping with just about nothing working as it's supposed to, it's a relief to say that MLB 15 The Show is about as rock-solid as it gets.
As it does every year, this year's iteration focuses on how to move forward without taking any steps back. Little things like improved grass patterns and adding swing animations don't stand out too much at first, but it brings the game's replayability to an all-time high. The same goes with its game modes, where simple changes should go a long way in keeping players invested in their franchise, or Road to the Show.
At the end of the day, MLB The Show is always going to be about the little things. And for this year, at the very least, that seems perfectly reasonable.
The most significant change to gameplay is the all new directional hitting. It still may be a bit early to count it as a success, but it's learning curve gives even the most veteran players a new feature to master. When used properly, there's an overwhelming sense of achievement, as the game isn't afraid to punish you for failure.
The same could be said about everything else in the game. Situational hitting and pitching is once again heart-pounding and sweat-inducing. The odds of making it out alive on an 0-2 count feel so terribly low that sometimes the user is bound to get itself out just by overthinking things. The opposite can be said of hitters counts: there's a general confidence that goes along with being in charge of a count, often winding up in a big hit. This is the dynamic that The Show has mastered over the years, and small tweaks like directional hitting only continue to liven it up.
That being said, there is one rather large, disappointment in terms of gameplay and controls. Pure analog has been practically cut in half, with players no longer being in control of the stride. For a series that prides itself on keeping old control schemes at the benefit of its user's comfort levels, this is a baffling move.
Another issue with MLB 15 The Show is that the same animations pop up far too frequently. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if all of these animations were fresh to the series, but about 90 percent of them have carried over from old titles. Seeing two plays back to back where my 250 pound first baseman makes the same fielding animation as my 170 pound shortstop is an immersion killer.
That said, there's a lot of good to be found in this year's gameplay. Quick counts work better than ever and games can still be completed in about half an hour without having to skip through cutscenes. Fielding A.I. is much improved, with better fielders taking a noticeably better route to balls than poor fielders. All the same, it isn't quite where it needs to be. Players are still far too passive, resulting in more infield singles than there should be.
The mark of a good sports title is in its ability to engross its players into its universe. MLB The Show does a pretty good job of that, outside of bland commentary that still feels copy and pasted.
Despite Matt Vasgersian's best efforts, the commentary is still the worst in the sports genre. Karros and Lyons seem uninterested for 95 percent of the game, only to feel like it's Game 7 in October the rest of the 5 percent. Tacky one-liners and repeated lines make for some serious eye-rolling. Ultimately, players are going to want to turn commentary off for a large portion of their games, if not all of them. That said, Mike Carlucci makes his return as public address announcer and he's just as awesome as ever.
Most things related to presentation are much improved, however. For one, the game looks absolutely stunning. Player models aren't quite where they need to be but just about everything else is indistinguishable from real life. Stadiums look nearly perfect, with the only eye-sore being washed out text on some of the backstops. Even fans looks realistic, often having conversations with one another and frequenting the stairway as they go up to get concessions. It is clear from the get-go that SCEA wanted its players to feel more like they're at a baseball game, rather than watching one on television. The lone argument to this is a fantastic looking score bug in the upper-lefthand corner of the screen. That matched with the return of local broadcast camera angles while pitching is enough to make anyone feel right at home.
Equipment junkies will be extremely pleased with this year's game. Authentic gear has finally made its way to The Show and it does so commandingly. Several of baseball's biggest brands (Louisville Slugger, Nike, etc) are in the game and give you a variety of options to freshen up your player's look.
Franchise has slowly tweaked its way into being one of the best, if not the best, in the genre. Improved trade logic and contract signings go a long way, especially when you consider the tighter budgets that every team is working with. Team's are consistently looking to ditch bad contracts while also holding their big-name prospects close to the vest. An all new trade-finder is a nice little time saver for those who can't be bothered to go through every team trying to find the right trade. Though, there are still too few available offers - which is likely just a result of the game's strong trade logic. Teams have constantly changing trade mentalities, and that really comes through in MLB 15 The Show.
The new radio show is well implemented, and the perfect way for The Show to immerse its players into a long franchise. Here, repeated lines seem more more acceptable when you consider the wealth of information that Justin Allegri has to run through on a yearly (and often daily) basis. The biggest moves and previous day's stats are a staple of the show, and it allows players to really sink into the franchise without having to scroll though box scores and transactions every day. Hopefully the show will have a little more variety moving forward, but its a strong start.
Road to the Show doesn't see a lot of changes, but it continues to plop you down onto the baseball field with immense confidence in what it's trying to do. A continuing trend from last year's game, the audio is absolutely fantastic. The crunch of cleats atop the dirt as your player is desperately trying to make it safely to first is an unparalleled experience in the "be a pro" modes in today's sports genre. The commentary is still really bad, and frequently has bad cuts due to the way the mode simulates you forward, but here its easier to justify turning it off all together and just enjoying the sounds of The Show.
Online play is much improved, with the sole exception of a still convoluted Online Franchise mode. There is much less lag than in previous years, and in ten online games or so, I haven't had a single one drop due to a bad connection. Online is still far from MLB The Show's strong suit, but it's good to see that SCEA has given it some attention. That said, it's still hard to get a competitive game going with online players. Opponents frequently will do things such as throwing right at your players, throwing all curveballs or sliders, and swinging at everything that moves on the opposite end. This isn't the game's fault, obviously, but it would be nice if there was a better way to connect with players who better intentions. With the rising number of users moving to online play almost exclusively, it seems like a strong bet that the game puts a more heavy focus on online modes in the future.
MLB 15 The Show might be the perfect example of how small steps forward without changing the core experience is the best way to develop a series. There's little doubt that, sooner rather than later, SCEA is going to have to take some risks. Two years into the development cycle of the PS4, next year's game will have no excuse to have a variety of new additions on top of new animations.
But this year, the one that counts, the game can't be thought of as anything but a success. Fans of baseball are still in great hands with MLB The Show, and that's one thing I don't see changing anytime soon.
Score: 8.5 (Great)