Video Games

‘MLB The Show 17’ improves already polished gem

Baseball video games have cost me dearly over the years.

I’ve broken at least seven PlayStation controllers almost entirely due to “MLB The Show.” For some reason, the stress of trying to differentiate between a 95-mph fastball and an 80-mph curveball forces me to grip the controller as tightly as I would a bat. And when I finally get that pitch to hit, I slam the right stick so hard that I sometimes break the plastic on the control.

Don’t even get me started on this horrible arched back posture I drop into every time I kick the game on (which is a lot – it’s typically one of my most-played franchises). I am certain I will one day baffle doctors with a mysterious new illness known as “Show Spine.”

The point here is that playing “MLB The Show” is serious business, and I demand an authentic representation of America’s pastime to – well, pass the time.

The pixels of summer are back in “MLB The Show 17,” and the baseball gods at Sony San Diego gave us exactly what we want from the great annual sports franchises: Slight upgrades to the modes we love with just a few curveballs.

It’s my fourth season in the game reviewing majors, but I’ve played this franchise religiously since its inception in 2006. And I can say confidently that this is probably the best “Show” yet. The upgrades to seemingly minor elements like ball mechanics and outfield camera angles produce a much smoother diamond experience. The simplistic new retro mode is a fun way to get nongamers involved in the action, and the addition of a narrative to my cherished Road to the Show mode finally catches “The Show” up with other sports franchises in terms of storyline experimentation.

But first, allow me to throw some triple-digit shade. Dan Plesac may have had an 18-year major league career in real life, but I pray his time in “The Show” is short-lived. His commentary is terrible. Matt Vasgersian, the franchise’s longtime play-by-play announcer, is fantastic. It is still my life’s goal to get him to yell “Santa Maria!” as much as possible. Harold Reynolds is a decent addition as a color commentator, but Plesac simply can’t be helped. His lines aren’t funny or useful. In fact, Plesac’s lines sound like they were recorded underwater in 1975. There’s a noticeable downgrade in audio quality whenever he speaks, and it’s distracting.

With that unpleasantness behind us, let’s loop back to the good stuff.

The biggest changes in this year’s “Show” occurred in its namesake mode, Road to the Show. Players now have to guide their created rookie through several off-the-field interactions, such as dealing with your team’s manager, your agent and those bloodsuckers in the media. It’s a nice update that adds a bit more customization and realism to a solid mode. The story-driven career modes in the “NBA 2K” and “FIFA” franchises are still a ways ahead of “The Show,” but some progress is better than none.

I also loved the changes to how the ball jumps off the bat. According to Sony San Diego, the baseball in previous versions reacted to hitting the bat much like it would react to hitting a wall. But a baseball bat is not flat, and any fan of the old game can tell you that a rounded bat causes the ball to jump off the bat with all kinds of crazy spin and speed.

“MLB The Show 17” sought to capture that unpredictability, and it largely succeeded. The balls are much more lively, which lead to a rewarding batting experience and a trickier time in the field – both good things.

The player camera in Road to the Show is a bit better, specifically when shifting to an overhead view as your outfielder nears the wall. I used to miss fly balls because the camera should shift, thus changing the controls. It’s a lot sleeker now.

The latest “Show” also brings new fielding animations which are meant to more accurately simulate a player going through the motions of fielding, transferring and throwing the ball. I don’t notice much of a difference. I also found that sometimes my player would freeze or get choppy for a second or two while trying to field, which seems like something that needs to be cleaned up.

I was playing “MLB The Show 16” up until just last week, so I can say confidently that there wasn’t much of a graphics upgrade on my regular PS4. It could be different for PS4 Pro players, but this is something to keep in mind for those of you who, like me, have resisted spending $400 on a half console.

Not that the graphics look bad. They still hold up pretty well, and upgrades to menu screens, cameras and physics do create a slightly different playing experience.

In all, “MLB The Show 17” is a solid upgrade. It’s not a world-beater, but it certainly lives up to the quality resumé created by its forefathers. I don’t envy sports game developers because they have to try and do something with a core concept that hasn’t changed. Baseball has been largely the same for 150 years, so you can’t really expect Sony San Diego to create a game in which the bats are replaced with laser guns and bloodthirsty aliens roam the outfield.

Wait. That’s good – really good. That could be a million-dollar idea. Forget you saw that. Stop reading. This was all a dream.

MLB The Show 17

Video Game Review

1/2

▪ Rated everyone

▪ Developer: Sony San Diego

▪ Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4

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