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Where the Vita version of MLB 15: The Show was lacking in online features and depth outside the core game, the home console versions offer up a wealth of options that make for a more complete game of baseball. Road to the Show’s RPG-like play, a deep franchise mode, the addictive Diamond Dynasty card game, online play and more all make for the best baseball console game to date. Well, it’s the ONLY console baseball game you’ll play this year thanks to Sony Santa Monica pretty much wiping out all comers with their increasingly great work. That said, some casual or brand new players may find a few elements daunting to an extreme. As with any sports game, practice makes perfect… or about as close to it as it gets.
First thing off the bat, you’ll want to fully install the game to your hard drive so it runs smoothly. While you can make do with the smaller 5GB install, the full 10GB makes for a better overall gameplay experience in both offline and online modes. If you choose the smaller install, this makes for somewhat jittery gameplay that includes almost impossible to hit pitches and hitting that’s “swing and a miss” even if you think your timing is right. As a more casual sports fan, that was the only major issue I noticed out of the case. Still, even with a tiny handful of other hiccups, everything else was just about pure gold. The game’s presentation is outstanding and features excellently animated players and even crowds that can almost fool you into thinking you’re watching a broadcast game. Sports game developers have been getting better at making spectators look more lively, but MLB 15: The Show may have some doing double takes if they pass by a TV running the game.
The core gameplay itself is rock solid and you can use the analog sticks or a combination of buttons and analog for hitting, pitching and fielding. As I don’t usually play baseball games, I had to bring in a few longtime players of the game who noted this year’s installment was indeed the best to date. One of the best things about The Show is it opens up the sport to those who want to at least see how well the game fits their style of play. You can hop into exhibition or league play with ease, practice a lot and dial the difficulty up so games aren’t complete cakewalks. Yes, you’ll see a few blowouts on your side and when playing against the AI when they’re having a bad day. But that’s what the difficulty settings are for. On one early occasion as I was getting used to the controls, the AI was having a perfect game going into the 6th inning, but an unplanned swing thanks to my thumb slipping on the analog stick followed by a fumbled throw got me on base. My joy didn’t last as there were already two outs and I struck out more mightily than Casey ever did on the next four pitches.
The new Directional Hitting is tricky at first, but adds a great sense of realism in that it’s about as hard to hit a digital baseball here as it is a real one. Pitching and fielding all get tweaks and thanks to the mostly incredible animation, it all looks fantastic. Once in a while, fielders magically catch seemingly gone fly balls, twisting themselves into human pretzels. Or you’ll see one slide across the grass or dirt like it’s a clip from a musical (Damn Yankees!, perhaps?). But these moments are few and far between. If you happen to have a save file from last year’s game, you can transfer all your stats over and have your dynasty continue in this year’s installment. That’s excellent news for those who were afraid this would be just a simple roster update or not allow those old saves to be used at all.
Licensed gear appears for the first time in the series, so gamers who want to see the proper equipment on their favorite players can tip their caps to Sony for finally working that out. I noticed that in the Road to the Show mode, licensed gear doesn’t show up for created players, but I’m gathering that’s a legal thing more than a developer omission. Despite that, you still get all the official stadiums lovingly rendered and lit, each crafted to get hometown fans cheering from their couches. While the commentary by Matt Vasgersian is great overall and can be closed captioned for the hard of hearing, some fans may miss their actual team’s TV and radio faces and voices. Granted, making a game that comprehensive on the audio front would be a heck of a task to accomplish in terms of logistics, licensing and royalty fees.
Some problems rear their heads in a game this packed. As with any game that has online play, occasional dropped connections or minor lag issues can wreck your day and stats. In solo play, the game is beautiful to hop into for a few hours at a stretch fiddling with the different modes (or just one if you’re playing a season out as your favorite team). While the Diamond Dynasty game is addictive, microtransactions can make the game infuriating if you’re not a fan of spending real-life money in a game where you think it’s not needed. granted, you can play through DD without buying a thing. But the time it takes to rake in a measly 1000 stubs for a pack of cards seems inordinately long. Well, long enough for the impatient fans to just whip out their wallets and buy stubs just to unlock more cards. It would have been cooler to allow players some sort of less obvious way to earn the means to buy DD cards, but I guess player feedback will help SCEA see that this sort of thing adds more pain than gain for some fans.
Despite these issues and a few other minor league ones, MLB 15: The Show is the best console baseball game on the market, hands down. It’s going to be hard for anyone to come along and take the crown from SCEA Santa Monica and I’m sure the pressure is on the team to do something “innovative” with their digital baseball game in the future. But it’s a case where the product in question has improved to the point where any major changes need to come in the actual sport itself before it appears in the video game version. I have no idea what’s on the plate for next year. But if this one’s any indication, there’s going to be more of the same sliding in to score the winning run once again.
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