Last year, MLB 15: The Show varied little from the previous year's entry, yet gave a clean performance. Largely, the additions came with the “look” of the game. Everything played decently well, had playable game modes to keep fans interested, tons of action—a solid edition, but it all felt very safe. No real big head-turning attractions, at least not in a flashy sense.
This couldn’t be further from the truth for MLB The Show 16. This year, it’s all about more. Don’t be surprised if you take control as GM, manager, player, fantasy pro, ticket taker, popcorn vender, press representative. In 2016, you are baseball. Okay, maybe it's not quite that dramatic, but you’ll quickly learn how much there is to do in this year’s release.
Kicking The Show off, those familiar to the series can still enjoy the popular Road to the Show, which has added a few touches of flare to help illustrate what it is like to be a young aspiring Major League professional. Just like in the past, you create your player and go through the steps to becoming a Major League star. If you already have a saved game from ‘15, you can easily port a character over and continue from there. A new pit stop has been added where you can play through scout day to impress coaches and teams who may draft you. You will participate in a number of drills catered to your position in hopes of wowing the scouts.
Of course the better you do, the higher your draft stock. After scouting day, you will play in a couple of exhibition games to fully put your skills on display to further add to your value. In one playthrough, I managed to have an okay scout day, but great showings during the games. Your player will be limited with his stats ratings to begin so there’s only so much you can do apart from skill.
Over time you’ll raise each skill to your liking and gain perks to be used for in game success. Perks give your player a little boost in performance, with two kinds you can use: consumable and passive. Consumable perks can only be used once per game so you must choose when the best time is to utilize it, while passive ones can be on at any time and will activate at the most opportune moment automatically. All in all, it’s cool to see a small glimpse into what a would-be pro baseball player goes through in order to achieve such a lofty goal.
For those into a fantasy type league, Diamond Dynasty offers battle royale and conquest modes. In battle royale, you will be thrown into a 25-round draft for you to build your perfect team. It’s player vs player double elimination tournament, and of course the more you win, the more you earn. The neat aspects to it are the legends like Luis Tiant and Nolan Ryan and “flashback” players you can earn through rewards. On the flashback side, you get to turn back the hands of time and play with guys like Alex Rodriguez or Tim Lincecum from days when they were at the top of their games rather than their regular or post seasons.
Possibly the most robust feature comes in conquest mode. You’re tasked with playing against the 30 MLB teams, attempting to conquer their territories. There are specific missions that will open up rewards used to further your team. Conquering territories will rely heavily on the resources of your fans, as they will help you protect regions as well as gain new fans. Light up the U.S. with your army of fans and you'll reign as baseball king, that is if you have the patience to conquer all areas by playing through the many three-inning games.
All action on the field feels fluid and responds decently well to commands. Batting in particular has a certain touch of realism to it, particularly the way each batter stands and prepares for each swing. With all the new animations, said to be over 400 and not with just batting, there are many ways player movement can be showcased. The environment as a whole looks to aid in the visual aesthetics surrounded around the action in the ballpark. With the new lighting engine, the development team used satellite images to help with getting movement of the sun correct, primarily with day and night shadowing. Their physically-based rendering (PBR) system also plays a key role in visuals. The focus of PBR is to show how light bounces of the different textures in and around the field, such as surfaces that are smooth/non-smooth, metallic, glossy/non-glossy, and so on.
Of course there are some textual drawbacks, and everything isn’t perfect. Oddly enough, hair looks awful. It’s such a minor detail in the scheme of things, but I find it saddening. I’m sure this is due to the fact baseball players are constantly wearing hats or helmets, but there still should still be quality under there. Grass also has a patchy look and just doesn’t have an authentic way about it.
But what lacks in quality is made up at least in part in quantity. From customization to teammate dances, home-run celebrations, and even theme music, you can just about tweak anything to your personal preference. The presentation wants to be bold and stand out as much as possible. The crowd literally screams through your controller. Commentary sadly lacks punch, though; it just doesn’t give that special oomph classic baseball fans are used to.
The rest of the other modes are mainly tooled to help you better learn all the controls and better strategies—a learning curve that may be mildly steep for beginners and troublesome for season vets. It’s great to see how far baseball sims have come since games like Extra Innings but in many ways it just feels over the top. At times it feels as though I’m spending more time editing my player, buying player cards, or leveling stats than I am actually playing the game.
These days sports titles are feeling less and less like sports titles... and more like RPGs. “Buy this house, and date this girl, oh don’t forget to answer your cell phone when an agent calls.” But what about the game?! Don’t get me wrong, MLB The Show 16 is a solid sim that plays well and looks better than ever. I just get slightly irritated in the circus that surrounds it.
Big on feature, major in community activity, and strong in replay ability, this year’s Show certainly has done well. For Sony, like EA’s Madden series, there are few to no challengers to the genre so success lies within their own hands. So the question is, if it ain’t broke, will they still try to fix it, or if it is broke, do they still care to fix it?