MLB 15: The Show Review: The Best Sports RPG Ever

out of 5

I’ve simply exhausted my thesaurus when it comes to reviewing Sony and San Diego Studios’ annual love letter to baseball, MLB: The Show. There just aren’t enough accolades left to shower on this game series. Each year sees the absolute best in what a sports game can offer, and though some year-to-year tweaks are minimal, a slightly-polished brick of gold is still a brick of gold.

In MLB 15: The Show, that streak continues. For 10 years, San Diego Studios has put out a game that is as deep and feature-filled as any other game franchise, sports or otherwise. The Show pioneered so many game features that other publishers have now adopted, and while The Show is a Playstation family exclusive, it’s imprint is felt in almost every sports game published today, no matter the system.

While the upgrades and changes in MLB 15: The Show may not look like much when read as a list, playing the game really brings out the tweaks and polish from the previous years’ titles and has positioned this year’s The Show as one of the best sports games ever.

Baseball, when you get down to it, is not the most complicated of sports. It’s nine guys, some gloves, four bags, a few bats and a ball. Each of the nine guys take turns trying to hit that ball while the opposing nine try to catch it. Simple.

But in the hands of San Diego Studios, that simple game becomes so much more.

Some of the many new features for 2015 include directional hitting, where the player can now direct the swing of the bat with the left stick, licensed equipment, and year-to-year saves, which actually was introduced last year, but now gets to prove what it can do.

Directional hitting works for the player who wants to try and drive the ball to the opposite field to advance a runner, or to take advantage of a defensive shift. What’s neat here is how the camera adjusts to the press of the L stick, helping the batter set up for the optimal hit.

The year-to-year saves is splendid and is seamless in its implementation. Continuing your Road to the Show (RTTS) player or Franchise from last year is as simple as a button press when booting either feature. And the thing is, my RTTS character from last year never got out of 2014 (or Double A, if we’re being honest), and when I opted to continue him, it picked up right where I left off last season — including playing alongside teammates from last year who aren’t even with my team’s organization this year. This gives my guy more time to develop and build a potential Hall of Fame career.

While my guy is stuck in 2014, the new features and licensed equipment from MLB 15: The Show are available. The first thing I did was outfit my guy with a real bat, gloves and shoes, which gave me statistical bonuses and made me a better player.

And it’s in this new “licensed equipment” feature that The Show really shines. For an RTTS character, this is as close to a full-fledged fantasy role-playing game (RPG) that The Show has ever come. I arm my character with a weapon — here a Louisville Slugger or a Marucci power stick, new armor in the guise of Nike or Mizuno shoes, and a Rawlings or Wilson mitt, and even a “talisman” by way of “ritual” items, like a shirt my guy has worn since college, sunflower seeds, or a lucky necklace and even a four leaf clover for luck. Baseball is one of the most superstitious sports, and baseball players are a superstitious lot. The fact that I can unlock newer and better equipment just by playing pushes me to do just that. This all makes MLB 15: The Show a true RPG like never before.

There is a laundry list of other advancements San Diego Studios have added to the game, including realistic light and shadows, new animations, slides, cut offs and so much more. But unless you log in hours and hours of games in previous installments, they may not be as noticeable. Skin tones and player faces are a step up from last year’s game, and I’ve found myself in awe at how close some of these guys look to their real-life counterparts. The extra year of development on the powerful PS4 has definitely paid off. Overcast skies really help to highlight the player models and the new details to faces. The lighting of a sunny day game or the artificial light from a night game tends to bleach out the details, but an overcast sky really makes these incredible graphics pop.

Diamond Dynasty (DD) has also been revamped, or “distilled” as the game says. It’s been simplified and is way easier to use. DD is card based, where teams are built by players obtained from packs of Topps baseball cards. And packs are earned by logging in and playing and doing well — and in any game mode, not just DD. This also opens up another new feature in MLB Legends. Each of the 30 MLB teams has a “legendary” player that can be found in packs and used in-game. I was particularly thrilled that my beloved Seattle Mariners legend was not, in fact, Ken Griffey, Jr., but the King of the DH (and the clutch double), Edgar Martinez. While Griffey was an active player when The Show first started ten years ago, Edgar was not, and he never had a chance to be added to this wonderful series. Now he’s here and you can bet your Paul Molitor rookie card I’m doing all that I can to unlock him.

Other legends include Johnny Bench (Reds), Al Kaline (Tigers), George Brett (Royals), and Harmon Killibrew (Twins). Some of the legends are surprising, which adds to their collectability. You’d think for the Yankees, the legend would be Ruth, or Mantle, but it’s actually Yogi Berra. Hopefully this sticks around for a few years and we get to see (and experience) new legends each season and maybe even have them combined with previous years’ legends (you feel me, San Diego Studios?)

Most of the features that make MLB: The Show the best sports series are back, and the option to adjust sliders and features to suit a player’s style is still there. Pitching meter is back as the default, but pulse pitching, which I absolutely abhor, is in the menus for the gamers who like silly mini games to determine a pitches’ location and speed. To put it simply, this game is fully-featured and almost everything can be tweaked or adjusted to suit a player’s preference.

Some of the best returning game modes include The Show Live, which allows players to play daily games using the real line-ups and pitching match ups for that calendar date, community challenges, which debuted last year and allow players to create in-game scenarios that other players can bet Stubs (The Show’s in-game currency) and try to defeat the challenge, and of course, the Challenge of the Week, which rewards winners with real swag, like player-signed jerseys and bats.

Franchise (both online and off) and rated on-line head to head games are also back. I personally don’t play many online games, as MLB 15: The Show has enough for me to do in every other facet, but the online game is the most smooth I’ve ever seen it, with very minimal lag. Kudos to San Diego Studios for addressing issues from years’ past.

I love baseball. I don’t hide it. I even have the Mariners logo tattooed on my arm. And as an annual MLB: The Show player, I can definitely tell that the geniuses at San Diego Studios love it as well. Every year, they turn out the best sports game on any game system, and every year, they find ways to surprise us. This year is no different.

MLB 15: The Show is the best sports game on the market, and one of the best RPGs around as well. It takes the simple sport of baseball and faithfully recreates it in video game form. The Show has never looked better or played better, and each year, fans wonder what San Diego Studios can do to top the previous year’s entry. At some point, they have to run out of things to add, right? But I think I remember saying that a few years ago, and here we are. Now, I can’t wait to see — and play — whatever they have in store for next season and seasons beyond. But rest assured, I still have a few years (in-game) to get through first. After all, my guy — a pudgy right fielder deep in the Mariners organization who unfortunately swings at everything — will one day make The Show. And the journey will be worth it, no matter how long it takes.

MLB 15: The Show is available now for the Playstation 4, Playstation 3, and Playstation Vita. This review was based off a copy of the PS4 game provided by Sony.

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