“Ain’t the beer cold!” That is a catchphrase I hear often from Baltimore Orioles TV broadcaster, Gary Thorne, when the O’s are winning. The phrase was originally said by former Orioles TV broadcaster, Chuck Thompson. This is now a phrase you may hear me say on occasion during my regular visits to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I know this has nothing to do with a video game but it should show you how much I enjoy watching baseball. Because of this, I have very high expectations for a video game that is suppose to simulate playing a game of baseball. There are so many details that I look for to remind me of how it was like at the age of 13, being at the plate with two outs and a runner in scoring position late in the game. However, year after year, San Diego Studio delivers an epic baseball experience. Everything from being on the field to running an entire organization, MLB The Show 17 gets what is it like to be in those roles and does an excellent of letting you play those roles.
Playing a game of baseball in MLB The Show 17 is absolutely breathtaking. The gameplay is once again stellar and does well to simulate what real at bats look like. There are the different hitting and pitching modes from past years like directional or zone hitting that give you just enough flexibility on how you prefer to play without breaking the experience. I prefer zone hitting because I like to try and cheat on where I think the location of the next pitch will be. Others may like directional hitting because it’s a little bit easier to control where you want to hit the ball. In pitching, I prefer classic, the one with the meter and the three button presses, but pulse pitching allows for much of the same control without having to focus on timing of button presses. I love the flexibility MLB The Show offers its players to allow for anyone of any skill level to play.
The presentation has hit another level of polish from previous games. The revamped commentary from Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac is really good. Alongside series regular Matt Vasgersian, they add a breath of fresh air to a team that was starting to become stale. The team at San Diego Studio really took time to address face textures and animations. Player faces have never looked better and add to the realism when playing. All the reworked animations are nice too and feel more fluid. There were times in previous games where I had to try to trigger a certain animation in fly ball situations to allow my outfielder the best chance to catch the ball. This year, I feel there is an animation for every situation or movement to eliminate some of those errors that would be caused by the game and not you. Nothing is more frustrating than losing a game because the game didn’t do something it should have. I’m glad to say those days are long gone. The game has real life ball physics now, which adds a level of realism I didn’t think was possible. I can’t describe how much it impacts the game other then to say its amazingly real. It’s incredible watching all the types of base hits in real life or on TV then turning on this game and seeing all the same hits. Overall, playing a game of MLB The Show feels and looks great and its very hard for any other sports sim game to beat it.
There are three main game modes in MLB The Show 17. The one that received the most attention and new content this year is Road to the Show. This mode is all about taking a created player from scout games before the draft to the end of their career. This mode has always been a favorite of mine and that trend continues. Road to the Show received a slight revamp in some story and decision elements with Pave Your Path. There is now a narrator that describes every decision you make as if the story of your career is being told in a documentary. These decisions allow your player to have a sense of personality. You can decide to be a straightforward, take care of business guy, or you can create the next high profile athlete. The decisions haven’t impacted my journey as much as I like it to, but they are still fun to have in the game. The first steps have been taken to completely overhaul this mode though. I look at the MyCareer mode in NBA 2K and see where the bar is at. In MyCareer, your performance impacts your teammates and your morale, which influences relationships with ownership and coaches. With The Show adding in this new story/decision system, I can easily see where San Diego Studio wants to take this mode over the next year or two. In its own package though, Road to the Show is a great mode that showcases the path to and through the majors and hopefully into Cooperstown.
While not a complete overhaul like Road to the Show this year, franchise mode received a couple updates. Playing franchise mode in past titles is a time sink if you want full control of the organization. Each game is about an hour long and there 162 games in a season. That’s just in-game too. I’m not counting the hours managing your rosters all the way to your single A teams. That’s a lot of time to get through one season. You could simulate games, but that never felt satisfying because you weren’t really influencing the outcome of that one game.
This year, The Show gives us new tools to give you more control, but get you through a season much faster. There is the new critical situations simulation. This will let the game simulate through your season until a crucial moment occurs. When this happens, a screen pops up displaying the situation you are getting yourself into. The new feature will let you hop into games and control your team through the situation and the game. The moments happen every couple of games and give a wide variety of situations. You could attempt a late inning comeback or try to extend a hitting streak of a player. There are enough situations to make it feel like you’re playing a different situation every time.
The other key addition to this mode is managing a game. It’s another way of simulating that gives you control of the game without playing the game. It gives you all the options you would want when managing a game like going to the bullpen when you feel its needed or asking a player to try to sacrifice an out for a run. You can get through a game in about five minutes, but you have the option of hopping in and out of a game at any time. It went from taking 162 hours to about 5 hours to finish a season. This way of simulating is amazing and has brought me back to wanting to play through a franchise mode again. All these new features are great but what makes them better is being able to bring your saves from MLB The Show 16 to this mode and Road to the Show. It’s really nice being able to bring all the hours spent in last year’s game to this one with all the new features at your disposal including Pave Your Path in Road to the Show.
Diamond Dynasty received some nice additions too. This mode’s big overhaul came between two years ago and last year so nothing drastic was added. This year they added new legend and rookie cards to the game to let you collect and go on the field with. Events were added as well to encourage extreme lineup changes. For instance, the last event I played in only allowed for right handed batters and left handed pitchers which encourages you to use cards you probably never would otherwise. The big change I noticed though was the online infrastructure. I always found the online play to be laggy and unenjoyable, but this year I’ve had little to no problems with that. Because of this, Diamond Dynasty has become my most played mode. There are some menu interface things that could be refined, like not being able to sell a card right from the team management screen, but these are minor things that a patch later in the summer could probably fix. Playing baseball online again is so much fun and getting to showoff my baseball IQ is highly enjoyable.
The last big addition San Diego Studio put into their baseball game is Retro Mode. It brings back the old days of playing something like Roger Clemson’s MVP Baseball on the SNES. It simplifies the game to become more accessible and there are different options that allow for more retro looks and sounds. It’s a little jarring at first to have the animations in this game in the retro style, but you get over that quickly. The mode is a nice addition that’s there for local multiplayer purposes but beyond that it doesn’t offer much. You can’t use this mode in franchise mode or Road to the Show. It also can’t be played online against others. I wish that it could be used in those areas, but it’s not game breaking that it doesn’t.
MLB The Show 17 is a very nice package for baseball fans of any kind. The level of detail in-game is truly remarkable and makes playing the game a ton of fun. I like all the things San Diego Studio is doing with their game modes. Diamond Dynasty and franchise mode are near perfect packages, while Road to the Show is a year or two away from being there. I’m not going to be giving this game a perfect score but with the direction this game is heading, I would not be shocked to see me doing that in next year’s version.