When it comes to annual sports releases, few developers are able to repeatedly produce titles with the same level of consistency and quality that Sony’s Studio San Diego do. The Show is now in it’s 13th year as a PlayStation exclusive franchise and yet it continues to impress and push the tempo on its native platform. MLB The Show 18 shines with visual enhancements, gameplay tweaks, updates to its various modes and a depth yet unseen in the series.
At a glance, The Show 18 looks quite similar to it’s predecessor, but dig a bit deeper and the nuances begin to make their appearances. Some of the most obvious updates come in the form of character animations, bringing the game to life with greater fluidity and natural motion. Players take to the field in the most life-like state I have seen in a sports game to date, interacting with their environments and plays of the game with an uncanny sense of realism. Characters carry a sense of inertia and weight, vastly improving the dynamics of base running when beating out the bases against a retrieving outfielder or attempting a steal. This sense of weight is varied and dynamic according to the body type of the characters too. These tweaks extend through to batting stances, which, for the first time, can be tailored to create a unique style of the players choosing, allowing you to bring your own unique style to the plate.
Naturally these improvements extend to the on-field drama of the actual game, ball physics see a major up-swing with reactivity and variability at an all time high. Line-drives arc and swing naturally as the barrel of the bat meets the ball creating tense and exciting battles at the plate. There is greater room for error too both on the field and at the plate with this improved physics model as the unpredictability factor soars up.
Fortunately the improved dynamic difficulty meter helps keep you challenged but not overwhelmed. This meter is separate across the various disciplines, pitching, hitting and fielding, allowing you to focus and improve in one area that you struggle in, while challenging you in another that you are mastering. The game never feels like it is throwing you (for lack of a better word) a curve ball, but rather subtly nudging you to improve in fields you are battling with. Coupled with a host of legacy controls that go all the way back to the PS2 era of the series, there is a scheme for everyone, allowing you to experience the game the way you love to.
There are quite a few quality of life improvements to the game too. For the first time in a few years, the Studio San Diego have focused quite a lot on the atmosphere of the game and bringing it to life beyond just the field. New crowd animations litter the ballparks of America as unique collections of fan groups now populate stadiums, for example, the well known ‘Judges Cheer’ in Yankee Stadium. Mascots and stadium specific celebrations are more pronounced and there is even interaction between players on the field and specific landmarks unique to their stadiums. Attendance also varies depending on the day of the week, for example there are far less fans on a Tuesday game as opposed to a Sunday night match, subtle, but noticeable.
This year the commentary team adds MLB Network Analyst and former player, Mark DeRosa, who replaces Harold Reynolds after just one year. DeRosa certainly adds a colourful style to the existing commentary of Dan Plesac and Matt Vasgersian and for the first time in years, commentary feels very organic and natural, flowing with the game. This is further improved with a smooth presentation layout for all games, which flow from the top of the first to the bottom of the ninth and beyond.
For the second year running I was able to continue my career in Road to the Show, The Show’s own become a legend mode. The Show 18 sees a few improvements to this mode, namely the introduction of archetypes. Whether creating a new character or importing your own, you will be given the option of choosing an archetype in your field of mastery, similar to classes in a RPG. As a starting pitcher I was given three options; flamethrower, control freak or plain filthy, each impacting current and future stats, focusing the experience and adding a bit more character to the entire journey. There is a noticeable improvement in the journey of your character too, more locations and varied choices add personality to the adventure but the lack of a player voice still leaves much to be desired.
Previously, players were able to assign their own attribute points after a match. This year, The Show automatically assigns these points based on your on-field performance continuing the drive towards a more authentic experience. In the past it was possible to build something of a super-player with a cap of 99 for each stat, the new choices limit these further adding to that authentic real feel. The journey to the Major’s is also much more lengthy, with at least 3 or 4 seasons of exceptional AAA and AA performances earning you the call.
The long running Franchise Mode does not improve on much from previous iterations, and in fact removes online play, which is something of a curiosity given how popular it was for many wanna-be GM’s. Players do now have the ability to play through this mode using the retro 8-bit mode introduced in last years game, but this does little to bolster the experience. Suffice to say, Franchise Mode remains a premier platform for baseball armchair generals and will no doubt scratch the itch with improvements to the interface.
Diamond Dynasty, The Show’s version of Ultimate Team with some new additions to the roster, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Nolan Ryan, and Chipper Jones, among others. New challenges and head-to-head activities invite players to take their All-Stars online against other players to earn new gear and rewards and keep them coming back for more.
MLB The Show 18 is a solid entry in the series and probably the most polished to date. Smooth animations, improved physics and greater depth in Road to the Show make for a dynamic and visceral baseball experience. The Show 18 sets the gold standard for baseball games and is a worthy addition to any sports fan's growing library.
One tablespoon Star Wars, a dollop of motorsport, a splash of Metal Gear. And a pinch of space magic. Mix and blend. Smashing! Is also running for congress.
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