A few years ago, I cringed when San Diego Studio moved the release date for its annualized sports gem MLB The Show from the beginning of the month to the end of the month, but now I’m grateful of it. With this year having so many blockbuster, time-siphoning titles, MLB would have suffered if it had released any earlier than it did. Besides, it deserves its own little niche of limelight, especially this year. Every outing of The Show seems to have its share of growing pains, but something about this year gives it way more pomp than circumstance.
From the opening moments of the game, MLB The Show 17 does its damnedest to ensure that every person playing it knows exactly what he or she is doing by implementing tiny hints and instructions as situations arise. As a conditioned player, I couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed, because each and every aspect of the game had its own little tutorial, which would make the game freeze to explain what is coming, even mid-pitch or mid-fielding. Fortunately, for those conditioned to the game, pressing the Touchpad will halt all future tutorials for that particular mode or event, but after years of learning the intricacies of the game out of trial and error, seeing all these helping hands for new players indicates to me that MLB The Show 17 is more important to San Diego Studio than, say, Madden is to EA. I mean, yes, the regulars are the ones that help fund the game every year, but newcomers can become regulars with the proper push.
Road to The Show (RTTS) has always been a favorite mode in any sports game on the market–it’s the mode that initially got me into The Show back in ‘11–but it’s always had a simple premise with the only investment being the progress of the player. While that seems like a counterintuitive negative to say about a game mode that caters to player progression, the motivations for doing anything within RTTS have never been engrossing past the point of player success. In 17, there isn’t quite an addictive push implemented like other modes have seen in recent years, but what’s here is a positive step in the right direction. With the help of a narrator, your player’s story is told in a documentary style, responding to decisions made, roles achieved, and successes earned. The dialogue feels rather dry, but this is a positive creative choice, because there isn’t an encompassing feeling of forced narrative in a sports game, and the result of this is a more organic game mode overall–albeit not edge-of-your-seat fun.
The other major implementation in a sea of adjustments and enhancements is the addition of perks when leveling your player stats. I was ecstatic when I saw the possible perks available with each of my pitcher’s core stats. Each has two at various stat levels, and they all add additions that are more than appealing. In the case of a pitcher, there are things like umpires favoring 50/50 calls in your favor or starting with a favorable count against a new batter when a runner is in scoring position. What began to show itself is the uneven pace that this mode has made for itself. Progress feels great right away as acclaim piles in and point multipliers from locker room pep talks boost progress even further, but it isn’t hard to earn nearly a thousand points in a game because of these boosts. The end result is a quick burst of success at the beginning with much shorter legs to run on in the long term; the pro to all this is that beginners will feel more than welcome in a mode that historically has been quite an undertaking from the start.
Across all modes is a bunch of missions lists that reward you for doing what you would be doing normally in each game mode, the rewards being studs and cards. What’s great about this, especially since this is a mode embedded in microtransactions, is that there’s always something that can reward you with the cards and studs you need to strengthen your roster. There are missions that allow you to trade your ever-lengthening list of bad cards for random good ones, which inevitably helps progress as well. In fact, these missions helps compliment the welcoming pace of the game modes themselves, compounding it all into an overall progress that feels more universal than the leveling system that has been a part of MLB The Show for a long time now. In light of this, the standard levels earned through game XP have begun to feel more like a false sense of progress. Indeed, it’s always been meant to be something of a representation to indicate how generally experienced a player is with the game. However, after the organic feeling of progress through missions and actual development, the meaning of the overall leveling system kind of diminishes, since there’s really nothing that the levels do for the player who earned all that experience.
Diamond Dynasty remains relatively unchanged. It stays as an engaging game mode with three-inning games that help to keep the pace and progress of the mode overall at a welcoming tempo. At the start, your team is nothing short of a joke, what with your players being ranked overall in the 60s and 70s, but even in losses progress is ever-present. With each activity, cards are earned to help build a much better team. I say “much better,” because right away my team went from having slow and weak players that soon became a set of players who all were around the same general skills. These first few games help set the tone of Diamond Dynasty, because having that sense of growth so noticeable helps aid the longevity of the game mode itself. After almost ten of my initial games, my overall score only went up two or three points, but my team drastically improved in the areas where I needed them, especially at pitcher; if you can keep the ball on the mound, then you don’t have to worry about fielding at all, right? This is still a bit luck-based, but you learn how to handle your weaknesses and strengths, and that’s what makes a good sport game mode engaging.
Apart from these game modes, the newest addition is Retro Mode, which is a fun shtick on olden baseball games from the likes of the original NES, where one button swung the bat, one button pitched, and one button fielded. The game mode is a great excursion from the repetition of the other standard baseball modes.
Visually, the game is better than ever. This tends to be the standard for MLB The Show, and it holds true this year when it comes to the field of play itself. As I’ve said in previous years, the best way that The Show could improve the game of baseball itself is to make the experience that much more authentic. While mountains keep getting moved in the field of play in that direction, the surroundings lose their integrity or have altogether had them forgotten. This might not seem like a big deal, but the way that fans react to the game is a big part of what makes being in a baseball stadium, like in any sports arena or stadium, so special. There is an energy that emanates from the stands as fans react to goings-on on an actual field, and when a ball, for instance, goes into the stands, little pixelated people kind of stand and wave toward where the ball lands. The sounds of the stadium are rather dampened as well, leaving an overall sense of lethargy, even in success. This aspect of the game needs more charisma and emphasis.
Check out the character creator walkthrough.
The sounds of the game are a bit of a mixed bag as well. Apart from the dampened fan base in the packed stadiums, Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac join series-staple Matt Vasgersian to bring dialogue to the game. The downside to having this variety is that they all seem to have recorded separately, since all dialogue comes across like the commentator is speaking to himself rather than a small team in a sound booth. More lines than ever were recorded this year, but having more lines and most stat-based statements means almost nothing if there’s no feeling of camaraderie between the guys talking about the game. Perhaps if this is the way San Diego Studio wishes to handle commentary, then maybe, especially considering the way they customize each team’s experience with on-field traditions, have all the main radio broadcasters from each team come in and record, giving the game some character and fan rapport, like freshly-retired Los Angeles Dodgers’ Vin Scully did for decades for the Dodgers.
MLB The Show 17 itself plays like a dream, as is customary with each year’s rendition. Visually, what stood out this year is how clean and vivid shadows were displayed, rarely showing jagged edges. I’ve ranted in years past that The Show has too much of a simulated feeling as opposed to an interactive one, but I’m not sure I share that same notion this year. What happened enough times, especially when a game is on the line, is that I would be automatically given control of a player more out of position than the player closer to the ball. Then a couple times I had multiple players miss the same ground ball that was heading right for them–in fact, it took three players to field the ball properly one time; luckily, the runner was slow, as I was able to get him tagged out at home to seal the game.
What this says to me–what both of my indicated points say, in fact–could be one of three things:
- Player stats have that much influence
- The AI has programming complicated enough to emulate human hesitation and anxiety
- My luck is the worst
The downside to having stats mean so much is that there’s a bunch of room for on-field errors to take place, so having more control over the players kind of eliminates the sense of control that the player has on the field. I won’t notch this as a positive OR a negative, because it creates a great sense of drama to the game that it’s been sorely lacking. And in any case, the issue with the game selecting the proper fielder can be easily patched.
The final point I’d like to cover pertains to the servers and the use of online connectivity in general. RTTS and single-player franchise modes, as well as the other smaller modes with offline settings, benefit from the way that they’re not dependent on servers being live or stable in order to play them. However, almost everything else requires some sort of online presence, even a great deal of the menus. Missions, purchases, and rewards are linked to the Quick Menu, which is live and available at all times, and during the first couple days the servers have had plenty of times when they were bogged down. This means that basic menu navigation becomes delayed or slow or even cuts you off from the server entirely, bringing you back to the main menu. The mode that suffers the most from this is Diamond Dynasty, the most ambitious mode on The Show (and rightfully in any sports game on the market). The need to avoid players cheating in a monetized mode demands an always-on requirement, but the mode itself suffers, even the single player one, whether in bad server lag or nominal conditions. Issuing commands on the Risk-like board always has a delay, as each command is sent to the servers in real time.There are major pros and cons to this, but it becomes an ultimate consequence for a game that offers universal rewards for everything you do. Server connectivity is paramount, and if that isn’t solid, the experience is throttled. The good news is that the server integrity is getting better very quickly, but there is natural lag to the game that will always be there.
In a spontaneous torrent of big-name game releases, MLB The Show 17 shines in a way that most sports games would not, showcasing its stapled game modes and features while catering the game to any and all newcomers. The necessity for microtransactions has been toned down through progression enhancements to how cards are earned and obtained, rewarding the investment of time rather than money. Commentary and server status are The Show’s only major hindrances outside of a few fixable points, but The Show 17 swings for the stands on every front and delivers in spades.