It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so genuinely split about a game like I am right now with MLB 15: The Show. Before getting into the nitty gritty with this review, my opinion of the title really boils down to a single string of thought: MLB 15: The Show is a genuinely great baseball game that hasn’t seen enough innovation.
I feel like this cliche has been vastly applied to all sorts of sporting affairs, and its use ranges from warranted to unnecessary across titles over every genre of sport. I hate that I’m leaning on it here with my criticism of this game, and I don’t want to turn MLB 15: The Show into a terrible experience because of it, but the lack of innovation is glaring.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. With the slow and gradual warmth of the US this year comes the release of yet another entry in what’s become one of the best sporting titles on the market. Opening Day was yesterday, and I’m really happy to have MLB 15: The Show in my life as summer’s game rolls in. There are changes here, but they’re subtle, and that might frustrate more than a few fans.
That Beautiful Baseball Feeling
Aesthetically speaking, it could easily be argued that MLB 15: The Show is one of the best looking sports games on the market. That’s been the case since its inception, and it continues to impress on the PlayStation 4.
Perhaps, the disparity between The Show and, well, everything else isn’t as big as it was on the PlayStation 3, but the PlayStation 4 version of the game still looks fantastic. It’s just not as fantastic as it was when it was the most gorgeous PS3 game by leaps and bounds.
Graphically speaking, though, only a few changes have been made. The most noticeable is the stadium lighting. Seasons and time of day actually affect the way the sun lights the field during day games, and night games feature entirely new lighting as well.
Stadiums look really, really great here. Maybe I’ll catch some flak for this, but I love where the Orioles play. There’s some homer-ism happening, but I genuinely think Camden Yards is one of the best stadiums in baseball. It looks wonderful on display in The Show this year, and I’d imagine a lot of fans will say the same about their favorite team’s stomping grounds.
What really sells MLB 15: The Show and its baseball tone isn’t just the lighting, better rendering and better player detail. It’s the fact that no studio quite gets the feeling of actually being at a sporting event quite like SCE San Diego Studio. They absolutely nail the emotion of baseball games, whether its the meaningless ones, the glory of opening day, or nail-biters in late playoff runs.
The pace of the games, which can be tweaked and skipped, is slow and lazy, and even playing them feels like a relaxing day at the ballpark. No other series does this as well, and regardless of the fresh-coat-of-paint mentality here, MLB 15 The Show is still the best at delivering sport emotion.
A Pile of Subtle Tweaks
This is where the biggest problems for The Show lie in 2015. It’s a game that consists more of subtle tweaks than full on innovation. If you’re a year-to-year purchaser, these tweaks might not be big enough to drive you to the store.
Then again, there’s always the chance that SCE San Diego altered the one or two things that you wanted altered most. So it goes with annual sports series like this one. Changing too much would throw the title’s success into jeopardy, so subtle tweaks are the name of the game.
This year, the biggest of the subtle really fell into three categories for me. Hitting has changed, Dynasty mode works better and the actual AI emotion is much more compelling.
With hitting, I vastly prefer button presses over the analog sticks. I’ve been that way with this series for a while now, and that’s how I continued here. The hitting system in MLB 15: The Show offers a new directional interface that brings a lot more strategy into play while at home plate. You can actually adjust the angle of your swing with the left stick as you take a crack at pitches. You can push the ball into right field or gaps in the infield if you use the L-Stick, though there is a learning curve here. If you don’t touch the stick, it boils down to timing. If you’re late on the swing, for instance, you’ll push the ball out.
Then there’s the Dynasty mode. Yes, it features micro-transactions if you want to stock up on cards, but you’re constantly working towards building your team over every mode you play. You can be putting hours and hours into Road to the Show as you work through the minors, but you’ll still unlock cards for Dynasty mode whenever you decide to head there.
If you’re a Dynasty player, this is huge. No time spent in the game feels wasted if you’re trying to build an incredible team, and that’s great news for fans who play this game all year long.
Then there’s player and team emotion. Of the big subtle tweaks, this one was one of my favorites. Players, teams and even the crowd react differently throughout games and in situations. If, say, you’re hitting in a full count with two outs away and you pop an easy infield fly, you’ll trot to first based with a slouched, depressed run. Sad? Sure, but it makes the game feel more alive.
The value of changes like this is going to vary on a player to player basis. You might look at these adjustments and think SCE San Diego didn’t do enough. Or, you might see them and think that this studio spent time in all the right places. That’s why I’m so split here. Part of me feels like I’m playing the same game I did last year with a few tweaks and better lighting, another part of me is really happy that SCE San Diego changed what they did while leaving other stuff relatively untouched.
The Hitting and Pitching Tug of War
What really works well here in MLB 15: The Show, partially thanks to the aforementioned directional hitting system, is the gameplay on the mound and on the plate. Every single at-bat feels dramatic, and that goes for both playing the pitcher and batter.
When pitching, The Show has this great way of amplifying difficulty when you screw up. Taking the mound is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and when you walk a batter, bean him or throw an easy pitch that leads to a massive hit, a lot of stress mounts up. The game amplifies this by making pitching harder after you screw up, and that creates a real fear of performing poorly.
For hitters, and especially during the Road to the Show, you’re constantly reminded of the situation at hand. Whether you’ve had a great string of at-bats over several games or you’re facing a two strikes while in scoring position and a hitting lull, the announcers make sure you know. They’ll berate you for chasing bad pitches, and they’ll swell any moment of drama up immensely.
All of this adds up to taking the basic element of pitching and hitting in baseball and giving it a lot of weight. Batters are trying to read pitchers, guess pitches and strategically place balls in the field. Pitchers are trying to prevent a mountain of mistakes that leads to massive inning defensive skids. Pitching and hitting are hard, and that’s awesome.
Online Play, Loading Screens and Longterm Value
MLB 15 The Show Review - Rounding the Bases (PS4)
As for the likes of online play and loading screens, I found MLB 15: The Show to be much better. The online games I did play arrived without much lag at all. That’s good news. I still encountered a few dropped games, and I don’t know if that’s because other players quit or the servers gave up on me. It happened, and even with a loss of lag, it’s worth noting.
The loading screens felt much, much shorter to me this year. I kind of hated playing RTTS last year as, say, a shortstop, because I’d go whole games with only like three at-bats and maybe one or two plays and then I’d be forced through several long loading screens. Those quick games still happen, but the loading in between doesn’t feel nearly as grueling.
The long term value of The Show this year is really where I personally start to question the method of applying subtle gameplay tweaks over full overhauls. I want more modes, quite frankly. As good as Road to the Show and Dynasty mode are here, I really want some new ways to play this classic game. Maybe I’m crazy, I don’t know, but I’d love to see a bonkers arcade mode. Something odd and offbeat that shakes up the core play without removing it.
MLB 15: The Show is a wonderful game. Now that baseball is in swing, this virtual experience will complement my summer of watching games perfectly. I know that. I also know that the game does suffer from that fresh-coat-of-paint sports game syndrome. If you like the subtle changes applied, you’ll be fine with this entry, if it’s not enough for you then I imagine you’ll be yelling about how this should have been a free roster update.
Now, if you’re new to PlayStation with the PlayStation 4 and you love baseball? Get MLB 15: The Show. There isn’t much to complain about for new players at all.
A review code for MLB 15 The Show was provided by the publisher for the PS Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.