America’s pastime is long past its glory days. No longer is Major League Baseball the force that is was during the last century, with the flashier NFL and NBA brands having usurped baseball as the most popular sports in North America. There is still, however, a large and dedicated fan base (which I’m certainly apart of) that loves to watch their team for 162 games a year and all of the history and ambience that it brings. When it comes to video games these comparisons are really one in the same. As the only major simulation style baseball game on the market, Sony San Diego has been asleep at the wheel in terms of innovation when compared to its sports genre competitors. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a good game of baseball to be had in The Show because there is, but its peers, from NBA 2K to Madden and recently the FIFA series are doing better and more creative things in the sports games ecosystem and are beginning to lap The Show as the shining bastion of sport franchises that it once was.
The biggest and most hyped mode in The Show has and will always be the Road to the Show since the game’s introduction way back on PS2. In 2006 it was a novel and inventive idea to take a user-created player through the trials and tribulations of a team’s farm system and finally make to the big leagues as a September call up. In 2017, however, that magic is lost after years of basically revamping and retooling the same basic system. In MLB The Show 17, Sony San Diego has tried to spice this up with the Pave Your Path system, but it all seems like an inferior version of the NBA 2K series’ MyCareer and FIFA 17’s The Journey. Making choices about position changes and other bureaucratic decisions isn’t compelling with no voice acting, no real character development from your player, teammates or executives around you. Couple this with the cheesy documentary style narration that tells your story and the Pave Your Path addition makes you feel like you’re taking part in an episode of BBC’s Planet Earth rather than the interesting story of a Major-leaguer.
Aside from the pitfalls in the storytelling department, the changes made to the gameplay and makeup of the mode are solid. The subtle gameplay changes that make fielding more than just a crap shoot helped me get into playing on both sides of the ball. Micromanaging skills and abilities is a well done for the most part, but the often-obtuse UI present did stand in the way of fully enjoying the RPG elements. Other features like year-to-year saves are a significant stand out from Madden’s create-a-player mode, but overall Road to the Show is a step back from what its contemporaries are doing.
Another area where The Show 17 fails to live up to its peers is its microtransaction-laden Diamond Dynasty mode which falls far beneath EA’s Ultimate Team modes in nearly every instance. To start, the lack of a definitive seasons mode and competitive structure makes building up a team feel a lot less rewarding than being able to climb up the ranks in Madden or FIFA’s Ultimate Team modes. Couple this with weaker card collecting mechanics than even FIFA or NBA 2K and it shows just how seemingly halfhearted some of the key features to a sports game have been cobbled together by Sony San Diego.
The icing on top, however, is the place where The Show 17 is able to keep up with its rivals: the eye roll inducing microtransaction system. The best players in the game are locked behind what is essentially a pay wall unless you’re willing to devote every second to Diamond Dynasty. This is extra deflating when combined with the fact that Major League Baseball has by far more history than the other four major American sports. This would seemingly allow The Show fails to make historical players a huge selling point for Diamond Dynasty. Nevertheless, they too are basically obtainable through in-game currency, which dilutes their inclusion to fleeting thoughts of how many hours would I have to devote to this before I could actually get Ted Williams, that for the most part, taints the whole experience.
That all being said, in this sea of negatives that’s been painted, there are some bastions of positivity in The Show 17 and the saving grace is they mostly comes from the biggest component to a sports game: the gameplay. Pitching is simply yet effective and connecting with a ball at the plate is satisfying. A baseball game is an interlocking system of mini games and The Show nails each one of these perfectly. Each element from stealing a base, turning two, picking off a runner and everything in between is fluid and perfect at encapsulating what makes baseball a beautiful game.
Animations have also been improved so as to not to interfere with basic in game situations. No longer are shortstops holding onto balls a few extra seconds to allow a runner to leg out an infield single. Instead, animation shift fluidly and allow you to feel much more in control with a number of fielding situations. Swings, throws and catches are seemingly more true to life and make a heck of an impression in the way playing the field feels and looks.
In addition to the gameplay changes, the presentation on display in The Show is unmatched by anyone, save the NHL franchise. The integration of MLB Network displays in games give an added sense of realism that fake mock ups of presentation elements lack. Combine this with the terrific commentating from the trio of Matt Vasgersian, Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac do a great job of breaking down the action and are some of the most responsive commentary that I’ve ever heard in a game.
Retro Mode is also introduced this year and while it’s not a huge standout it does deserve a bit of praise for what it brings to the table. Being able to quickly jump into a sports game is a big deterrent for a number of people and having a mode that cuts out all of the extra fluff from years of improvements is a commendable venture that hopefully will get maybe a few old timers to give it a try. It’s not super deep by design and while that might a be turn off to the hardcore, having it around for parties and get togethers isn’t such a bad thing.
Just like its real-life counterpart, MLB The Show 17 has become antiquated by today’s standards. Novel ideas that it once spearheaded have grown into tired old clichés that other franchises have expanded and improved upon. The Show 17 is fundamentally sound, but doesn’t move the sports genre forward. It will appease longtime fans that flock to it year after year, but until the series does something remarkably different, it’ll fall short of being able to stand out of the pack. This year’s version of The Show does a lackluster job of making it seem like anything more than a yearly roster update built upon the same foundation of last year’s game and that is by far the heaviest critique that can be handed down to any yearly sports title.