Few annual releases have been as consistent as Sony San Diego Studio’s MLB The Show. Each year the PlayStation-exclusive baseball game manages to deliver a polished experience that improves on the last. The lack of plateauing is especially impressive due to how little competition there is, as it’s not competing against games from 2K or Electronic Arts.
The years of polish really show in every aspect of MLB The Show 18, from the preloading of throws for fielding to the three different types of pitching. Whether you’re looking for the most nuance of any baseball game out there or looking for something more simple and reminiscent of PS2-era titles, there’s a control scheme that will work in your favor.
The Show 18 doesn’t feature anything truly groundbreaking, but there’s a lot of refinement. Animation is one big area from past titles that has been cleaned up further, and there’s a staggering amount of new animations that help bring the baseball action to life. The recognizable batting stances are all here, but it’s the little details and making sure that even the second-string catcher is accurate really makes for an immersive baseball game.
The most impressive aspect of this year’s game is how it handles progression and difficulty. While there are traditional difficulty levels to choose from, players can also use an adaptive difficulty that will change how hard the game is based upon your play. This is separated into every dimension of the game (from pitching to fielding), so if you’re striking out constantly it’ll make hitting easier while you come to grips with it. It’s really a brilliant system that makes sure players are always challenged while never overly frustrated, and an in-game experience system ties the entire game together to reward good play.
The mode I spent the most time with was the Road to the Show mode, which has players making their way from the minor leagues to a top-tier club. It’s an incredibly long affair and simply making it to the majors is a real accomplishment, but the game does a good job of making games shorter by only focusing on plays where your created player is involved. For example, my right fielder would only see action whenever a ball was hit my way or I was up to bat. That distilled baseball games to around 10 plays, rather than nine innings of action.
It’s definitely a slog to achieve your dream of playing for the Yankees, but it’s one that really mirrors the actual schedule. These are athletes who play 162 games per year, and it really gives the player a real respect for their consistency day in and day out. Games can be skipped and simulated, but if players want the best progression they’ll want to be controlling their characters as their on-field performance directly impacts how their skills improve as a prospect. It’s one of the best create-a-player modes I’ve seen in a sports game, and Sony San Diego Studio really nailed it this year.
Beyond the Road to the Show and the obligatory franchise mode, the big focus is the Ultimate Team-esque Diamond Dynasty mode, which has players collecting players as they build their own team. I’ve never been a huge fan of these modes, but there are some cool tweaks that make this slightly more interesting. For one, there’s a Conquest mode that basically turns the game into a baseball-themed Risk, where battles are won and lost on the baseball field, and there are a bunch of legendary players that can be unlocked. It still never really clicked to me to where I’ll continue playing it, but that’s totally a personal thing rather than an indictment of the design.
There’s one huge elephant in the room when talking about MLB The Show 18, though. That’s the online servers, which have been erratically offline since the game launched. That kills a majority of the non-career focused modes such as Diamond Dynasty and the weekly challenge. These are unacceptable problems to be having at launch, and it sours an otherwise stellar experience.
It’s really too bad that MLB The Show 18 launched in its current state. Nearly everything about the game, from how it handles difficulty to making sure every part of baseball feels dynamic, is handled brilliantly and is the result of years of hard work coming together. That amount of polish makes it all the more jarring that Sony has failed to get the online working right after so many iterations of this yearly series. It very well might be the best baseball game ever made, but it has to come with a huge asterisk at the moment.
MLB The Show 18 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.04 reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.