Fans are already lining up to play in The Show. But what about non-fans? Can they pick up the premiere modern baseball game, not knowing much about the sport, and play? To find out, we have both a non-sports guy, yours truly, and a designated hitter who loves the sport, Jason Tabrys.
Dan: I’m not one to value graphics above everything else, and in the franchise games, things generally look pretty good. But things go severely off the rails in the Road To The Show mode, making MLB The Show ’16 feel unpolished in the extreme. The animations on the randomly generated players and spectators alike are weird and unnatural, with weird mouth movements in particular in close-ups, everything is unusually angular and unattractive, and the game often treats you to close-up views of an animation file that loops forward, then rewinds, then loops forward again.
Granted, this game serves two masters, as there’s a PS3 version, but it feels like the difference is being split, and it shouldn’t be.
It’s especially bizarre because the game has a pretty solid soundscape; the effects are vivid and crisp, the announcers are well-recorded if a bit repetitive, and the game has a reasonably extensive if not terribly adventurous jukebox of pop tunes.
Jason: I can’t speak about Road To The Show mode as I don’t play it. I have a Bartolo Colon body type and both a need to be honest in the way I create my avatars, and a desire to not be video game Steve Balboni. Focusing on Franchise Mode and the actual real player models, however, I have to say I’m in full-on disagreement with Dan. The animations are fluid and natural-seeming. It’s one of those things where if you squint, you can’t tell if you’re watching a real game or not. And with MLB The Show, year after year, I find my eyes widening when I perform that litmus test. There’s just a grace that can be seen when a player swings (something that is leveled up this year thanks to added batting stances and swings), pitches (same), or fields. It is a game, though, so the players’ faces are a touch off and some of the beards and long, flowing locks of hair can dent the realism a little bit. But overall, the player visuals seem to have improved from last year, and that’s all you can ask for. Especially considering the bent and deformed player model experiments we all played through in the ’90s and 2000s.
I agree about the sounds of the game, the effects, and the announcers. The stadiums are a masterpiece and the closed dome effect is pretty neat for baseball nerds. Same goes for the retro stadiums. I have railed at the top of my lungs for those and I’m happy to have them back, though I wish they’d make more available via DLC. I have a need to play virtual baseball in a perfectly rendered version of Memorial Stadium and the Astrodome. My reasons are my business. I really enjoy the fact that the old stadiums look like old stadiums. Dirt caked and kinda rough. Like baseball should be. No polish like today’s stadiums. No dancing fish or swimming pools. While I’m falling down a rabbit hole of minor details, I find the lack of new spring training uniforms deeply disturbing and I’m not using dramatic words for effect. Come on, SCEA. If you’re going to have spring training mode, do it right.
Dan: There isn’t a lot of change between MLB The Show ’15 and this game. But this franchise has done a solid job of being accessible and boiling a complicated sport down to a solid graphical interface that makes sense. You can pick up the controls easily, but it’ll take a while to master the nuances and suss out the strategy involved.
Jason: The increased usage of stats, the 20/80 scouting, and an overall deeper franchise mode will appeal to wonks. There are a myriad of improvements in Road to the Show, but I’m not an RPG guy. I came here to kick ass in franchise mode and chew gum, and I am all out of gum.
Dan: Much of The Show is about careers: You can start from bottom as a teenager and work your way through the minor leagues to a shot at the MLB; you can take over an MLB team with a pro roster and try to lead them to glory as both player and general manager; or you can draft a fantasy team and try to answer bar arguments over who’d make the best team once and for all.
Probably the most interesting mode for casual fans is the Road to the Show, which is more or less the action-RPG version of baseball. You earn experience points to level up your stats in the training menu, and as you get better you unlock perks. There’s even stat-boosting gear you can earn, or buy, because of course there is. You even get “ShowTime,” a special mode that lets you slow time and gives you a few extra seconds to pull off a play. It’s an odd mix, to be sure, but it’s surprisingly engaging. Equally strange is a mode called Conquest that mashes up this and the recent Rock Band relaunch’s mechanics: You invade a rival’s turf and play well to steal their fans. Cue the bandwagon jokes!
The main issue is that in the end, it’s all pretty much the same game with minor variations. There’s plenty of buttons and knobs to fiddle with, from batting order to player trades. But it’s all kind of impenetrable if you’re not already a big fan of the game; it’s not clear why I should be doing any of this, and it doesn’t feel like there’s any impact on the gameplay. The menus, with their unclear language, really doesn’t help: Why am I using “Exit” to advance to the next game?
Not helping matters is that it has the rhythms of watching a game on TV, which means the game has a chronic inability to just get on with it. You’ll spend more time watching cutscenes than you will playing ball, at least until your coworker tells you about the menu option to shut off these cutscenes.
Jason: There are tons of things like Quick Counts and the new Showtime feature (which allows players a shot at using in-game perks to help juice their performance) that will appeal to newbies. These things do not appeal to me, though. My only fun comes from a close adherence to the slow burn majesty of the game of baseball and the strategy and skill required to win within the context of that grind. Also when they show the mascots. I like mascots.
You can set it to avoid a TV presentation and drop (or cut down) on the cut scenes and get right to the action (as it were). You can probably knock out a nine-inning game in 45 minutes to an hour, which is a bit longer than a game on NBA2K or Madden, far as I can recall. You’ll play it even quicker if you swing at everything like I do. Walks are for old men on the beach and also for dogs. Swing your bat.
Dan: In theory you could keep playing this game forever; after all, you can always boot up a new franchise and see if you can finally get the Cubs a World Series win, or take your team’s terrible year and try to repair it. In reality, it’s going to depend on your appetite for baseball.
Jason: Last year, I played something like 250 games and spent untold hours building and re-building the rosters in franchise mode for multiple teams, utilizing the community downloadable roster update from Operation Sports with all the real minor leaguers to attain ultimate authenticity. I will do the same this year, playing a game or two at night and wasting a few hours on the weekend lost in the haze of managing my AAA team’s rotation. I have a job and a wife and a dog and friends. I am not fused to my couch. I feel the need to say this.
Dan: Ready to buy more packs of cards? Because of course, that mode, Diamond Dynasty, is back. That said, the game lets you upload old saves from last year’s iteration, so you’re not entirely back to square one. Still, sports games have an increasing taste for microtransactions that doesn’t sit well on the tongue.
Jason: F*ck Dynasty Mode and f*ck microtransactions. I don’t give a sh*t about stubs or tickets or whatever is needed to buy virtual packs of cards and equipment. I’m supposed to spend stubs or actual money to give a virtual Shane Victorino baseball card a fancy-assed pair of batting gloves? What? Get a job, virtual Shane Victorino baseball card, and buy your own fancy-assed batting gloves and Murano bats.
Dan: MLB The Show ’16 knows who its audience is and does what it does quite well. And it feels like Sony grasps it can’t just cater to the hardcore if it wants a more open game. So they’re making a genuine effort to make an MLB game both sabermetrics masters and kids hoping to catch a foul can play, but they’re still refining it, and they need to leave the PS3 behind.
Jason: I like this year’s version of the game and I legitimately have no choice but to buy this every year until the guys who developed MVP 2007 are freed from whatever island lair they are being kept in. I don’t care about the things that they’re doing to appeal to novice fans so long as they keep baseball nerds in mind when assembling the core of the game, which they seem to have done this year.