The wonderful thing about MLB 15 The Show this year is that the PS3 and PS4 versions only have differences in performance this year, creating an indiscriminate universality to the game as a whole across both consoles. This means that major portions of both reviews will look the same, so we’ve made sure to highlight the differences for those who will be picking up both versions. On that note, make sure to check out how San Diego Studios has improved the PlayStation Vita version of The Show this year in our official review.
MLB The Show is one of the few franchises that seems to benefit from annualization, bettering itself and its concepts without having the need for competition. MLB 15 The Show looks poised to enhance its repertoire with many key refinements and additions in a big way. Will this year require the Infield Fly Rule or will it knock it out of the park?
The PS4 Experience: The visuals in MLB 15 are hard to ignore, as player models have been glossed so impeccably this time around. Uniform movement is vivid and detailed relatively to whether the light source is natural or not. The only visual discrepancy now is in how players’ faces are modeled. Since everything is encroaching ever closer to reality, it seems only a matter of time before complete facial modeling will become part of the game, with games like L.A. Noire being a good example of where facial recognition could be.
The PS3 Experience: MLB The Show on Sony’s last-gen console hasn’t visually improved in comparison to last year. This statement may seem negative, but this baseball franchise hasn’t looked bad or even mediocre in a very long time, meaning that San Diego Studios has almost certainly already found the PS3’s glass ceiling. Players look good and actions are equally as diverse as on the other three platforms, but the fans in the stands become pixelated and blurry, and players tend to suffer the same fate when they get too far away from the camera. Still, it’s easy to follow the ball in mid-air, as it’s traditionally highlighted with a yellow trailing tail. Nonetheless, after playing a game or two, the visual flaws become negligible and the gameplay shines through.
One of the biggest annual achievements for MLB The Show is the sheen, refined experience overall. While this standard still remains a staple, the greatest change made, in hindsight, has made the game much less automated than before. The gameplay itself is really rather minimalistic, making the repetitive gameplay mechanics much easier to cruise through for the sake of enjoyable longevity. Throwing to bases never takes more than a timed button hold, and catching a pop fly only requires moving an automatically chosen player inside an on-field prompt. Now, catching those pop flies isn’t nearly as automatic. If a player is moved out of position to make a catch while still standing in the on-field prompt, then that player will more often drop or miss the ball than catch it; this is still reflected on that player’s particular stats in catching, but even the best fielders are prone to drops. What this means now is that gamers cannot simply sprint to a spot and let the game do the rest: players now have to pace the player and align him so that he doesn’t get caught out of position. What this does for the franchise is make the gameplay side of things require more discipline rather than button presses, yielding a greater sense of consequence for sloppy play in a big and realistic way without compensating or complicating the integrity of the gameplay itself.
The PS4 Experience: All menus are incredibly snappy with a minimal, informative, and attractive overlay. Each menu option also displays key submenu options for making navigation a very easy and enjoyable experience. The only down side to the menu overlay resides in buying and selling cards (more on cards later in the review or can be viewed in our Diamond Dynasty preview). The option to buy card packs is in a completely different submenu than the Card Management submenu, so there’s a bit of backtracking in order to navigate the menu system outright on this end. However, The Show includes a very handy workaround with the Touch Pad. In the Touch Pad menu, gamers can check in-franchise mail, see who’s online, jump to the card shop, or check out Profile submenus like the Card Collection or Inventory. This workaround neither compensates for opening card packs themselves nor encumbers rolling through menus. At the same time, this menu choice feels intentional in order to deter gamers from constantly spending wads of real cash in order to buy card packs in wads.
The PS3 Experience: While the menu is vivid and minimal with intelligent overlays, it’s not as snappy as the next-generation counterpart. This side of the game makes getting around take a little longer, with jumping into submenus taking more time and online information requiring a longer wait. The one other downside to the menu overlay resides in buying and selling cards (more on cards later in the review or can be viewed in our Diamond Dynasty preview). The option to buy card packs is in a completely different submenu than the Card Management submenu, so there’s a bit of backtracking in order to navigate the menu system outright on this end. However, The Show includes a very handy workaround with the Select button. In the Select menu, gamers can check in-franchise mail, see who’s online, jump to the card shop, or check out Profile submenus like the Card Collection or Inventory. This workaround neither compensates for opening card packs themselves nor encumbers rolling through menus. At the same time, this menu choice feels intentional in order to deter gamers from constantly spending wads of real cash in order to buy card packs in wads.
Over the last year or so, gamers have had the option to upload their saves of both Franchise and RTTS to a cloud in order to easily move from console to console and still play the same save, whether the save’s transferred to PS3, PS4, or PS Vita. The same can be said this year for both modes, and to extend this option even further is the ability to import these saves from MLB 14 The Show, which is quick and easy. The only down side to transferring saves from year to year that I can see is that rosters will not include new and up-and-coming players for the 2015 season. For instance, Joc Pederson was in the Minor League when the 2014 roster was established, so he wouldn’t be in the Dodgers’ starting lineup when this hypothetical roster is imported to MLB 15. This feature best serves RTTS, because having to start from scratch every year does become cumbersome after going through it annually, no matter how enjoyable the process may be.
The PS4 Experience: Online Franchise gave us a bit of trouble this year. A roster must be uploaded to the franchise in order to even begin the franchise, and we kept facing an error that failed our uploads (we attempted in multiple Online Franchises from multiple PlayStations). Finally, after a couple days, we were able to get everything finalized and initiated; our correspondence with Sony mentioned that the sheer volume of players online with MLB 15 The Show this year is more than expected, so this could be another temporary issue; for more on the overall online experience, check out our first impressions of when we tested the online servers earlier this week.
The PS3 Experience: Starting up an Online Franchise took some time and patience on both the PS3 and PS4, as uploading the roster kept failing. Even though that issue finally alleviated itself, the PS3’s network capabilities still stagnate a bit at the beginning of games, finally normalizing around the second inning. Again, this could be due to servers being taxed so early on, but the issue, however minimal, is still present.
Stapled single player game modes, as well as their normal online counterparts, have returned to MLB 15 such as Road to The Show (RTTS), Franchise, Season, and the traditional Exhibition. In light of that, the coolest edition to The Show in franchise mode is the recap radio station and information consolidation after playing through a day’s worth of games. Once a day is completed and the rest of the league is simulated, the radio show pops on, discussing which teams won much like how newscasters deliver sports news. The display itself is broken down into league leaders by position as well as most recent winners and losers as well, making the rest of the franchise come across more relevant to the game mode itself.
Diamond Dynasty is a very proactive step in the right direction when it comes to monetized game modes; check out our first impressions video of Diamond Dynasty for a more visual experience. Much like last year, Studs are the currency for purchasing collectable cards, and those cards are used to either complete Card Collections for each team for special, historical bonus player cards. A Community market is also in place to buy from and sell to other Diamond Dynasty players, and what generally takes place with in-game auctioneers is jacked-up prices and an imbalanced economy. While prices aren’t regulated here either, the storefront is organized in such a way to show buy and sell prices right away, and after selecting an item, a complete list of prices for buying and selling is displayed. What this does is, much like how it is in a lot of online MMOs, deter buyers and sellers from saturating the market with overpriced items, especially so recently after launch. However, this does leave it open for those still willing to spend hundreds of dollars in order to buy enough cards to overpower the market and essentially monopolize certain cards, particularly the gold- and diamond-rarity cards.
The balance to this is that simply playing anything in MLB The Show rewards Studs, with the three main game modes within Diamond Dynasty being Head-to-Head against other players, against the CPU, or Extra Innings. Extra Innings is a very intriguing idea, because it gives inexperienced players and players with weaker connections the opportunity to play against custom-made teams. Six players are chosen at random, and players choose to contend against the team of one of those six randomly chosen players, and since the opponent’s team is controlled by the computer, there’s no need for a strong internet connection to utilize this game mode.
The importance of collecting cards doesn’t stop in Diamond Dynasty either. While player cards are pinned to Diamond Dynasty, equipment and sponsorship cards ebb out into different modes. Sponsorship cards emulate actual endorsement deals made with top equipment companies like Rawlings, Louisville Slugger, Under Armour, or Wilson for fulfilling specific actions in the game. For instance, the team is awarded so many endorsement points for winning a game if, say, the team has one from Louisville Slugger that rewards based on wins. Equipment cards can also be pulled from card packs, ranging from the expected glove or bat to more ritualistic items like chewing gum or socks. Each item benefits specific stats when equipped, and the rarity of the card reflects on how greatly those stats are increased. While only one bat, one baseball glove, one batting glove, one shoe, and one ritual can be equipped simultaneously, this sense of necessity for better equipment brings an authentic baseball feel to the gameplay itself with stats boost to reflect that authenticity. Even better still is the ability to create a customer player within Diamond Dynasty, develop him with experience, and equip him with the equipment cards to better him at any desired position. This created player can be placed in any position at any time, so there’s no need to make multiple players. Then, the created player can be enhanced by feeding extra cards into the created player, increasing stats according to what cards were fed to him.
The universality of the playing cards goes even further: While gamers are still rewarded Studs and XP (experience) for everything they do, they’re also rewarded playing cards at random. What’s great about this is that any rarity of card can be pulled in this way, since even Diamond cards have a chance of appearing after a game. With all these things in mind, the monetized side of MLB 15 The Show is compensated well enough that no gamer needs to spend a single dollar in order to enjoy the mode to the extent that gamers who buy Studs can. The final point to make with Diamond Dynasty is that the cards collected are accessible from both the PS3 and PS4 versions without having to buy them again. This means that team makeup and player equipment as well as Studs and experience carry over and don’t need to be collected or purchased again.
Whoever chooses the soundtrack for MLB The Show every year has a keen ear for music that embodies the game of baseball, and even further still is the ability of this group within San Diego Studios to find indie bands with scads of talent. The sounds of the game are as authentic as they’ve ever been, from the crack of the bat or the sound of baseballs slugging leather gloves to crowd noise and fan shouts; and all these working in tandem creates an even more immersive audible baseball experience. Returning for commentating are familiar voices Matt Vasgersian and Eric Karros, delivering strings of dialogue that work well to highlight the scenarios at hand. However, in regards to a sense of immersion, the dialogue spoken during Major League games is filled with historical and comparative statements, stringing parallels to players with legends and other successes in the league at present. While this may be too much to ask for a video game’s commentating that responds to player’s actions, having that kind of depth would bring another insurmountable edge to a sports game that has no equal.
With the 10th Anniversary of The Show, San Diego Studios has managed to make some of the weaker aspects of previous outings more engaging, leading off into a universal sense of development that’s hard to find in any genre of gaming, let along in sports, without over-encumbering the player or the game itself. Coupling this with the greatly improved online side of things, complete immersion is the last and most challenging step needed in order to make this absolutely and authentically America’s Pastime in digital form. The strength of San Diego Studios is its ability to make each year’s title that much better, and MLB 15 The Show is a testament to that fact. This year retains only a bit of water, but yet the refinements yield an overall experience so universal that other genres could learn from it.