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MLB The Show 18

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Sports
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studio
Release Date: March 27, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'MLB The Show 18'

by Redmond Carolipio on April 23, 2018 @ 1:45 a.m. PDT

Home runs, steals, and epic catches – get deep into the action and experience your favorite parts of baseball with MLB The Show 18.

Buy MLB The Show 18

Sports games are funny things. On the one hand, they preach authenticity, nailing down the exact camera angles used on television, the squeaks of the shoes on a court, or the logo on a ball as it flies through the air en route to the detailed gloves of the digital avatar representing a real person running into an end zone.

On the other hand, part of the allure of sports games is how much they aren't like their real-world counterparts. You don't have to worry about domestic violence stories or CTE when you truck-stick someone in Madden. "Shut up and dribble" doesn't really carry weight when you're running the pick-and-roll during an NBA 2K game with five-minute quarters. Sports games are an escape unto themselves, giving you everything you love about a sport and nothing you don't. Really, sports games can serve as a small portal into a different kind of fantasy. You might not actually be the one dunking or catching or running all over the place, but the game can give you a small taste of what that's like.

Perhaps nothing quite does that like the Road to the Show feature in the MLB: The Show baseball series from Sony. As an admitted super-casual baseball fan, I was surprised how addicted I got into playing the mode in The Show 17 and how much I was looking forward to rekindling the experience in The Show 18, the latest iteration of the baseball franchise.

In Road to the Show, you can create a player from scratch and guide him on his path from unheralded prospect to playing in the major leagues. It's basically a baseball RPG, with your performance and choices of various training methods determining how much you can improve. The Show's create-a-player feature is still my favorite in all of sports-gamedom and can even rival what you get from some actual RPGs in terms of versatility. In the forest of faces, skin tones and clothing items are a treasure trove of new animations and mannerisms that can give your player even more life on the field. It reminds me of the feeling you get when you create Shepard in Mass Effect – the more you are into how your character looks and acts, the more you care.

One of the new customization items introduced here is how you can create your own batting stance, adjusting everything from the rotation of your hands to how offset your feet are. That doesn't sound like much, but the history and ethos of the game is littered with players who have unique stances, and hardcore baseball people and even players view batting stances with nearly the same reverence as the swing itself. I remember as a kid how friends would even try to mimic the stances of pro players during Little League. The feature adds another level of connectivity to your creation.

That's what makes this next feature so jarring. You can also now decide at the outset what kind of player you want to be via the "player archetype." Depending on what you pick, the game will adjust the main template of attributes to fit your type of player. However, most of the attributes now have a hard "cap" on how high they can go. For instance, picking the "power corner" archetype means your power ratings can go up to 99, along with your fielding, but an attribute like speed can only be maxed out at 35, which is pretty slow. If you carry over a created player, any outlier ability ratings they had in the last game will eventually come down over time to fit the archetype. This bothers me. This means that some of the abilities of my superstar first baseman that I spent quite a bit of time training and cultivating are more or less being nerfed. Not only was my player a threat to hit 450-foot homers, but he was also fast enough to steal a base. Because of the archetype I picked, though, his speed will eventually decrease to meet the cap, making him about as fast as a sundial.

I understand the need to perhaps regulate things for the sake of the playing experience, but it's also a strange way to regulate talent. If this kind of system were to be applied to, say, basketball, then trying to create a player like LeBron James, who is big, fast, can fly around and dunk and do everything … wouldn't really exist.

Plus, some of the caps are in strange places. If my power hitter in the last game had surreal plate vision (in the 90s), why does it have to go down to the cap of 75? Did he have offseason eye surgery? I can only imagine how frustrating this might be for anyone who not only worked on his or her created players, but also spent real money in the online shop to boost them up. The game explains what's going to happen when you import your player, but it still doesn't explain the odd logic behind the attribute caps.

The only way to get past some of the caps is to find equipment via the online shop or playing the game's Diamond Dynasty mode, where you build your own team from scratch using current players and legends. I really didn't think I needed to do this just to make sure my player could fight off the unnatural ebbing of his ability to make contact with the ball against right-handed pitching. This kind of player progression seems to add stress to the playing experience. Anytime I struck out or hit into a double play, I would worry about which of my attributes would take a hit until it reached its capped hell, never to be significantly built up again.

Now, for freshly created players, the true grind of building up attributes can actually be appealing. It's almost as if your player becomes a hobby as you figure out which talents to build up and toil in the minors until your call-up. If you're hoping for some kind of sudden, meteoric rise where you end up as the Opening Day starter for the Yankees at 19 years old — no, it's probably not going to happen.

I still mostly enjoy the game through this mode, if only because it does such a good on-field job. The presentation, full of flowing animation and color, with cutaways and perspectives that give each game a sense of personality, maintains the high standards set before it. Other than perhaps NBA 2K, it's hard to top what The Show does when it comes the players looking and acting like their real-life versions. The commentary is still repetitive, however, even saying things I heard from the last version of the game. Also, the longer you progress in Road to the Show, everything can start to feel like a grind, with repeated drills, training chances, managers and agents checking in and saying the same thing, etc. To go the RPG route, the developer should introduce some other things that athletes have to deal with, like balancing media obligations and interviews to alter perceptions, endorsements, and off-season training storylines. Other sports games are starting to treat created players as real characters with their own stories, so perhaps it's time for this mode to follow suit.

Though I spent most of my time in Road to the Show, there's a wealth of other stuff in The Show 18 for the more hardcore baseball fan, notably the franchise mode where you can legitimately run every aspect a team. If you're the kind of person who has watched "Moneyball" a dozen times and lives for the chance to do things like assign specific scouts to fictional prospects in a particular region just to see if you can discover the next big thing while figuring out contracts and salaries and actually playing games over the course of a 162-game season, then have at it.

Road to the Show remains the soul of The Show 18 to me, with everything else feeling like a fun distraction, like getting to step into the shoes of baseball's past greats or the tasting the 8-bit flavor of retro mode. As I progress more into my player's career, there's this unshakable knowledge that he's never going to be better at some things than he is now. He will be in a box — an enjoyable one, but a box nonetheless.

Score: 7.7/10

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