With a sharp crack of the bat, the 2019 baseball season is already upon us. Oddly enough, baseball is the one sport where we, as PlayStation players, have a dramatic advantage over other gaming platforms. Unless you’re interested in slumming it in the ghettos of R.B.I. Baseball 2019, there really isn’t any alternative for those poor, unfortunate souls on the Xbox or Switch. Fortunately, those of us on the PS4 are treated to the one true baseball simulation available on the market. MLB The Show 19 has returned to flash the leather and once again prove why they are the only “Show” in town.
MLB The Show 19 Review – Iteration or Innovation?
The most consistent aspects of The Show, year-in and year-out, has been the series’ dedication to iteration. Rarely are you going to see a season where the core mechanics have been reworked from the ground up. As solid as the brand continues to be, the argument could be made that massive amounts of change haven’t been necessary for a vast majority of the console generation. For this reason, the focus becomes providing new ways to interact with the existing gameplay in both new and interesting ways.
One of the biggest outcries from last year was the absence of any form of a season mode. Quite frankly, for any sports game to remove a season mode seems like the definition of insanity. Yet here we are, one year later and looking down the barrel of the newly minted “March to October” mode. Essentially, this is what amounts to the Reader’s Digest version of an MLB season. This SparkNotes approach to a team’s trudge to the post-season is likely going to get a mixed reception, at best.
For one, many of the detail-oriented aspects of the sport have been stripped away, in favor of the ability to zoom through 162 games in a handful of sessions. For folks like myself who appreciate the minutia of fielding a competitive team for six consecutive months, this approach was, at least initially, rather off-putting. The quick runtime was accomplished by simply stripping out the need to play every moment of every game. Instead, the player is treated to a hand-picked sub-section of events over the span of the year, buffered by commentary from the game’s new sideline announcer, Heidi Watney. After the scenario has been laid out, it’s up to the player to meet the necessary objectives. Missions are a combination of full-team and single-player situations, that not only dynamically morph throughout the year, but also have far-reaching implications on the team’s performance during the numerous spurts of simulated events.
While I tepidly like the concept of a curated mini-campaign, it certainly falls well short of what I was hoping to find. The highly pared-back nature of the experience made the completion of a full season far less gratifying than I would’ve hoped. Yes, I realize that is a very subjective observation, but there was always a fulfilling sense of accomplishment to surviving through a long year of baseball. That gratification simply isn’t there when you can blow through an entire season in a matter of hours.
MLB The Show 19 Review – Bring the Past to Life
What’s more, the “Moments” mode, which is the other substantial addition in this season’s installment of The Show, seems to piggy back off of this functionality in a variety of different ways. The core crux of the mode is being able to play through numerous scenarios throughout the history of the sport, in order to re-live these events first-hand. These memories are not only reserved to a single team’s accomplishments. In fact, there are season, team, and career-based mission sets.
A perfect example of these scenarios would be those pertaining to the career of Babe Ruth. Many seem to forget that while “The Sultan of Swat” was an enormously prolific batter, he actually debuted in the majors as an highly accomplished pitcher. As such, players are first tasked with playing through his MLB debut from the mound. In order to progress, you must complete at least seven innings, while allowing less than eight hits and four runs. I can only assume that this mission lines up with The Babe’s first-ever box score, which is a small dose of brilliance and admirable attention to detail.
In another interesting nod to authenticity, several of the moments that pre-date color recordings will actually take place with a black and white filter applied to all of the visuals. While I understand what they were trying to accomplish by dramatically muting the palette, the immersion was broken almost immediately when you realize that games were taking place in the respective team’s current home stadium. Nothing screams 1920s like a RedSox.com advertisement behind homeplate, am I right?
Also, the fact that a majority of these scenarios consist of competing against the unnamed, “Red Sox Shortstop” instead of an actual player, was slightly disappointing. I’m not asking for full player likenesses to be scanned into the game, but would it have hurt them to at least pull in player names from a box score? Yes, I realize that’s extremely nitpicky on my part, but if they were already planning to hang their hat on the authenticity of reliving events, it would’ve been appreciated to see them go all-in on the concept.
MLB The Show 19 Review – Which Came First?
It’s hard to say which came first, the chicken or the egg, but it certainly seems like a majority of the back-end technology advancements necessary for “Moments,” were likely repurposed in some form to cobble together the “March to October” mode. After all, both consist of a curated set of events that have clearly defined objectives, which can be applied at both a team and player level. There’s nothing wrong with that, per say, but it certainly seems to cheapen things a bit when you realize that in many respects these two modes are essentially slight permutations on the same damn functionality.
Thankfully, the core of what everyone has grown to know and love about this stalwart diamond juggernaut is still very much present. The development team also went as far as attempting to address their well-documented deficiencies in the defensive fielding department. That said, despite the addition of several new tweaks to player reactions and an enhanced animation system, there are still plenty of scenarios where characters would either make odd AI decisions or animate in a decidedly unnatural manner. This is a substantial enhancement over the last outing, but there’s still plenty of work to be done to bring the defensive side of the field into parity with the offensive side of the ball.
Another area that continues to be a standout, almost despite itself at this point, is “Road to the Show” mode. While I make no bones about it being my single favorite aspect of the franchise damn near every season, it’s starting to grow a bit long in the tooth. The one standout addition to the most recent go-round is the introduction of dynamic challenges. At several points over the course of a game, the player will be asked to choose between one of a handful of different possible mini-missions. These challenges have increasing levels of difficulty, which will usually pay out in higher EXP rates upon successful completion.
While this injection of competitive variety is a welcome addition to the mode, it’s hard to shake the feeling that RTTS is in serious need of a revamp. I realize that I’ll likely come to regret this statement when they actually get around to redesigning the mode, because the usual trajectory for a franchise like this is taking one step backwards before taking several steps forward. However, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s about time to see if they can deliver an experience that’s more exciting and engaging as players progress through the development stages in the Minor Leagues. It feels like the actual “road” to the show has gotten much shorter, in favor of throwing players more quickly into a Major League career. It’s almost like they’ve lost sight of what originally made this mode so special.
For all the complaints that I have about this year’s installment of MLB The Show, it’s still easily the most comprehensive and gratifying sports title on the market. When at its best, no one can hold a candle to the authenticity and refined gameplay, perfected over numerous years spent iterating and listening to their audience. My criticisms come from a place of a hardcore fan that wants the development team to aspire to do more than just meeting the status quo. Though I’m disappointed in the overall lack of innovation this season, it can still stand on its own as a fantastic baseball experience. Don’t let my nit-picky ass prevent you from stepping to the plate in what’s undoubtedly the best baseball game ever released.
MLB The Show 19 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.