I know that spring is here when it’s too warm to wear long pants out, those smelly trees with the white blossoms start destroying my sinuses, and Sony San Diego cranks out another fantastic baseball game.
“MLB The Show 16” is the latest entry in a series that can only be called a dynasty. “The Show” created the sports gaming career mode formula followed by all the major franchises: Control only your created player, transform him from long-shot weakling to hall-of-famer.
This year’s game is one of the most ambitious in the past five years or so. Some major quality-of-life improvements make the already-stellar Road to the Show mode even better. The developers also went absolutely berserk in adding two full game modes and about six new features to Diamond Dynasty, the online dream-team building mode.
“MLB The Show 16” is a nearly perfect title held back only by a few housekeeping issues. As is so often the case when an established franchise adds new features, some bugs have crept into the existing modes. A few consistent audio issues – the in-game public address announcer introducing the wrong player names or wrong teams, for example – and some game-breaking freezes during online play kept this year’s edition from being among the best ever.
The franchise started in 2005 with ‘MLB: The Show 06.’
The tweaks to the flagship Road to the Show were subtle, but they made a lasting difference to anyone accustomed to “Show” sessions of four or more hours. After finishing one game, you can train your player and jump into the next game without enduring the franchise’s painfully long loading screens. This allowed me to play three or four extra games in a typical hour, which is especially important when battling a 162-game baseball season.
Sony San Diego also added unlockable perks to the training session. For example, a good contact hitter can now press a button once per game to guarantee a ground ball in play if the player swings at the right time. There are also passive perks that are always on, such as a plate vision trait that makes every questionable umpire call go in your favor.
I hate the perks. They are a step backward for the mode. It takes a beautifully realistic experience and drags it back toward feeling like a video game. I played baseball, and anyone who has played it knows that hitting a pitch is the most difficult action in sports. Even the greatest ever could not “guarantee” anything.
Luckily, the perks are voluntary, so it wasn’t a huge deal. I just chose not to use them.
I had a similar experience with the new conquest mode in Diamond Dynasty. The online mode allows you either purchase baseball cards or collect them through gameplay. The players on the cards are used in actual games, allowing you to create teams consisting of current and former players.
Diamond Dynasty also added a mode in which players pay in-game currency to enter a short, winner-take-most tournament.
The conquest mode has nothing to do with that. It is essentially a separate, shoddy, real-time strategy game within Diamond Dynasty. You start in the Midwest and conquer actual Major League Baseball teams with a bizarre attack-and-defend system. I think you’re supposed to be fighting over fans, but it feels like you are basically staging a second Civil War. I don’t get it at all. However, it is also voluntary, so I won’t dock the game too much for adding a useless mini-game.
The rest of Diamond Dynasty is fantastic. You can sell many of your unused player cards on a digital marketplace or “feed them” to a created player. That player slowly – very slowly – gets better with each “meal,” and he can eventually grow into an important utility player who can fill any hole on your team.
The games themselves are as solid as ever, apart from the aforementioned bugs. I noticed a new, much more realistic crack sound when my players hit the ball that warmed my insides nicely. While I was playing on The Bee’s 10-foot projector screen, Kenny Lewis, our assistant news editor, noticed that the fans sitting behind home plate were more lifelike. A lot of little tweaks like that enhance the overall game.
“MLB The Show 16” could very well be the best sports game in existence within the next few months. Bugs are patchable. Even more new features could be added. There’s a reason this franchise ate the 2K baseball series. It is the one-stop shop for video game baseball.
MLB The Show 16
Video Game Review
▪ Rated everyone
▪ Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment San Diego Studio
▪ Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3