MLB The Show 18 review-in-progress: The little things

Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony /

MLB The Show 18 focuses on the details, making the industry’s best baseball game franchise even more realistic and better than ever before.

Reviewer’s Note: At the time of this review, the servers for MLB The Show 18 had not yet been live. Because of this, online modes and features, such as Diamond Dynasty, were not able to be played before launch and are not included in this review. Once The Show 18 is officially released and servers are up, we will update this review to reflect these modes and features, as well as provide a final score.

Title: MLB The Show 18
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS4
Release Date: March 27, 2018

Since 2006, Sony’s MLB The Show has been the premiere video game for baseball enthusiasts, offering gamers the most realistic simulation of America’s pastime. In the years since, there’s been very little in terms of competition, which anyone who has played Madden knows can sometimes lead to stagnation and lack of innovation for a franchise – especially when a studio is pushing out yearly installments. Thankfully, that has never been the case for the MLB The Show, which has continually improved in all facets every year. The same is true for this year’s MLB The Show 18.

MLB The Show prides itself on being the most realistic baseball simulation on the market. I have a hard time believing that won’t be true again this year. Let’s be honest, it’s damn near impossible to improve on the already stellar gameplay experience that The Show offers. Every year it feels like this is as good as it gets, yet SIE San Diego Studio continues to find systems to tweak and improve upon. They’re constantly polishing and building upon the existing gameplay. This year’s improvements are admittedly more subtle, but baseball is a game of subtlety and I appreciate the attention to detail.

MLB The Show 18 is said to have improved ball physics and more hitting changes, including: “ball speed, top spin, back spin, accurate air density calculations, proper launch angles, and accurate weather models for correct ball spin for left-and right-handed pitchers,” according to Sony. MLB The Show 18 also includes a revamped tagging engine for “smooth and precise tagging animation.” Additionally, there’s now a tiered fielding system, putting even more emphasis on defensive attributes. Look, I’m not going to pretend to know what’s going on under the hood. All I can say is that the game looks good and plays great, and I’m sure a lot of these complex calculations and tweaks have something to do with that.

One of last year’s big improvements was the integration of MLB Network elements into the game’s presentation, modernizing the entire look and feel of the broadcast. MLB The Show 18 introduces new elements that make the game feel even more like an authentic broadcast you’d watch on television. One of the new features is the addition of full speed replays with 3D ball trails that use color to highlight the velocity of the ball. This feature, in addition to all new camera angles that capture up-close reactions during big moments like home runs, make for an authentic presentation experience. Again, these are subtle additions, but they are ones that baseball fans will surely appreciate.

Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony /

Adding to the game’s realism, MLB The Show 18 includes more authentic celebrations that can vary depending on the circumstances of the game. For example, if you hit a home run in the 9th to win the game, you’ll see some Bryce Harper-esque showboating. It’s a nice addition, but what would really add to the realism of the sport is if pitchers would take offense to it and in a future matchup bean the player in the back with a 97 MPH fastball. Maybe next year. Team-specific celebrations have also been added, bringing some actual personality to the teams you’re playing as which, in turn, makes that overall experience much more unique and personal. As a Cubs fan, for instance, I appreciate the addition of their bullpen dance-a-thon.

Sony also finally addressed stadium atmosphere and the crowd, the latter of which has largely been ignored in just about every sports game. In The Show 18, the number of crowd animations has been doubled and the attendance logic reworked to take into account day of the week and matchup. The variance in crowd reactions is certainly noticeable, but it’s hard not to ignore the duplicate ones. It’s a step forward, but we’re still not 100 percent there just yet.

One last note about presentation: perhaps the most noticeable change is the replacement of Harold Reynolds (after just one year) with MLB network analyst Mark DeRosa as color commentator. He joins Dan Plesac and play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian in the broadcast booth. For the first time, all three announcers worked together in the same studio with the hopes of creating a more fluid and natural back-and-forth. Sadly, it still falls flat, and I think it has something to do with Vasgersian’s monotone reading. I’m also not entirely convinced replacing Reynolds with DeRosa is an upgrade. The effort to produce a dynamic commentary experience that adapts to your unique team or player over the season is certainly appreciated, but all of it still seems scripted and planned and spliced together.

The most welcomed progression system change, however, is the removal of microtransactions which have now been replaced by more natural experiences

As for The Show’s signature modes, Road to the Show and Franchise remain top notch. While the changes to Franchise are mostly quality-of-life improvements, Road to the Show has undergone a pretty drastic overhaul with its progression system.

For those unfamiliar, Road to the Show is essentially watered down RPG mixed with baseball. You create a player and progress through the minor leagues to The Show in a documentary style format. This year, customization is more in-depth than ever before, especially with the addition of Batting Stance Creator. Every kid loves coming up with unique batting stances, and now you can do it in-game, controlling every aspect of your stance from your hand and foot placement to the actual hand waggle rotation. It’s almost too much attention to detail, to be honest.

In an effort to introduce more RPG elements in RTTS, The Show 18 introduces player archetypes. These are basically classes that come with their own primary position suggest and basically determine the type of player you will become. They have their own unique strengths and weaknesses and come with varying max caps for attributes to limit how powerful you can become. I absolutely hate this new system as I feel it pigeonholes you into being a certain type of player. It seems a bit contradictory to have all of these player creation tools at your disposal, only to be limited by what the developers feel a second baseman should be. Granted these archetypes reflect real-life players in the league, but isn’t RTTS all about creating your own unique player and experiencing your own individual story?

Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony /

While I’m not a fan of the new player archetypes, the changes made to the progression system are undoubtedly an improvement. Many of the systems from last year are still in place but have been adapted to fit the new RTTS progression system. The most welcomed progression system change, however, is the removal of microtransactions which have now been replaced by more natural experiences that focus on the actual gameplay and not how much money you’re willing to spend.

I’d love to see even more cinematic storytelling elements introduced into Road to the Show in the future.

The system is a little more complex, but infinitely better as your player’s progress is now tied to your performance on the field. The better you do during a game, the more your stats will increase. Every play you make on the field will have an impact on whether the associated attribute will progress or regress, and it’s all neatly presented to you both in-game and afterwards in the visually pleasing Base Gains screen.

As I previously mentioned, your player is limited by two types of Attribute Caps: Current and Max. Current caps are temporary limits that can be raised through Focus Training during your off-day training sessions. This comes in the form of brief cutscenes in which you must make a choice to raise your current attribute points or increase the Current Cap (through training with a teammate). These choices add a bit more strategy to the mode as you are not able to progress any further once you reach a Current Cap.

The downside of this new system is the Max Attribute Cap, which is exactly what it sounds like – the best your player can become in a particular area of the game. The Max Cap is decided by the Archetype you choose at the beginning of the mode and I absolutely hate it for the above mentioned reasons. The only saving grace is that you can enhance your attributes past the Max Cap through equipment cards.

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Road to the Show remains one of The Show’s signature modes and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of the changes made, it’s still a solid experience that I definitely recommend for all baseball fans. That being said, having played Madden 18s Longshot story mode, I’d love to see even more cinematic storytelling elements introduced into Road to the Show in the future.

Dynasty, another signature mode in The Show, has also seen some improvements. The changes are not nearly as groundbreaking as we’ve seen in the past, but they are some welcomed quality-of-life improvements.

Managing a Major League franchise is a hard, complex job. MLB The Show 18 does a nice job of presenting all this complex information in a way that isn’t overbearing or intimidating. It does this by breaking up the season into 19 “unique phases” that are labeled on the home screen and calendar. These phases contain a shortened list of important tasks that are relevant to that time of the year, so you don’t become overburdened with everything at once.

Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony /

Overall the phases just make for a more fluid, intuitive experience. From the visuals to the presentation, everything is simplified, making for a much more pleasant experience.

As for playing the actual games, The Show 18 offers a number of ways to get through a season. As a new dad with two jobs and not as much free time as I used to have, it’s nice to be able to choose how I want to experience the game. Games can take as long as 45 minutes to play the full 9-innings or can be completed in as little as 5 minutes with the text-based “Quick Manage” mode. New this year is also the ability to play any game in your dynasty in Retro Mode in case you’re ever feeling nostalgic. Who knows? With the addition of some of these new legendary players (like Babe Ruth!), Retro might feel more natural.

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Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the servers are still offline which means if you want to read up on Diamond Dynasty you’ll have to check back when MLB The Show 18 releases on March 27. Shortly afterward, when we feel comfortable with what we’ve played, we’ll post an updated review with our impressions of the mode along with a final score. What I will say right now, though, is that MLB The Show 18 is a must-buy game for baseball enthusiasts. And if you’re a casual fan simply looking to dip your toe in a baseball game this year, you probably won’t find anything better than MLB The Show 18.

You can purchase MLB The Show 18 at GameStopBest Buy, or Target. Learn more about our e-commerce policy here.

This review has taken every aspect of this game into consideration as of press time and will be updated with a final score after the servers go live upon launch. A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.