MLB 15: The Show Review – Hitting the Sweet Spot

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The baseball season is in full swing so that means it’s time for SCE San Diego Studio’s newest addition to the PlayStation exclusive series MLB 15: The Show. Did they knock it out of the park or was it a swing and a miss?

The MLB: The Show series has been around since 2006 and has set the bar every year for what a Major League Baseball video game should be. With an annual release every year since its inception, one has to wonder if they can keep adding new stuff to make it worthy of a new buy every year or if they are just releasing a roster update.

The core experience of the game hasn’t changed much over the years, as baseball is baseball and the game hasn’t changed much in over a century. MLB 15: The Show has done a great job of staying on top of what has changed like instant replay and MLB’s new challenge system. While the replay system was in place previously for home runs, the new challenge system gives you a chance to see a quick replay, with a clock ticking down, and decide if you want to challenge a close play at a base. Win the challenge and you’ll not only reap the benefit of the correct call, but you’ll get a shiny new trophy the first time you win a challenge as well.

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Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes umps are wrong

When you first fire up the game, if it’s still installing, you’ll be thrown into a match-up between the Giants and the Royals. The game install is almost 40GB on the PS4, and you’ll have an install bar in the top left to let you know when you can exit, but playing KC @ SF  is a pretty good match-up and  there’s a reason why Madison Bumgarner won the World Series MVP award: the dude can deal. Playing through the game will also introduce you to some of the new bells and whistles MLB 15: The Show brings to the plate.

The first thing we noticed while at AT&T Park was that the shadows and lighting were much more defined and fit the time of day better. As a frequent visitor to the real park, the replication in-game is almost as real as being there, and that is one of the best parks in the game. Shadows are also based on the seasonal position of the sun, so those long shadows of April become much shorter once the dog days of Summer roll around. Not that the time of year matters in San Francisco, as it seems to be colder there in the Summer and warmer in the Fall.

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As a batter, recognizing a pitch hasn’t always been a simple task in a video game. The physics behind each pitch type is determined in real life by the pitchers grip, which in turn puts a certain spin on the baseball (unless it’s a knuckle-ball and a good one of those has zero spin). Recognizing a pitch has become a little easier and the way the ball breaks on some pitches is more realistic, giving analog batters a better chance of making contact since they’ll have a better idea of where in the zone the ball will end up.

Directional hitting has been included with the series for some time but was only available prior to the pitch. Now it can be used dynamically and is more well defined and discussed. Whether you are bunting for a base hit, or just trying to move a runner into scoring position, being able to lay down a bunt up the third base line can be a key to victory, and using the left analog stick makes this a much easier proposition. Grounding a ball to the right side to move a runner to third is also a little easier this time around thanks to that same hit direction system. You can also influence deep fly balls to try for a sac fly if you have a runner on third with less than two outs.

Going the other way

Going the other way with an outside fastball

Another nice addition to the series this year is a welcome RPG element that comes with the addition of licensed equipment for your Road to the Show characters and name brand Franchise mode sponsors. These equipment pieces each have their own stat boosters for things like extra power at the plate, better contact as a hitter, or more K’s per 9 innings for your pitcher.

Items include bats, batting gloves, shoes and a selection of pregame rituals that can boost your stats as well. Items are unlocked as you play through different mods of the game, but each item can be used elsewhere regardless of where you unlocked it. Unlock a Louisville Slugger with your RTTS Pitcher and you can use that same bat, and its PWR +2 & CON +2 with any other RTTS guy you may have in the works.

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One of the biggest, and most requested improvements (I have personally emailed and asked for this every year since 2008) is the ability to import your MLB 14: The Show game saves into MLB 15: The Show. If you have a guy that you took from Double-A all the way to The Show in MLB 14, you’ll be able to pick up that career where you left off and continue your (Hall of Fame?) career. No more will you have to start a new guy off in the minors every year as all of his stats and player progression will be merged right into MLB 15 as long as you have the game save on your console and choose to continue from MLB 14 when you load up a RTTS guy.

You can also carry over your MLB 14 Franchise game saves. With the addition of General Manager Contracts, you now have to consider Ownership Expectations when running your team, and your performance will determine the job offers that come your way. Building a championship-caliber team is has a a few added layers of depth with the new Performance-based Player Progression, as well as much improved Trade and Contract logic. Partner up with Brand Sponsors, giving your broadcast elements an official sponsor and earn some extra dough to spend on your team.

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The MLB: The Show series has always been one of the best looking games on the market, sports or otherwise, and MLB 15: The Show continues that trend. Skin tones are more true-to-life, with more realistic facial hair motion, alongside new player animations that mimic their real life counter-parts. Pitcher arm motions and delivery are more true-to-life with an added slide step feature that can be used when you have runners on base to quicken that delivery to the plate.

Diamond Dynasty, the card based team building mode, is melted down to its core. Now driven by just a handful of systems, it is much more accessible and less daunting to manage. Driven heavily by a new collection based management system, everyone is building a Diamond Dynasty team just by playing any mode in MLB The Show. You are rewarded new player cards for doing many things, and we have even been rewarded just for firing up the game.

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The series has partnered with the MLB Player’s Alumni Association to make a total of 30 Legends playable in MLB 15 The Show for the Diamond Dynasty mode. Collect an entire MLB team, and you’ll unlock an iconic alumni player from that team. There’s one from each team, and though you’ll have to find or unlock the card to slot them into your Dynasty squad, you can simply opt in to utilizing the whole pool of Legends in your Franchise mode.

MLB 15: The Show brings with it some nice bells and whistles, with graphic improvements in every aspect of the game and a much appreciated RPG RTTS system. If you’re a fan of baseball and own a PlayStation product, you owe it to yourself to own some version of this game.