The last week of March is a particularly exciting time for baseball fans, because it means Opening Day is around the corner and fans are excited to cheer on their favorite teams. The last week of March also means that the next iteration of MLB The Show, my favorite sports franchise, has arrived, and it continues to be the most authentic sports game that is somehow, a decade later, still adding new ideas to make the series feel fresh.
Since its transition to PS4, MLB The Show has managed to look better and better, and ‘16 is gorgeous. The bats shine in the light, players have more recognizable faces and player animations are smooth. I’ve always been impressed with the authenticity in MLB The Show and it’s only improved upon here. The attention to detail in batting stances and pitching windups help show that Sony San Diego truly cares about making the most realistic sports game possible. Carter Capps of the Miami Marlins has a one-of-a-kind pitching motion and it’s captured here. I’ve seen him pitch in person, and it’s just as awkward and unconventional in ‘16.
This year’s game is more focused on your individual skill, and this makes hitting more of a challenge in MLB The Show 16. In the previous entries, if you made solid contact with the ball, there was a chance it’d be a pop fly or a ground ball. This time, if you make solid contact in a player’s sweet spot, like power hitters Chris Davis or Jose Bautista, it’s more often than not going to be a homerun or at least a double. It’s frustrating when you mistakenly swing at a pitch up by your hands and it’s a rudimentary pop up to a third baseman, but it’s more authentic and it teaches you to not fall for that deceptive changeup. It’ll take time to adjust, but in the end, you’ll be playing a more realized baseball game.
You start off with the Fish Eye camera that’s meant to help you more easily identify pitches before they reach the plate, but I’m not the biggest fan of this view. It became difficult to determine if a pitch that’s low in the batter’s box was worth swinging at and I often second guessed myself because it was tough to determine where the pitch would land. Fortunately, there are other useful camera angles, like ‘16’s version that still provides a view of the entire playing field like Fish Eye does. I found myself performing much better with the ‘16 camera, but any new view takes time to adjust.
Somehow, SCE San Diego Studio managed to add new ideas to Road to the Show (RTTS) and increase its longevity. First and foremost, RTTS now has perks and the Showtime meter. There are consumable perks, like guaranteeing your player hits a ground ball for an at-bat, or your pitcher will throw at an increased velocity for an at-bat. The perks are unlocked once a stat reaches a certain number and they require Showtime Points, with the threshold being 120. My closing pitcher has the increased velocity perk and I’m free to use it whenever, but at the cost of half of the Showtime meter. Showtime cleverly slows time down and gives you a greater chance of making the potential game winning play. It’s added intensity that is addicting to use come each game.
This addition makes difficult situations easier or makes your created player feel more clutch. For example, my pitcher can only use Showtime twice in an appearance, so it’s up to me if I want to use it right away for a guaranteed strike, or to save it for when the batter has two strikes on them, increasing my chances of striking them out. And it can become especially important if you are pitching with men on base or you’re batting with two outs and the winning run is on second base. You feel more in control of the situation and it’s satisfying to have saved your Showtime usage so you are able to use it in the perfect scenario.
RTTS now seamlessly transitions between moments. After an at-bat or a fielding opportunity, simply pressing X will take you to your next moment. You don’t have to open up any more menus just to advance to your next appearance. More importantly, you’re now able to move on to your next game and spend training points without having to go back to RTTS’s main menu. Once you have completed a game, just hit play next appearance and you’re free to improve your player’s stats or go right into the action without interruption. This is a brilliant addition because it keeps you in the moment and you’re able to play more and in less time.
Last year’s Diamond Dynasty has been improved upon with more cards that players can earn, including “Prime” and “Flashback.” Prime cards are higher skilled players with improved stats because the card is supposed to represent that player’s best season or a time when a player was at their peak. And Flashback cards are players from their rookie seasons or sometimes hall of fame players. Adding dozens of new cards, and specialized ones, help create some impressive looking teams for Diamond Dynasty and it keeps players from having the same teams. The more different teams the better.
Battle Royale is MLB The Show’s take on Madden’s Draft Champions or FIFA’s Ultimate Team Draft, and it’s closest to the latter. Games are only three innings long and it’s a two loss event, and then you must draft a new team. Unfortunately, like FIFA’s take on it, you have to pay 1,500 in-game currency to play and I didn’t find the mode all that enjoyable. Firstly, 1,500 stubs takes a fair amount of time to accumulate unless you want to spend real money, and the teams you draft, in my opinion, aren’t worth the commitment. You’ll start off by drafting a Hall of Famer or a current MLB star, but they’re a tiny portion of the team compared to the 15-20 average players. To be fair, your 25-man roster should not be loaded with talent, but I wouldn’t have minded having an extra star or higher end player. The mode itself is a great idea and I applaud SCE San Diego Studio for including it in the game, but I’m not the biggest fan. Fortunately though, you don’t have to play it, and if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a card pack for Diamond Dynasty and better rewards as you progress further. Hopefully it will be a more balanced mode if it stays for next year’s game.
Franchise mode is deeper than ever thanks to the improved scouting of players and the nuances of free agency. How scouts evaluate prospects is more realistic because they utilize the 20-80 scale, which is how scouts evaluate players in real life. Your skills, like hitting, power, speed, etc., are measured and range from elite (80) to poor (20). It’s refreshing to have honest numbers on virtual players and it’s no longer a shot in the dark when scouting a potential star or effective role player. This scouting is used in RTTS as well, but it’s more useful in Franchise because you can decide which players are worth scouting.
Free agency is no longer about throwing the most money at a player in hopes they’ll sign. A player will sign with a team if it means them winning a championship or being the star player. Money will increase a player’s interest, yes, but fulfilling one of these wishes will help you secure that touted pitcher or position player. On top of these factors, a player may sometimes want a teammate from the same region so they don’t feel as homesick. Not only do these additions help free agency feel more authentic, it becomes more competitive and I could see myself making preemptive decisions just to have a greater chance at a highly touted player.
MLB The Show 16 feels fresh and it’s the best game yet. It offers new and creative ways to play that are in other sports games and MLB makes it work well. Long time modes like Road To The Show and Franchise have seen additions to extend their legs and they’re welcome. The authenticity, from hitting to the animations, are why MLB The Show continues to be my preferred sports series. It’s worth noting that online play isn’t the best right now, where I experienced many connection issues and failed attempts to connect with another player. I’m sure this will be fixed, and when I have connected with someone, online play was strong.
+More realistic gameplay
+Attention to detail
-Battle Royale falls short
-Inconsistent online connectivity
MLB The Show 16 continues to impress and it’s an excellent and authentic game every baseball fan should play.
Brett Woodmansee is an editor for The Game Bolt and he loves RPGs, Chipotle and his beard. For tweets about video games, sports and more, follow him on Twitter.