Baseball is a sport like no other. It looks to its past as much to its future. MLB The Show 17 embraces both. From an introductory video sticky-sweet with nostalgia, to various flashy quick-game options, short challenges, and custom controls. It is a game for fans of the past and present. A game that allows easy access for those who haven’t played a baseball game in a while. Or, even for those who have never played one before.
MLB The Show 17 may be the friendliest sports sim ever. The controls can be as sophisticated or straightforward as you want. All management options including base running and fielding can be handled by the AI. If you want, the whole game can be reduced to hitting bombs over the green monster at Fenway. Alternatively, you can micromanage everything.
But don’t worry. It has all the options that have become standard in today’s sports games. There are quick games, career, a card based team builder, and a comprehensive franchise mode. It’s fully loaded with all Major and Minor League teams, stadiums, fully updated rosters, as well as various online multiplayer games and competitions.
Developer San Diego Studio have made a beautiful game. Lighting and weather changes over the course of a match, he crowd reacts and scrambles for foul balls. There are more than a thousand new animations; pitchers throw harder and fielders play to the speed of the base runner. Ball physics have also had a major upgrade. Depending on where it’s hit – whether it’s pulled or sliced – the ball screws, spins and swerves adding a new level of detail and realism to the gameplay.
The Road to the Show career mode has also been upgraded. Presented with an occasional voice-over, your young player’s career moves from the minors to the majors with numerous twists and turns. From deciding to take the first offer, to switching positions, and changing from a hometown mentor/advisor to professional management, decisions you make can affect your career. However, it is fairly story-lite – like most sports games the dramas are fairly cliched. There’s nothing that playing well won’t fix though; slowly building up your player’s wide range of stats, choosing buffs, and buying equipment is what really matters.
With the card based Diamond Dynasty you can fully customise your own team. You’ll earn rewards, players, and currency by playing games and completing challenges. Or you can spend real money to buy and sell the highest rated historic and current players. Then there is the standard Franchise mode, which lets you take over a team, scout players, and get sponsors. You can sim through the games, and lock players to a season with a particular role. You canalso play just the critical situations of a game, or quick-manage it. For the latter you’ll use text commands to tell a player to swing away or bunt, steal a base, warm up in the bullpen, or pitch around the opposing team’s slugger. The level of customization is very user friendly. In MLB The Show 17, you can dive in deep, or keep it as quick and simple as you like.
But, not everything’s perfect. Base running is far from instinctive. Runners hold up when you really need them to keep moving, and after a week I’m still looking down at the controller trying to figure it all out. Stealing also takes some sorting; I have no idea how to steal third. I never know where the infielders are, and I’ve also been caught a few times trying to take second. I copped it from my manager, and was told not to steal anymore – despite the prompt still appearing.
Playing online generally works well. You get a warning that because the emphasis is on balancing abilities, matchmaking may take some time. I didn’t really notice any delays. However, playing a full game takes a while and I did lose connection to a couple of opponents. But. it is endlessly fun, especially in mini-games like the home-run derby; everyone swings at the same pitch and you see in real time where your opponent’s hit ends up, as your ball (hopefully) sails out of the park.
Base running aside, MLB The Show 17 is a highly polished game. It’s packed with features, is very accessible, and captures the essence of the game. Sure, they pump the game full of steroids occasionally, hyping it up for the networks. They change the rules so games last three hours and not four, and focus on the major stars, in the big name teams, in the big city markets.
When I first started watching baseball it was all about Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Johnson, and Ken Griffey Jr. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Now Madison Bumgarner not only tells the story of how he once dated a girl called Madison Bumgarner, and everyone seems to believe him, but he's also won three World Series’, has a WHIP under 1.100, and has just hit two home runs on opening day. The first pitcher ever. Baseball always wins, and so does MLB The Show 17.
Dene received a digital copy of MLB The Show 17 from PlayStation NZ for review.