MLB 15: The Show Review
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
→ April 8, 2015
Continuing Sony’s 10-year tradition, MLB 15: The Show remains an excellent recreation of The Great American Pastime… but it’s a very safe one. There aren’t any groundbreaking new features that distinguish it from last year’s also-impressive MLB 14: The Show, but the minor adjustments to its batting and modes are welcomed. Relying heavily on its nearly perfected formula of gorgeous scenery, strong gameplay mechanics, and rewarding game modes, it’s fundamentally strong, but there’s not much by way of novelty to excite a returning fan like myself.
Focusing in on those improvements, the first is an incremental graphics upgrade. As great as last year’s MLB 14 looks on the PlayStation 4, MLB 15: The Show looks even better. Adding a real-time seasonal sun makes a big difference, thanks to striking shadows in each beautifully crafted ballpark that realistically shift throughout the course of a game. MLB 15 has also enhanced its exceptionally detailed player models by adding more skin tone variations that are much more true to life.
And the crowds feel alive. Fans hold up clever signs, dance when something great happens, and boo when something bad happens. There’s so much variety that I had a hard time spotting the same models or animations twice when the camera cut to the crowd: families, friends, couples and season-ticket holders are all distinct. It’s astounding. As long as you don’t look too hard at what’s behind the bleachers, the environments are completely believable, and can be remarkably immersive.
On the field, the biggest addition this year is directional hitting. Being accustomed to lining up my bat with the ball, this more intuitive approach to hitting actually took me a while to understand. Now, aiming where I want my ball to go feels more logical. Meanwhile, we’ve still got the solid pitching options available, including my personal favorite: pulse pitching. It’s a happy balance that’s nuanced and challenging, but not overwhelmingly complex. On defense, players respond realistically wherever the ball lands, and controlling their fielding is smooth and easy.
The entire list of game modes from last year are back and slightly better than ever. First of all, I’m happy to report that the online modes The Show are vastly improved compared to last year, when the lag made MLB 14 unplayable at times. I haven’t experienced a single lag-related hiccup so far this year, but I have seen the occasional glitch. I have to point out, though, that Sony’s announcement that the online modes for MLB 14 will be turned off in June [update: in response to feedback, Sony has extended the life of MLB 14 indefinitely] has shaken confidence that MLB 15’s online modes will be around for long.
For single-player modes, the new year-to-year save feature allows you to continue your progress from MLB 14: The Show, which is great, because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my team. (I spent way more time than I’m willing to publicly admit making franchises full of created players with the names and likeness of my friends.)
The flagship Road to The Show mode has gone mostly unchanged. As before, you start the career of a MLB hopeful, level him up by performing well on the field, and work your way up to the big leagues. It’s quick, addicting, and scratched my RPG itch… again. The only notable change to this mode is the addition of licensed equipment – for example, you can earn universal card drops that reward you with equipment like Rawlings gloves, Louisville Slugger bats, and Nike shoes. Their presence adds to the authenticity of the branding-heavy real-world MLB broadcasts, and also gives you a little stat boost.
Meanwhile, Franchise mode adds GM contracts and ownership expectations, which can lead to job offers from other clubs if you do well… or can get you fired if you don’t. That fear of failure made me plan more carefully and think about every decision I made, as opposed to just trying everything to see what would work. Also, the new Inside the Show radio show does an impressive job with contextualized updates from your team and from around your own personal league.
The virtual card-collecting fantasy baseball mode, Diamond Dynasty, has been simplified for MLB 15. It’s now much more manageable with no contracts to worry about, and is fun even without buying into its microtransactions. You don’t even have to play Diamond Dynasty to collect cards anymore, which allowed me to play other modes without feeling like I was missing out on opportunities to progress my team.
The best addition to Diamond Dynasty, however, has to be the custom-made utility player that can play every position, including pitcher. When you first create him, he’s a very average player, but feeding him unwanted cards from your stash improves his skills. Finding the balance between using my best cards to field a competitive team, saving Giants cards to eventually unlock Will Clark, or feeding them to my created player is rewarding, and will keep me coming back for more.