Baseball is a game that a lot of us here in South Africa know very little about. It has been dramatised and romanticized to death by Hollywood, and that is about the extent of our knowledge. That said, it’s always been a sport that fascinated me, so I relished the opportunity to give MLB The Show 17 a bash.
Learning the ropes
The last time I played a Baseball game was in the early nighties on my knockoff NES console. I also haven’t played much sport games in recent years. So when I was offered a tutorial on how the MLB The Show 17 works, I jumped at it right away. The tutorial is pretty detailed and can get a bit overwhelming, but luckily it gives you the basics in order to start playing the game and start having some fun.
[pullquote_leftMLB The Show 17 provides enough freedom to make gameplay as easy or challenging as you want it.[/pullquote_left] I’m not going to go into too much detail on how the mechanics work, but MLB The Show 17 provides enough freedom to make gameplay as easy or challenging as you want it. Gameplay varies from timing a button press to a pure analogue system to a hybrid of the two. You can also customise these systems to each of the three facets of the game, which is batting, pitching and fielding. Fielding was the worst for me, as I battled to get used to the controls of which plate to throw at and doing it accurately. The players also sometimes felt slow to react to the ball.
After setting things up, you then get to take to the field to play a few matches as your favourite team and get used to the mechanics before trying out the different game modes on offer.
The Road to the Show
The campaign mode of MLB The Show 17 takes a similar route as previous and other sport games. You get to create and customise a player who starts out as a rookie to work his way up the ranks to become a true legend of Baseball. Customisation is decent enough, but feels a bit limiting, there’s enough tools to create a cool-looking player, but with limited face types, body types and accessories, it is a bit bland. You do get some cool animation and style customisation, which includes batting stances, swings and running types. Most of these things can be changed later on in the game.
You then play through the career of Joe Random (your name can differ, but I liked the default) who has to do tryouts, and play in front of scouts to get noticed, all the while his story is being narrated in a documentary format. Joe ended up being drafted by the Seattle Mariners, and he goes off playing for the Minor League to prove himself to the big shots in charge. After half a season Random got called up to the Major League (because I’m that good), to represent the Mariners for the remainder of the season.
Throughout the game you have to do practice sessions and speak with your agent to get better deals and so on. There’s enough variation as you get to play different field positions and do different things for your team. You can pretty much keep going for as long as you like, but I started getting a bit bored half way through the second season. I don’t think this will be a problem for real baseball fans out there tough.
[pullquote_right] Everything from player animations to the stadiums to the crowd looks and feels great. [/pullquote_right]The career mode is fun and engaging enough, and keeps you busy for quite some time. I played two seasons and unfortunately couldn’t make it to World Series with the Mariners, so I’m not as good as I thought, or I just need a better team. Time to call my agent.
America’s favourite pastime
The presentation of MLB The Show 17 is really impressive. Everything from player animations to the stadiums to the crowd looks and feels great. The way the ballplayers move and interact with each other is incredibly well done, although the faces of the characters are a bit wooden and lifeless. But other than that, the game looks gorgeous and it sounds amazing.
The actual matches are incredible, and the way it is presented feels like a real television broadcast. The game music was okay, but it distracted from the atmosphere that is created, so I switched it off. You then get that real sense of being there and being part of America’s favourite pastime. The commentary is decent as well, and it seems to have a lot of dialogue, but after a couple of hours of play, you start noticing repetition, but nothing too annoying.
I don’t really know what these stadiums look like, but the level of detail that went into creating them are astonishing and it feels real and authentic. Everything from how the shadows fall on the field to how a stadium’s atmosphere changes depending on a roof being retracted or not are incredibly detailed.
But the one thing that really stood out for me is how good the crowds look in this game. Character models feel unique and alive, and although there’s a lot of copy and pasting going on, it’s not something you’ll really notice unless you go looking for it. What I also really liked was the fact that the stadiums weren’t always packed to the rafters, and seeing the way the crowd reacts to a ball flying into the stands went a long way at selling the game’s realism and authenticity to me.
Not much point in it if you can’t compete
Doing any form of sport is to compete with your peers, and that is even true when it comes to simulating it in a video game. MLB The Show 17 offers quite a few online modes such as Diamond Dynasty and Franchise Mode. In Diamond Dynasty, you get to create your own team and draft your own ballplayers into it. You collect players in the form of baseball cards, which can then placed in your team. The more you play, the more players you collect, the more options you have. You can also buy card packs in the form of micro-transactions, but this is not something that I explored.
Once your team is set, you can play against the computer (PS4) or play online, which unfortunately didn’t work so well for me. I was dogged by laggy gameplay and a couple of disconnects, which might be due to me playing against people on the other side of the Atlantic. I tried seeing online if others are having connection issues, but couldn’t really find anything, so it was either my own shoddy internet, or the sheer distance between me and the core MLB player base that made it difficult.
Take me out to the ballgame
MLB The Show 17 is a good load of fun. It has a lot of content on offer and can keep you busy for quite some time. Not having online working for me does diminish the value of the game a bit, and could be an issue if that is the reason you want to buy the game. But overall MLB The Show 17 is a well built game that looks great, is well presented and offers multiple modes to keep you busy and entertained.