With the release of R.B.I. Baseball 16, we are officially into year three of MLB Advanced Media’s reboot effort. After being resurrected in less than stellar condition, the series managed to make several strides forward last season. In the real-life world of sports, year three tends to be a make or break year, and for this baseball franchise, it’s no different. Since it rose to modern standards in 2015, theoretically, this year’s effort would continue to move forward.
Falling more in line with the non-licensed Super Mega Baseball than MLB: The Show, R.B.I. Baseball is a simplistic, arcade-like take on the sport. As such, all aspects of the game have been simplified down to their core essentials. In fact, you could realistically get away with playing through an entire game with only using the analog sticks and a single button. This is a title designed purely for casual play, and to go in expecting any sort of deeper experience will only lead to disappointment.
Having grown up on the likes of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, I’m all for MLB Advanced Media’s easy-going take on the sport of the baseball. What does irk me, though, is the fact that none of the players really feel that different from each other.
Batting is the side of the game that at least feels like it has some variety. Thanks to the improved engine, timing plays a larger role in determining success this year. It’s also easy to feel the difference between a power hitter such as Todd Frazier, and a contact hitter like Jose Altuve.
Pitchers get a worse deal, though, as the lack of pitch variety means everyone has the same tools to use. To use an example, in real-life, pitchers R.A. Dickey and Chris Sale have little in common, outside of the fact they are both getting paid. In R.B.I. Baseball, though, they play exactly the same, outside of Sale throwing with a little more heat. With no pitch variety, you lose out on getting to utilize the pitches that make Dickey and Sale such threats on the mound.
It’s also hard to shake the feeling that R.B.I. Baseball 16 feels like an almost direct re-relase of last year’s release. Outside of the requisite roster update, there really aren’t a ton of changes made to the gameplay this year. The biggest addition is the ability of outfielders to dive and jump for the ball, but even that feels like an afterthought. Strangely, you don’t control when the fielder jumps or dives, as the A.I. does it automatically. Most of the changes this year come in either improvements to the A.I. or through the use of advanced stats to monitor your team. I’ve ragged on The Show for feeling stagnant at times, but man, this feels way too similar.
Much like last year’s effort, R.B.I. Baseball 16 is pretty slim when it comes to mode variety. The same batch of standard modes (Exhibition, Season, Post-Season and Online), all return for another go. While Exhibition and Online are mostly the same, Season and Post-Season do feature some minor changes. The ability to modify game lineups is a plus, as is the fact you can now sim games in order to advance the schedule forward. Of course, these are basic features found in almost every baseball game since at least the last console generation, but baby steps.
Unfortunately, like last year, online play has been difficult to get going. Since getting my copy last week, I have tried several nights to find someone to play a game with, and I have had no luck. Maybe it’s the fact that I was playing on the PlayStation 4, where there are several options available, but this is not a good sign. If I’m having trouble finding someone online to play with during release week, I don’t even want to imagine what the servers will look like six months from now.
Since this is a budget release, I feel a little bad about picking on the visuals of R.B.I. Baseball 16, but it’s a necessary part of the job. To put it simply, the game looks exactly like you would expect a title that is budget-priced on iOS and Android to look. The player models all appear the same, and the stadiums, while slightly better looking this year, are still lacking in details. The lack in animation in certain parts of the game, like when players move on the mound and batter’s box, also look as silly as they did last year.
If you’re really not looking for a deep or stimulating representation of America’s pastime, then sure, go right ahead and grab R.B.I. Baseball 16. The casual gameplay is fun under the right circumstances, like when you’ve been drinking, but it never rises above feeling like I’m playing a mobile game on a bigger screen.
Honestly, the best course of action for the series at this point would be to just go all-in on the arcade action. Make it play like The Bigs, or heck, get Metalhead Software to unleash their own take on the sport. For now, though, the franchise is what it is: a simple and dull looking take on a sport that deserves better.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which was provided to us.
Almost a carbon copy of last year's release, R.B.I. Baseball 16 is a simplistic and dull looking take on America's pastime. While Xbox gamers are kind of screwed, there are simply too many options on the PS4 to make this one worth your time.