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I don’t play a ton of sports games, but I’ve always liked Sony’s MLB: The Show series. However, the fatigue of yearly releases is starting to make the franchise lose its luster.
MLB 15: The Show, out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita, is actually the 10th installment in the series (I started playing with MLB: 09 The Show on PlayStation 3 and reviewed this year’s version on PlayStation 4). It’s been the best baseball game in the industry for years, but it’s struggled in recent years to add enough new features to really justify annual purchases outside of roster updates.
This year’s release isn’t any different.
What you’ll like
Still a great baseball game
MLB: The Show nailed digital baseball a long time ago. Pitching, batting, and fielding all work great, and each offer as much choice and complexity as the real thing. And just like real baseball, you’ll need to put in some work to learn ever facet of the game.
Luckily, the Road to the Show mode enables you play as a single player, which is a nice way to learn one position at a time. It also adds role-playing game mechanics, since you earn experience after every outing that you can use to increase your stats. You also progress through a simulated career that starts in the minor leagues. This year, you can even import a Road to the Shower player from last year’s game, so you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. It’s still The Show’s best mode.
I haven’t been a big fan of The Show’s attempts at making fantasy teams before, but this year’s Dynasty Mode was a bit more interesting for me. You can buy packs of baseball cards with an in-game currency that you can either slowly earn by playing or by buying with real money. Each card represents a player that you can put on your team. Maybe it’s just because it reminds me of unlocking new cards in games like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, but this was a fun way to unlock players.
What you won’t like
I’ve been playing this game forever
Again, MLB 15: The Show is undeniably good, but I’m just kind of bored of it by now. Yes, little changes each year are nice, but they’re becoming harder to notice. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have known some features were new if I hadn’t researched them online. Everything is just bleeding together. Someone just told me today that players have new animations where they won’t hustle as much to first base if it’s obvious they’re going to be thrown out. That’s nice. I didn’t really notice, but that’s nice.
I’m sympathetic, really. MLB 15: The Show is a victim of its own success. What can they really do? They can’t change too much, since the formula is already so solid. And they can only add so many new features. Baseball is baseball, after all. But I’m really beginning to wonder if the business model of selling a new baseball game every year really has a place in a modern age when rosters and new features could easily be updated with patches.
In-game money ickiness
I said earlier that you can use real money to buy players for your team via packs of cards. You can also use money to buy bundles of experience points for your Road to the Show player. Now, the latter is one thing. It’s basically permitting people to pay money to cheat. Lame, but whatever. However, the in-game currency that you use to buy card packs is really hard to come by. You’ll only earn a little bit when you complete a game. If you really want to get some new players for your team, you’re going to have to pay some actual money. It’s a kind of questionable practice I’d expect to find in a free-to-play game, but MLB 15 The Show is fully priced at $60 on PlayStation 4.
It still doesn’t feel like a huge upgrade from PlayStation 3
This is the second game in the series to come out for PlayStation 4, and I still don’t really notice a huge difference between it and the PlayStation 3 versions. Now, part of the problem is that the PlayStation 3 versions looked incredibly good for their time. Still, I wish The Show on PlayStation 4 could wow me like the series used to last generation.
At best, it looks fine. At worst, you’ll literally see flat, 2D images of cars scrolling across bridges in the background. It’s a cheap graphical trick that immediately ruins any sense of immersion.
It’s weird when you feel so unenthusiastic about a game that you know is “good.” This used to be a series that I would never miss. These days, I’d probably take a long break from The Show if I could.
If you’ve never played it before, maybe you’ll feel the same magic I did back in 2009. But if you’ve been with the series for a while, you’ll feel the same fatigue that I do.
MLB 15 The Show is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita. The publisher provided us with a code for the PlayStation 4 version for the purposes of this review.