With all the saccharine schmaltz of a Ken Burns documentary, MLB: The Show 18 opens with a montage of children explaining their love for America’s pastime: baseball. Boys and girls of all nationalities meandering through an explanation of why they love the game so, done in that aimless kind of way only kids can do.
I remember being like that. I have fond memories of my father teaching me the correct way to throw a ball … right before I threw said ball over his head and into the family pond. Stacks of baseball magazines lined the inside of my backpack, which I studied for hours to mimic the stance of Ken Griffey, Jr.
I never got that stance quite right. I also had a habit of throwing my bat, so that might have been an issue.
Grade: ★ ★
System: PlayStation 4
No. Players: 1-8
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment - San Diego
Developed by: SIE
Genre: Simulation Baseball
ESRB Rating: Everyone
If you couldn’t guess, I was awful at baseball. That might be why my crowning achievement was knocking in the game-winning run via a walk because the opposing coach instructed his pitcher son to intentionally plunk me and end the game.
Why? The setting sun and his vehement urge that — one way or another — the game does not end in a tie, because only losers accept ties. I remember the annoyed look on that man’s face more than I do my best memories of the game, but despite that, I still love baseball and its stalwart traditions.
That doesn’t mean I’m OK with Sony San Diego resting on its laurels and churning out yet another iteration of a baseball game we’ve seen before. Actually, that’s a lie: Saying it’s the same game from last year would imply that nothing changed, when, in reality, features from The Show 17 are missing, such as single-season and online franchise play.
You know a yearly sports franchise has lost its spark for innovation when that happens. Whether we’re talking Madden or the WWE 2K franchise, there’s no worse sign of an unhealthy game series than features being removed with nothing added to compensate.
Unless you don’t consider the new batting stance editor to be an equivalent exchange. The only truly new addition in The Show 18, the editor allowed me to twist and contort the body of my burly baseball avatar to my heart’s content. After that five minutes of fun, I came to a conclusion: The only enjoyment I was having came from making this odd, digital voodoo doll of myself dancing a sad jig of elbows out and bent knees.
Sure, baseball definitely happens in this game and, in theory, that is the main draw. Modes aplenty exist for all your swinging, throwing, and sprinting pleasure, including mini-game modes that get you right into the action. My personal favorite is the weekly challenge that pits you against online players to amass the largest score in a rotating gameplay challenge, with real prizes on the line.
The single-player Road to the Show mode also makes a return, which boils down your avatar’s journey to the big leagues into a slurry of batting and fielding moments. Some incredibly light dialog choices pepper your humble beginnings in the minors, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t amused by my seemingly simple soul of a baseball player and his misadventures with the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A team, the Erie SeaWolves.
None of this is new. In the case of Road to the Show, much of it is the exact same thing with slightly new dialog. At one point, I joked about coming up on a point in the season where, in The Show 17, my team’s coach asked me to change positions, and like clockwork that exact same moment occurred.
The problem at hand is that MLB: The Show 18 is the only baseball game in town, giving the developer little incentive to rock the apple cart and consumers zero options, lest they opt to not play a new baseball game. Those who do decide they need that yearly follow-along that coincides with the start of a season will find nothing new under the sun. Worse yet, they’ll find a cadre of online options and modes that work erratically at best; sometimes not at all.
No lessons were learned from last year’s online debacle of crashing servers and day-one issues. If you need your yearly digital baseball fix, then all the power to you. Know that you’re as well off buying MLB 17: The Show and drawing an “18” on the cover.
We all deserve better than annual releases that hold their audience captive with lack of options — a bizarre form of consumer Stockholm syndrome.
Contact Will Harrison at: DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.
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