Spring is here again; at least that’s what the calendar says. And with spring comes baseball, that glorious sport often referred to America’s pastime. As part of this annual spring rite, Sony’s San Diego Studio releases its love letter to the game, and this year’s MLB: The Show 18 is no exception. Touting one of the biggest year-to-year overhauls in the franchise’s history, The Show 18 delivers a baseball experience like no other game ever has. And for fans, both casual and hardcore, there truly is something for everyone in this year’s edition.
MLB: The Show 18 has (like previous entries in the series), done a wonderful job recreating the actual sport of baseball. The play control has never been better, and the PlayStation 4 Pro enhancements on display bring the game to life like never before. Gorgeous new menus (centered on your favorite teams), new player animations, a revamped base tagging feature, and an emphasis on various in-game urgencies, coupled with the tweaks of recent years, have finally come together to create an absolute stellar sports title and the best baseball game on the market. And with a solid foundation like that, San Diego Studio builds skyscrapers of game modes and features, stuffing The Show 18 with so much to do, and myriad ways to do it.
Baseball is a game of stats and numbers, and in the sabermetric era, the more info you have, the better you will be. MLB: The Show 18 knows this, and gives the user so much information in all facets of the game. New swing meters show where sweet spots are, so you can make pitch-by-pitch adjustments while in the batter’s box. Each confrontation feels as epic as the classic, “down by one with two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth” scenario, and the new crowd animations and reactions help to reinforce that feeling.
The return and expansion of three-inning games means that players can get the full suite of gameplay in a quick fashion, without losing the little things that makes baseball great. Starters will go an inning and a third, and closers are effective for about 12 pitches before they start to tire. It’s a nine inning game condensed to three, with all the drama that comes with it, and not just the first frame of a regular game. If baseball has one detraction, its in the speed of the game. This feature changes that and gives players true baseball in bite-sized morsels.
Franchise gets an overhaul too in Franchise Phases, which gives the player the option to choose how they want to run a given team. Each phase has its own goals and tool set to build a winner. If you just want to manage a team on the field, that’s a phase. Like developing and wheeling and dealing players? That’s its own phase. Love getting into the day-to-day of running an MLB franchise, hiring and firing staff and negotiating sponsorships? It’s here. The Franchise mode offers a little bit of everything for the baseball fan, casual or hardcore.
Diamond Dynasty expands even more in 2018 with new missions, events, and programs to give players so much more to do on top of the various online play modes and the exquisite Conquest mode from last year. Players create teams from Topps baseball cards, and can duke it out both online or solo. Programs are tied to the new Immortals feature, which brings in some the most iconic players of all time — including the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth, and the Splendid Splinter himself, Ted Williams! Completing the Immortals programs unlocks the players’ cards for use on Diamond Dynasty teams. So, sometime in June or July, there will be teams full of superstars out there.
Perhaps the biggest advancement in MLB: The Show 18 comes from Road to the Show, which does away with training points, and now focuses on rewarding the user-controlled player based on in-game play and choices made in the locker room. You start off by selecting an archetype for your player. This sets your career off on a path that is not unlike that of a current MLB star. Want to be the next Aaron Judge? Select powerhouse. Want to be a hitting whiz like Jose Altuve? Choose his archetype. There are many to choose from, and gives the player so much choice as to how they want their player to develop.
No longer does a credit card ensure a Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw on any given team one month into a season. Players have to actually progress in their career based on skill, and each action in a game awards or penalizes. If you take a pitch outside the strike zone, you get a bonus to Plate Discipline. If you foul off a good pitch down the middle, you get a bonus to Plate Vision. If you strike out against a lefty, you lose some Contact vs L attributes. After years of juggling and spending training points on my created player, this new system took some getting used to, and luckily it is very user friendly. An 0-for-4 day doesn’t derail your career, and you’ll have a real opportunity to turn it around the next day.
Off the field, players can choose one of four training areas: Batting Cage, Training Facility, Bullpen, and Practice Field, which can quickly raise attributes in selected areas, or raise the caps, allowing you to take that next step in your career. As someone who puts in 150-200 hours each season in Road to the Show (RTTS), I was apprehensive of these sweeping changes, but four months into my in-game career, and I found myself kind of loving it. No longer being able to raise all skills to 99 across the board will be a change, but it keeps my created player grounded into a more realistic career, and makes each game I play mean something. As a true baseball fan, I appreciate that, and I’m sure others will too.
Lastly, MLB: The Show 18 tweaks the RPG-like storyline of Road to the Show. A new narrator really helps set the stage, as a player begins his long journey from high school to the Show. Meetings with managers, dealings with agents, and even travelling between cities help create a narrative that the user dictates by their choices. This “story” mode is not perfect by any stretch, but the leaps from last season already make a huge difference, and gives San Diego Studio the benefit of the doubt that they will find that sweet spot between hammy drama and on-field action.
MLB: The Show 18 once again changes up the broadcast crew, dropping Harold Reynolds, and adding Mark DeRosa as the color commentator. DeRo joins Dan Plesac and the venerable Matt Vasgersian, and there are thousands of newly recorded comments that actually match up to the situations on-screen. Sony promises to update these lines of dialogue throughout the season to keep it fresh, and to reflect real life changes in the MLB game.
The additions don’t end there. MLB: The Show 18 features a brand new batting stance creator, with so many options to create the best in-box stance ever. New home run swings and trots are also included, some of which are ludicrous and would result in a bean ball war the likes of which the world has never seen. But this is a video game, so feel free to literally fly like Superman around the bases if you like.
MLB: The Show 18 brings back fan-favorite modes like Challenge of the Week, Postseason, Home Run Derby, and Retro Mode, and a new Custom Practice mode lets users create in-game scenarios to shore up your skills in front of major league pitching. I’ve used this mode more than I thought I would, as it helps to get certain swings down and to anticipate player reactions, like Dee Gordon laying down a bunt in the perfect spot to advance a runner. Don’t sleep on Practice mode, as it truly helps make you a better player — even if you are a seasoned veteran of the franchise.
MLB: The Show 18 is, without a doubt, the best baseball game on any system, and the changes made in this year’s entry only work to solidify that claim. The additions are far less cosmetic than in years past, and they are true game changers. Everything about The Show 18 is a winner, and even online games on day one have been as smooth as ever — something that the franchise has had problems with in the past. This franchise is built by baseball fans year in and year out, and each year, the bar is raised a little higher. The sky is the limit as to where The Show can go in the future, but for now, MLB: The Show 18 is the pinnacle of the series.
This review is based off time spent playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro. A copy was provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
MLB: The Show 18 delivers the best video game baseball experience ever, and new additions and tweaks to old game modes make this a baseball lovers dream, from first pitch to last out.