Where do you go once you’ve stomped the competition into oblivion and achieved your wildest dreams? The developers at SIE San Diego face the same quandary as the Chicago Cubs entering this season. While it remains to be seen how the Cubbies will handle the heavy crowns they wear, the code monkeys behind MLB The Show 17 show they can rock success with ease. Having long since perfected the baseball sim to the point that their rivals stopped even trying, the devs keep pushing their game forward with the urgency of a team locked in a pennant race. The only baseball game in town somehow keeps getting better.
Games: MLB The Show 17
Consoles: PS4 (reviewed)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
Release Date: March 28
Start with the wholly revamped Road to the show mode, which lets you live out your fantasies of catching on with a minor league club and working your way up the farm system. You guide your player through the struggles of BP, benchings and off-field distractions in a dramatic climb to the top with genuine emotional impact. If you’re the type of player who likes to slog through an entire season, the game wastes less of your time with interactive sim modes that let you blast through a game in less than five minutes, making a few crucial managerial calls that often mean the difference between victory and defeat. What amounts to a text-based baseball RPG never speeds things up so fast that control slips away. You can jump in any time to swing away at a crucial at-bat or take the mount to lock down a save.
The visuals and animations get noticeable upgrades, with uncanny facial gestures, locked-in batting stances, windups and throwing motions. The announcer team peppers its running commentary with relevant side stories, stats and opinions, and the stadium and crowd renders are authentic enough to show off the deep-dive scouting that went into nailing every aspect of the feel and ambiance of MLB. With the promise of continually updated rosters and player ratings promised as the endless season rolls on, the game will shape and grow in real time as the long march to October goes on. Online franchise geeks and roster-tinkering micromanagers will find plenty to appreciate here.
While all the innovations that push the game toward more realism grab most of the attention, the update that most entranced me was the guilty-pleasure retro mode. Dressed down with the controls, sound effects and exaggerations of 1980s and early 90s-style baseball sims, the mode brings along current graphic models and animations, forging an awkward but irresistible combination of old school and new. With cover player Ken Griffey Jr. shouting out encouragement and trash talking, and a slide whistle accompanying fly balls, I wished you could play through the entire game that way. Alas, retro mode is exhibition-only.
More than just about any sport other than hockey, baseball is a divisive game that you either love with all your might or avoid at all costs. What lifts MLB The Show 17 to the heights it achieves is that it makes no effort to pander to casual fans, instead focusing on feeding the beastly appetites of sabermetrics-obsessed superfans who devour every nuance of the old-fashioned game. By ignoring the haters and going all-in on the joyful oddities of MLB — connecting its historical charms with modern-day bombast — this year’s game runs fast and fearless on the basepath.
‘MLB The Show 17’ Around The Web:
“The new additions have increased the game’s authenticity and motivated me to keep playing.” –IGN
“This game is truly a delight and a must have for anyone who enjoys baseball simulations.” –Cheat Code Central
“The new mode has the feel of older baseball games without losing the updated graphics and new additions of this year’s game.” –Heavy
‘MLB The Show 17’ Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
Order Phil Villarreal’s novel, Zeta Male, here.