Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Show 18 Digs In

One of the highlights of each spring training is the annual release of MLB The Show from Sony's San Diego Studios. Following an up and down year in 2017, MLB The Show 18 had some lofty goals to deliver on. With gameplay upgrades being the most integral features needing to be addressed, the team put in a ton of work. For their efforts, MLB The Show 18 comes out looking like a home run out of the box.

First and foremost, the presentation includes notable upgrades. On the menu screens, there's a much cleaner look to finding the avenue of gameplay you'd like to tackle. Not only are things presented better, but they also function at a much higher clip as well. Whether on the main menus or in Diamond Dynasty a season ago, menu lag was rather rampant. This season, everything flows smoothly and quickly, allowing you to easily cycle through your choices.

Game modes stay the same this year for the most part, outside of the exclusions of Online Franchise and Season Mode. In Franchise mode, there's relatively little of note worth highlighting. The reality is that the new "Phases" The Show 18 has introduced really only cuts up the experience into a more bite sized model. If you're a franchise player looking to go in depth with your favorite team, you'll likely find categorizing things into Phases as a somewhat unnecessarily simplified way to disperse information. At it's core, the mode remains the same, and that's a good thing. You can play franchise games in retro mode, as well as having multiple styles to complete games in less than the standard 45 minute window.

In Road to the Show, the RPG element remains, and the storyline starts to expand. No longer are you a top prospect, but instead you must feel the grind of rising through the minor leagues. Gone are the attribute points, and in their place is a system that integrates real time stat boosts reflective of your immediate in game performance. It seems to work just fine, and while there are now caps holding you back from being a 99 everywhere, picking a player type that you deem most valuable only adds to the strategy element of the mode. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but I'd imagine fans of the mode will find the tweaks to be refreshing.

Looking between the lines and on the diamond itself, the team at San Diego Studios deserves some serious commendation. After the hitting engine drew plenty of ire last season, it seems near perfect in this iteration. There's new post pitch feedback which helps to detail how you contacted every single pitch. The ball flight paths have only taken another step forward, and the physics involved mimic real life wonderfully. Outfielders still jog to balls a bit too often for my liking, and there's a premium placed on infield defense that sometimes makes what should be a semi-routine play turn into a base hit, but for the most part it all works.

After taking a massive step forward a season ago, Diamond Dynasty had a large amount of expectation to live up to. Content was king in The Show 17, and that needed to once again carry the mode that San Diego Studios draws in a significant cash flow from. While there's been server hiccups, it's nothing like we saw last year. I've lost a few games and stat missions early, and while frustrating, I'm willing to give a pass on the early innings missteps. 

What I didn't anticipate is that the shear volume of content involved with The Show 18's version of Diamond Dynasty actually feels like a turnoff. As opposed to teasing future missions and programs a season ago, a ridiculous amount of tasks are thrown at you right off the bat this season. The overwhelming feeling of things necessary to collect acts as somewhat of a deterrent. Plenty of players have loaded lineups already, and it's a direct reflection of money pumped into the mode. As someone that completed every single mission, program, and milestone from the mode a season ago (as well as doling out a significant sum of cash), I just find myself ready to take a significant step back from the competition this year.

As a whole, The Show 18 absolutely got it right. The graphics and presentation have taken another step forward, the gameplay is near flawless, and the shear amount of avenues to play is nothing short of great. For me, a more controlled approach to Diamond Dynasty would have been welcomed, but I look forward to diving further into franchise mode this time around. Not just a yearly roster update, The Show 18 is definitely worth a purchase.