When you’re the only sport game on a platform, it can be hard to try and stay innovative. For years, the Madden series has had that problem. Instead of trying to improve upon something, the franchise has often just plateaued.
Last year, it felt like MLB 15: The Show might have hit a similar bump in the road. With no real competition around, the game stayed stuck in the mud. Like most sports though, it’s not about when you fall, it’s about how you get up. It seems as if the team behind The Show has taken this to heart, as MLB The Show 16 presents a revamped look at some core features and truly improves on the series.
Before we get into the myriad of changes to the game modes, we’ll talk about some basic good and bad things found within the game. Visually, the game looks about as good as ever, with stadiums looking much nicer and the field conditions looking incredibly improved. Crowds feel a bit more alive than in previous versions, although they still aren’t much more than cardboard cutouts of people.
Sadly, what persists throughout this series is absolutely terrible server issues. In my time with the game, I’ve had the misfortune of constantly caught in glitches while playing online to not even being able to find opponents to play against. In an otherwise very well made game, the online issues stick out as something that needs to be addressed.
While many of the games modes have been tinkered with, the biggest changes come in the games flagship mode, Road to the Show. In Road to the Show (or RTTS, for convenience’s sake), you play as a rookie who must rise his way through the ranks of AA and AAA baseball before finally being called up to the majors, or “the show.”
In previous years, the formula has been pretty much the same: play games, earn experience, level up your skills, and slowly ready yourself for the big leagues, all while dealing with things like contract negotiations and interactions with your manager. When the game mode debuted, it was a breath of fresh air in the sports world. However, it’s been since been done many times by many other studios, and so the team at SCE San Diego decided to bring in some arcade-like features to spice things up.
New to the game mode is the introduction of “Showtime,” a meter that, when activated, will slow down time to allow you to make a big play in the field or at bat. Find yourself in a bases loaded situation? Toggling showtime will let you zero in on the ball and watch it slowly come in, allowing you to time a hit perfectly.
In the same manner, if you’re in the field and get a hit your way, you can slow down time to make the perfect throw to get that crucial out. The meter itself drains once you use it, so it’s best to try and wait for key moments before activating it. While it takes some time to get used to (the sudden slowing down of everything can be jarring once you’re in the rhythm of playing), it’s a fun feature that breaks up the monotony of the games mode.
Also included into the game mode were perks that would allow for various things to occur. Leveling up your contact hitting to a certain degree, for example, would allow you to turn on a perk that gives opposing players a higher chance to commit an error.
While some perks are passive (and last all game), some are one time only, forcing you to decide what time may be best to use it. In an interesting twist, the perks are activated by spending Showtime, which adds for an interesting decision that the player must make; use some perks, or save your showtime for a special moment in game?
In a game mode that usually prides itself on being hyper realistic, it’s a nice change of pace, and manages to give a mode that’s suffered from being too similar every year some much needed life. There are some other minor tweaks (the addition of a proper scout day and being able to play multiple games without going back into the main menu) that make RTTS feel like a brand new game mode, something that SCE San Diego no doubt set out to do.
Road to the Show may have been the first game mode that gamers noticed way back when, but nowadays sports games are all about the cards. Just like FIFA and Madden’s Ultimate Team modes, MLB The Show 16 features its own take on the “collecting and building a team of cards” game modes that have become so very popular in their Diamond Dynasty game mode.
Much like other games, this mode has players building a team by collecting cards and slotting them into their lineup. Cards can be acquired through the use of stubs, which can be bought with real-world money or earned by playing the game. While most cards are of players currently active in the MLB, there are tons of legend players, flashback cards, and other things to keep you collecting as you play.
Diamond Dynasty may be like Ultimate Team in its concepts, but where the game mode differs from its competition is also where it shines. Included in this mode is something known as Inside Edge Daily Ratings, which are essentially a ratings systems for players based on their matchups for that current day.
Players on your team will constantly fluctuate in overall rating based on their Edge Rating, which makes the mode less about buying the best team and more about trying to slot in a player based on both your knowledge of baseball and the ratings system provided to you. In that sense, it gives you a real feeling of being a clubhouse manager, as you no longer can form a team by just putting the highest numbered cards in your squad.
As is with every card game mode, there is a ton of grinding to be done, but thankfully The Show 16 breaks that up by introducing missions. Just as they sound like, missions are tasks for players to complete (collecting 25 cards from a certain team, for example) that, when completed, will reward you with either a higher end card or money for you to buy packs with.
Also introduced is the captain system, which lets you complete various tasks for 7 different “captains.” While some will still dislike the idea of card games, it’s nice to see them trying to make it easier for those interested but nervous (like myself) to dive in.
In order to get more people into their Diamond Dynasty mode, The Show has introduced two new modes that both rely on your card building skills. Battle Royale, much like Madden’s Ultimate Draft, allows players to draft a team made up of random cards before pitting you against players in head-to-head matchups.
Winning multiple games will reward you with higher tiered prizes that you can use for your Diamond Dynasty team, while losing will just make you start again. The high stakes nature of each game is exhilarating, and the allowing players to get a taste of some of the better cards in the game is a great way to make them want to look into the game mode.
The other mode, Conquest, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen inside of a sports game. The mode itself is akin to Risk, and the goal of it is to become the most popular team in all of MLB. To do this, you’ll need to take over other teams fanbase. All of this takes place on a hexagon-tiled map of the United States, and as you progress through the mode’s phases, you’ll soon be in an all out war between every other MLB team for control of the board.
It’s a hard mode to get into at first, but once I was playing, I found myself absolutely addicted to it. It could use a bit of fleshing out, but for a first time game mode, it is by far the best single player experience in the game, and I would love to see it make a return next year.
While last year’s rendition of The Show was something to worry about, it seems that the team behind it took all concerns and rose to the occasion. It’s clear that they listened to fans requests this time around, and added some truly great things to this title. With Road to the Show being spruced up just enough, and Diamond Dynasty becoming the clear focus of future titles, MLB The Show 16 might just be ready to take its crown back as best sports game on the market.
This review of MLB The Show 16 is based on a digital copy for the PlayStation 4 which was provided by Sony.