The team at Sony San Diego hit its offseason and likely compiled a huge list of wants from fans for the upcoming MLB The Show 18.
Like the game’s cover star, Aaron Judge, it knocked them all out of the park.
Unlike Judge, MLB The Show 18 isn’t a newcomer on the block, but some of this year’s biggest success stories in the way of upgrades to the annual series make it seem like it was treated as such.
Big changes in customization, presentation and gameplay—not to mention a reimagined Road to The Show—have this looking like a gigantic plate of fan service.
No matter what a fan enters this year’s game looking for, MLB The Show 18 seems to offer it.
One doesn’t have to look far to find the talking points about this one. Tagging. Animations. Immersion.
We’ll keep it simple and start in the batter’s box, though. Batting remains as intuitive and as fun as ever, with timing and use of both sticks an important aspect.
The satisfying crack of the bat previously served as the only feedback. Not here. Swing timing, contact and exit velocity all pop up on the screen. So does the plate-coverage indicator (PCI) to paint a complete picture of a player’s performance.
Sounds complex and is—but only if a player wants it to be. Those who want to dive into the advanced numbers, review performance and take their skills to the all-new practice mode can. Those who want to work through the paces without worrying about breaking out a spreadsheet or calculator can and still earn an added sense of realism from the data on the screen.
But the improvements don’t stop there. The tagging system has been overhauled, finally. It wasn’t fun to watch someone take advantage of the old system while on-screen players struggled to keep up or outright glitch. The new system has players actively trying for the tag and properly positioned most of the time, all while looking more true to the real thing.
Much of the gameplay improvements here can be attributed to the implementation of new animations, which applies everywhere. Pitchers on the mound react flawlessly to a ball hit at them just like in real life. There’s no more odd stutter from the catcher as a bunt hit in front of him causes him to stutter-step as he tries to figure out what to do—he swoops out of his stance and guns the ball at a base, as expected.
These new animations form a cohesive unit many probably didn’t realize was missing in the first place in prior offerings. Even off screen, players are covering the proper bases flawlessly, filling mistakes created by the player if necessary.
Call this the most significant overhaul to gameplay for the series in a long time. And much of it goes to show just how difficult the sport is. The pros on television and at the ballparks make it look easy, whereas the gameplay depth here shows it is anything but.
Graphics and Presentation
Sony San Diego spent some important time in the presentation department, too.
Obviously, better animations lead to a better-looking game with more fluidity resembling the real thing. As expected though, player models, jerseys and the usual suspects look great.
But the surrounding pieces really stand out. Dynamic crowds react well to the on-field action and the stadiums they occupy now have interesting diversity in the form of true-to-life bleachers and benches. In a simulation like this, it’s the little things that can enhance the product.
Speaking of little things, dynamic weather is here and a game-altering affair. Weather changes throughout games now, and a ball hit in the third inning might turn into a home run in the ninth—yet another small tidbit for those who want to grind the minutia of the sport.
Those tasked with keeping a player informed about the action on the field do a great job as well. The announcers haven’t always come off as natural in the series, though this year’s edition rectifies that after taking a cue from Madden and having commentators record dialogue together. It sounds more natural this way, and the talent present adds depth to the experience.
It’s also a nice touch to let players choose what sort of broadcast experience they want before the game, ranging from MLB Network presentation to other options.
Road to The Show
While the above details are major, what most will want to know about is the significant retooling of Road to The Show.
The progression system got most of the attention here, with it actually feeling like progression this time. Now, players earn points based on on-field performance that pour into a player’s ratings in specific areas. Those areas have a predetermined starting point and cap based on archetypes.
Archetypes are another refreshing feature. There are several at each spot to choose from (infielder, outfielder, pitcher) and assign preset caps to ratings. Take a speedy infielder archetype, expect to have plenty of contact at the plate and speed on the bags, but don’t expect to hit a ton of home runs.
Those caps, though, aren’t necessarily permanent. Thanks to the new Focus Training sessions, where your player practices with another player from his team, a cap can get pushed beyond its initial set point. These aren’t playable, but there’s a layer of strategy here that helps the mode feel like an RPG.
It’s a nice touch to see the experience for your player as it gets rewarded. Field a ball and properly move the target before throwing it, securing the out, and green plus marks pop up on the screen in the areas you excelled. This goes the other way as well, but a constant feedback loop during live games makes progression rewarding.
The work put into getting a player up to the majors still feels like a grind, no doubt. But the exorcism of microtransactions and the implementation of RPG-esque elements into a beloved mode feels great and rewarding, the latter part a key element of a mode such as this.
Franchise and More
Franchise returns with the newfound depth added in recent years just as fans have come to expect.
Accessibility of that depth seems to be the focus this year.
New here is a phases feature slapped atop the franchise mode, which helps better-inform players as to the key portions of the calendar. An MLB season is a long process on its own—managing everything going into a team is a huge undertaking, a point emphasized by the fact even these accessibility minded phases check in at a resounding 19.
Still, it’s nice to have the major tasks available right on the first panel of franchise mode as opposed to wading through layers of menus in the pursuit of accomplishing something.
The accessibility theme extends to the gameplay itself and those lengthy seasons. A variety of options awaits players for each game. Those who want the full experience can have it. Those who want a 10-minute affair can play a critical-situations or player-lock game. The retro mode falls somewhere between and offers a more casual experience.
And while we’re talking about different games modes, let’s keep it simple—retro mode is a breath of fresh air. It’s somewhat weird we’re in 2018 praising a more simplistic time for baseball video games, but it’s refreshing to punch one button to pitch a ball and one button to hit it. The throwback to graphics and presentation from a different era is a great touch.
Diamond Dynasty is here as well and boasts legends such as Babe Ruth, with the usual seemingly endless collectibles for players to chase.
As if all this weren’t enough, players can get lost in online player, weekly challenges and events like home run derbys. Some will bemoan the loss of online franchise mode, but its sitting on the bench for a year gives fans of the series something to possibly look forward to in the next installment.
Both Road to The Show and franchise benefit greatly from the deep customization offered. There was a noted emphasis on skin and hair looking more realistic, which they do, but more notable is just how obsessive players can get over their created characters.
There is a vault in which to browse custom creations, which is implemented seamlessly. The batting-stance creator is almost humorous in depth, with numbers assigned to everything from the bend of the knee to arm positioning. As long as it’s mostly realistic and doesn’t create any hiccups, players can do whatever they want with their batter in the box.
As a small aside, the universal profile system is also a nice touch, as collecting nameplates and such as you would in Call of Duty feels like something akin to a cherry on top in the rewarding department.
MLB The Show 18 is an impressive feat with layers.
It’s one thing to take a sport as deep as baseball and accurately recreate a simulation the masses adore, if not driving new fans to the sport in the process. It’s another to then simplify the process in accessible ways, coming up with sheer fun like retro mode or different ways to experience a full game.
As hinted in the intro, this one has everything, a true do-it-all feat. Want to play a strict simulation, taking into account stats and minutia such as time of day and weather in the ballpark? Knock yourself out. Want to kick back with a friend and play an arcade mode? It’s there. How about slapping yourself in the game down to the degree bend of your knees in the batter’s box? Yep.
More accessible than ever, MLB The Show 18 is a complete package fit for the hardcore to the casual with enough in the way of notable on-field upgrades and RPG-level customization and grind to warrant a pickup for most.