After a lengthy 19 year absence, R.B.I. Baseball made a surprising return to the plate last season. Promising a more arcade-y take on the sport, not to mention the only version of said sport available on non-PlayStation consoles, it had all the potential to be a fun diversion. Instead, rookie developer MLB Advanced Media released one of the least competent sports titles in recent memory. I’m still baffled by the fact that in the year of our lord 2014, a sports game was released with no online play.
Perhaps even more surprising than its original return, is the fact that R.B.I. Baseball 15 has arrived for another go-around. Taking to heart the critical beating they took, MLB Advanced Media has promised a better, and more content-rich experience this time. While no one will likely ever mistake it for Sony’s award-winning MLB: The Show, there is still a market out there for a less realistic take on America’s pastime.
As the sequel to a reboot of an old-school franchise, R.B.I. Baseball 15 retains the same classic gameplay of its predecessors. Batters can either swing or bunt, while pitchers have a handful of different pitches, such as the traditional fastball, or the less traditional pitch that fails to reach home plate. Adding some variety to the gameplay is the fact that batters can move around in the batter’s box, while pitchers can alter the flight path of their pitches.
While I would have liked to see some more depth added to the pitcher/batter duel, the game is still mostly fun to play. Well, it’s fun to play as long as you have a friend to enjoy it with. Simple sports gameplay (I.E. NBA Jam and NFL Blitz) has always, in my mind anyway, translated to a better multiplayer experience than their more realistic counterparts. Of course, the trade-off here is that if you get stuck playing by yourself, it’s one dull slog, even if games rarely last more than 30 minutes.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that MLB Advanced Media also fixed some of the nagging gameplay issues that plagued last year’s release. Fielding is now much more manageable, thanks to the ability to turn on a static ball indicator, while the controls for throwing to a base can now be mapped to the face buttons. The fact that these are huge additions for the franchise just goes to show how lacking the previous entry was. It would have been nice of them to include the ability to jump or dive for a ball in the outfield, though, which is a rather odd missing feature.
Unfortunately, even with all of the strides in the gameplay department, R.B.I. Baseball 15 still suffers from recurring glitching and bugs. The most frequent of these errors is the lag that often accompanies a pitch. At first, I thought this issue would only arise when there was too much action on screen, namely when the bases are loaded. While not ideal, I could at least understand that. Instead, pitches would just randomly lag on their journey to home plate, regardless of how many players were on screen. As one would figure, this is a big issue if you are up to bat, as balls would just up and disappear mid pitch, making it rather hard to hit. Other notable bugs include outfielders phasing into the outfield wall, players vanishing without a trace after getting out, and A.I. glitching out mid-play.
Since this a budget release, there are only a handful of modes to talk about here. You have your requisite exhibition matches, as well as season, post-season, and online modes. I imagine single games are where most R.B.I. Baseball 15 owners will find themselves, as the ability to play a full season lacks many of the options that would make it engaging. You can’t make trades with other teams, and players aren’t going to get injured, so you can’t really tinker around with your roster. At least it keeps track of stats this time around though. Online play is a nice addition as well, but I often ran into trouble finding anyone to play with on Xbox Live.
While the gameplay is a major improvement over R.B.I. Baseball 14, the aesthetics of the franchise remain as bland as ever. Individual athlete models are essentially the same from player to player, and only change depending on the skin color. Their animation is as stiff and awkward looking as it was last year, with pitchers and batters still not moving their legs as they move around the box and mound respectively. The stadiums are a little better, as they at least feature some of the defining images from each park, but still lack major detail.
I would like to go over the audio of the game, but there’s basically nothing to talk about. You get the calls of the umpire, the sound of the bat smashing a ball, and the half-hearted roar of a crowd. I know people typically don’t like having announcement teams around, but I’ll take the ramblings of some nobody over the sound of silence.
The lack of any pizazz in the presentation basically leads me to the fact that despite the development studio being called MLB Advanced Media, it seems like they actively hate the sport they are trying to replicate. It lacks all of the excitement of the sport that makes it enjoyable for millions of fans to watch. Smashed a huge homerun? Instead of a fun celebration, here is a static image of your team’s logo with some lackluster fireworks in the background. Want to rob a hitter of a potential hit? Hope you got a good jump on the ball, because your ass can’t dive for it. There’s just no passion for baseball here at all.
Despite the marketplace being wide open for the title, R.B.I. Baseball 15 fails to take advantage once again. Yes, the title is a much better release than the previous year’s iteration. But, since that game was such a poor effort in the first place, there was really no place to go but up. Even if you have no other option (*cough* Xbox One owners *cough*), I can’t fully recommend this buggy and just plain bland interpretation of America’s pastime.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided for us.