Take me out to the ball game… are not words synonymous with South Africans. Baseball is probably the least recognised sport amongst our folk here, the reason being that it just doesn’t compare to our cricket perhaps? That isn’t to say that it isn’t followed here. Baseball is America’s national pastime, it is also dying out, even there. However, MLB: The Show, exclusive to PlayStation, still sells well, and few people locally seem to know about it. This ignorance must stop right now.
MLB 15: The Show is the first baseball game I have played in years, and it’s immediately recognisable how far the game has come. It also meant a whole lot of adjusting and learning, something which the game doesn’t do a great job of doing, but once you do get the hang of it, it’s easy to improve.
The presentation in MLB 15: The Show is pretty incredible. The graphics are brilliant with the realistic faces, atmospheric crowd, beautifully designed stadium and even little things like the bats, balls and outfits. There’s clearly a lot of effort into these things as it all looks super realistic.
It doesn’t end there, the ball physics feel incredible as you witness the different movements through the air of the ball from the different types of pitches, and off the bat. It makes me wonder how cricket games get it so wrong when it should follow a similar pattern. The Show just has it so right.
Presentations of the matches are equally impressive with that typical American entertainment feel to everything that goes on, from the music, player focus, stats and little cutscenes focusing on different players. It is nicely finished up with some impressive commentary, with a team that is informative and fluent making it feel like you are playing in a real game of baseball. There are the odd repeats, but nothing that stands out as a problem.
MLB 15: The Show comes stacked with different modes, enough to keep you busy for a long, long time. There are your standard exhibition matches together with a Live mode which takes the latest games in the real MLB with current stats and performers and lets you play the match out. You can play a normal Season mode which has you pick a team and play through the league.
Other options include Franchise mode which has you pick a team and play seasons, but here it includes Manager options too such as trading, earning enough money to keep going, keeping the board satisfied. It’s your all out career mode. It’s where I had my most enjoyment of the game as I took the Dodgers to the playoffs in my first season, only to lose in the final sadly.
Post-Season mode allows you to control a team straight into the playoffs, skipping out any of the main league stuff. It’s great if you want to take part in just the knockout section of the game. Home-Run Derby needs no introduction and it’s great fun if you want a quick tournament with the big hitters.
Road to the Show is MLB 15’s version of Be a Pro Mode. Here you can create your own player and start from the ‘hopefuls’ of Major League Baseball until you impress enough to sign for a big team and hopefully one day make it to the big times. Road to the Show is quite a grind at the start when you are getting going, playing in the B leagues to improve, but once you do it’s all worth it. In this mode you only play when your player is involved. If you play as a batter your involvement is a little bit limited to when you hit, and when you are occasionally required to do some fielding. Pitching on the other hand has you far more involved as you generally pitch from the start, but it does mean you barely get to bat, if at all, which is a bit of a downer.
Either way, Road to the Show is a great mode that will have you putting in the time to improve. It’s a mode that’s as developed as anything else I have seen in a sport game (aside from 2K’s NBA). If you feel a bit overwhelmed by everything else in the game, and you’re a newcomer, this is a perfect place to start.
MLB 15: The Show has its fair share of online modes. You can play online seasons, online Franchise which are just what they say they are. Then there is Diamond Dynasty mode which is their version of Ultimate Teams. In this mode you get packs of cards with players and other ‘parts’ to make the best team you can. You then play games to earn more cards, or coins to buy cards, in order to improve your team.
Diamond Dynasty honestly feels like the hollowest of Ultimate Team modes I have ever played. It’s still fun and has you working hard to build a good team, but the options are a bit limited. You can play offline matches against the CPU, or you can play online against others, but that’s about it really. No various tournament options and no variety in general make it a little bit stale from that point of view.
There are one or two smaller modes included too. Community challenges is a great way to get involved as you take on a host of situations which have been setup with other people playing the game. These vary from things like coming back from a few runs down, to containing a batter in the last innings of a game. The variety of situations is endless and you can even set up your own challenge if you want. Lastly, there is an online Challenge of the Week, but sadly this seems open only to those in the US so I could not play that. It’s a pity.
The gameplay in MLB 15: The Show is very dependent on what difficulty level you are playing on. If you are new to the game the lower levels are recommended at the start especially with batting. The timing when it comes to batting is so specific that at first it can be helluva frustrating and might make you pull out your hair. A bit of practice and patience goes a long way here and once you get the hang of it, and you learn which balls to go for, it can be rewarding.
The difficulty level does include a “dynamic” option which is really clever. It starts you off at the second lowest difficulty and based on your performance will ramp it up when it sees you are doing better. It’s a great way of getting into the game and will ease the frustration somewhat.
Batting is not only about timing, but also shot selection. Normal shot, contact shot and hard shot are your options (and bunting of course) and you can pick a direction, but getting them all going at the same time can be tricky. Again patience is needed.
Pitching is slightly easier to manage. Here you choose a ball type to throw (Fastball, changeup, etc.) and on the lower difficulty you just pick a spot and throw. On the harder difficulties a meter comes into play and you will have to time your pitch to get the best accuracy and power. It’s definitely much easier than batting, but still has a learning curve.
Fielding is as simple as can be as you manoeuvre players into position to take catches, or field the ball and choose which base to throw to. There is honestly nothing quite as rewarding as getting a double play to end an innings, though strikeouts and home runs do come close.
MLB 15: The Show is a fantastic game if you are willing to have the patience. You won’t be hitting home runs every ball so if you expect that you will be disappointed. Games can take very long as Baseball is one of the few sports that are not time dependent. It means one match can take around 30 minutes. There is the option to play less innings or to speed up the process by simulating some of it, but that just feels wrong to me.
There are a few annoyances with the game in that it sometimes feels like too much of a grind, but at the end of the day it plays a great game of baseball and if you are even remotely interested in the sport you won’t be disappointed. It’s the only real baseball game available too, but at least if you do invest in it you aren’t getting something which is crap.