MLB games are a waning breed in 2016, with only Sony San Diego putting out a contender for the pennant. While the games that offer a solid MLB simulation are not only few and far between, but limited to one single entry, it’s important that entry really bats the run home. Fans of America’s pastime can breathe easy, as MLB The Show 16 delivers yet another base knock. MLB The Show 16 doesn’t tweak what works well for them, instead opting to pipe in new features and modes that offer distraction and deviation from the already great Road to the Show and Diamond Dynasty modes. While it’s hard to say it’s a grand slam, it’s definitely an incredibly well done baseball game, and deserves a look for all fans of our nation’s pastime.
The scent of fresh cut grass and worn leather of a mitt, the calls of “beer here”, and the buzz of a hopeful playoff appearance mean one thing; it’s baseball season. With that we’ve got another entry in the annual MLB The Show series, the only remaining AAA baseball game (RBI Baseball doesn’t count, not at all) that isn’t a management sim. It’d be easy for Sony San Diego to get complacent and put out the same game they have for the past few years, but luckily the team’s passion for not just baseball, but its portrayal in MLB The Show 16 shines through. The risks taken with new modes, the refining of visuals, and the overall attention paid to the game itself make this the most focused, and best MLB The Show entry to date.
The star mode for the offline or single player folks is likely going to be Road to the Show, the mode which players select or create a player to bring through the ranks of MLB fame starting with a Scout Day. Scout Day lets the player show off what they’ve got, with a rising or falling Draft Stock meter, you’ll know exactly what level of interest you’re garnering and from that figure where you’ll likely fall in the actual draft. After completing the draft you’re signed to a major league club, but unlike the NFL or other major sporting leagues, MLB has a farm system, which develops and cultivates talent to become the best it can be before it’s allowed to hit the big show.
Road to the Show hasn’t changed a ton, and that’s a good thing because it’s been rock solid for years. The most notable change is that players can play games back to back without loading or having to return to a management menu. This allows players to knock out one RTTS game in about 10-15 minutes on average, and jump right into the next one without much hassle, then allowing the player to drop back at any time, or after a series is over. It’s this attention to feedback and detail that confirmed my belief that the team at Sony San Diego is taking every little bit of criticism and applying them to the game’s experience, even if it’s something that marginally makes the player experience of playing multiple games easier.
Through the course of Road to the Show your player will earn points which can be applied to their different skills by doing well in games, or playing the quick training segments based on things like base running, fielding, or hitting. Each has their own sub activities like plate discipline, or stealing, or catching fly balls and will vary slightly, but the result in the way of points for training make it something that needs to be done to progress quickly. Road to the Show also lets players alter their own fate by allowing for discussion with management. Been hitting well? Ask to move up in the lineup. Bored of the outfield? Ask for a position change. It’s a small thing once again, but it drastically changes the experience and allows for examples like Mike Trout going from star center fielder to best shortstop in the league, and not just because I went in and changed the roster, he earned it.
Joining Road to the Show are modes like Franchise, Online Franchise, Play Now, and other expected entries on the menu. Alongside these standards, players are treated to Diamond Dynasty, a fantasy baseball like approach to managing a team and player control over nearly every aspect. Diamond Dynasty isn’t a new mode, but it does get some new tweaks that make it all the more interesting. Diamond Dynasty would be most similar to an Ultimate Team mode from the EA Sports realm, with player cards and rankings, missions to earn more stubs, and stubs being spent on packs for better players. Teaming up with analytic house Inside Edge, Diamond Dynasty now uses live game and day to day statistics to give a player a one to five star rating based on their real-world schedule. For example if a pitcher tends to dismantle the offense of the Yankees on a regular basis, and happens to play the Yankees today, they’ve got a 5-star bonus for the day. Once again the team proves that the right partnerships and attention to detail make some interesting advancements for the game as a whole. Diamond Dynasty also has missions, which might be something like hitting enough doubles, or making roster moves, or even simply logging in at the right time.
New additions to the way players can participate in Diamond Dynasty are Battle Royale and Conquest modes. These modes are the most interesting and potentially fascinating additions to a baseball game in recent memory. Battle Royale borrows the last-man-standing approach that gained popularity in games like DayZ and H1Z1. In a player-versus-player fashion you’ll draft a team and take it up against other people in a double elimination tournament. The longer your team lasts, the greater the rewards, and the bragging rights. Conquest is a turn-based take on competition where players take on 30 MLB teams on a hex-based map of North America. The end goal of the mode is to play, defeat, and conquer the whole of the USA. The minutia of conquest however involves not just playing other baseball teams, but gathering a rabid fan base and deploying them to the front lines not unlike infantry to boost your chances at beating a team by having the louder crowd. Both ways to play Diamond Dynasty add to the mode, and ultimately the longevity of the game as a whole. Also new to the mix are captains; six players that serve as store fronts you level up and can unlock new cards from. Each one has new stock every few hours, much like an MMO shopkeeper, and will keep the player checking their current status with the captain regularly.
Update: The following is a bit more hands-on now that the servers are online and we can get in to Diamond Dynasty and the marketplace.
Diamond Dynasty is at it’s heart a combination of card collecting, performing well in the game, playing baseball, and even making the virtual card market work to your advantage. It’s an incredibly deep mode that has something for everyone, and looks like it was designed to keep the player busy for digital and literal days. Stubs are the liquid assets that let you build your house of cards, and yes, you can pay real money for them you lucky duck! Prices are realistic, 1,000 stubs is $1, and there are bonuses thrown in the more you buy. Spending $10 gets you roughly 11 packs – each with 6 players and 2 items per the pack, resulting in a chance for a pretty good haul. The nice thing here is the gain rate is solid, so you don’t need to spend real money if you don’t want to.
In Diamond Dynasty you’ll find five total ways to play, with two options being against friends or the CPU, and the others coming in some downright interesting varieties that are new to The Show. Head to Head is the ranked heads-up style play of MLB The Show where you’ll be given a rating, placed in a division, and go from there. If you’ve played ranked online in nearly any other sport, the concept is the same, just applied to baseball – a common theme you’ll see more about in a moment. Battle Royale and Conquest are some of the most interesting ways to play a baseball game ever brought to light. As mentioned above, Battle Royale borrows from the likes of zombie survival games, playing double elimination games of three innings each for higher and higher rewards. Conquest is a mode of attacking via beating teams in other territories and then deploying fans to new areas to “reinforce” the division. Ultimately the goal is to conquer all of North America for rare rewards. These two modes mix up gameplay so very much that it’s going to be interesting to see player count in these modes. They seem like such curveballs, but might just find the zone as they’re providing the core MLB The Show gameplay, but offering other mechanics in a way that other sports games haven’t tried in the past.
Beyond just the modes and features upgraded the game has received an engine overhaul that allows for more detailed environments and stadiums, a more powerful texture rendering which showcases the difference in metallic and matte objects better than ever, and more animations than ever before that all work in concert to make the simulation all the more real. Players turn different double plays, celebrate home runs differently, and react to hits in their direction in unique ways more often The overall experience of a full game feels more like attending or watching a game.
- Great visuals, physics, and overall performance
- Lots of modes and variation to keep the game interesting and alive
- Road to the Show and other The Show classics remain top-notch
- Offline options are a little limited, but still enough to keep busy
- Player models are good, but sometimes pretty plastic looking
- Camera angle switches in RTTS can be jarring and throw off pursuit routes
The Bottom Line
MLB The Show 16 could’ve been a disappointment, just another entry with an updated roster. Fortunately Sony San Diego brought improvements, innovations, and some (potentially) fun experiments to the table. The Show remains the only real player in the baseball simulation realm, and while unfortunate for Xbox owners, and the only choice for PS4 players, it would fare well against any competition that were out there. Games are presented in an authentic manner, but if you’re in a bit more of a hurry just to get to the action the game has concessions and caters to the entire spectrum of baseball fans. If you’ve skipped a year or are an annual purchaser of baseball games, MLB The Show 16 is a top prospect for your gaming roster.
Examiner was provided a physical copy of MLB The Show 16 for review purposes courtesy of Sony.