Every year a new season of our favourite sports starts up with everyone excited to see how well their favourite teams will do in the upcoming leagues and tournaments. March sees the start of Baseball season for the Americans, and with that, we got a new, updated version of MLB The Show 18. For us as South Africans that prefer hitting balls with a flat piece of wood, Baseball doesn’t make too much sense. The concept is simple, but understanding the intricacies and technicalities of the game can go completely over our heads.
Huge improvements over 17
I played MLB The Show 17 last year, and while I really enjoyed it, I found it very intimidating to understand and learn. Although you get a lot of gameplay tutorials and assistance, the game somehow expects you to know and understand the rules of Baseball. It is no different this time around though, and stepping up and learning this game can be a truly daunting prospect. The only reason I found the going a little bit easier with MLB 18 was simply because I had some experience going into it.
From a technical aspect, MLB 18 doesn’t improve much in terms of graphics and sound design over MLB 17.
From a technical aspect, MLB 18 doesn’t improve much in terms of graphics and sound design over MLB 17. The gameplay is very much the same as well, but because it is a system that works, it was mostly tweaked and improved instead of overhauled. What you do get however is a lot more options in terms of customisation. I felt that creating my Career Mode Rookie game me a lot more options in terms of character and facial models as well as accessories and gear you can adorn your youthful prospect with. You also get the new, and rather impressive Stance Creator, that allows you to make your character’s own unique batting stance. It’s also pretty deep and gives a ton of options from how high the bat is held and how much wiggle the bat has. It is a pretty cool feature and might make your creation stand out a bit.
Gameplay wise, most of the systems work the same as before. The game also received a revamped batting engine. It aligns itself and becomes a lot more realistic, and I found it much harder to smash balls into the crowds like it was a T20 Cricket match. You have to be a lot more accurate, and just swinging from the hip is not going to get you very far. Some might find it frustrating, but I appreciated more of a realistic approach, which goes a long way to making it feel more authentic.
Something that really stood out for me is the excellent soundtrack. It has a wide variety of music to it, ranging from slower music to rock to rap and R&B. It doesn’t overwhelm the sounds of the game and it blends in well with the background. The music is fitting for most of the occasions and that is what I ended up appreciating about it.
Back on the Road
MLB 18 gives you an option to import your old save file from MLB 17, which means you can continue the career of your previous character. I opted to go with a new character starting out as a Hopeful prospect. The concept and the gameplay in Road to the Show (Career Mode) is exactly the same, and it felt a bit like playing the same game. It kind of makes sense, since you can continue your career, and changing it up too much might not work too well. They did add a lot more content though. You can choose how you want to develop your character, and between each game, you get to choose what you want to practice, whether its weight training, batting cage or with a trainer, it is up to you. It does stress that balance is important, so just trying to improve your hitting and power won’t get you very far. It is a well put together career mode that will keep big fans busy for hundreds if not thousands of hours.
The mode that I found the most enjoyable though was Franchise Mode, which used to be an online feature, but for some reason became an offline mode with this iteration. It sees you take over as manager of your favourite franchise. You can do everything from managing the Roster, trading players, scouting new prospects to acquiring sponsorship deals. The better you do, the more money you make and the better players you can acquire and so on. It is incredibly complex and robust and if you’re a fan of strategy, this mode might be for you even if you don’t care about any kind of sports. I understand why some are upset that the mode is not online anymore, but I personally like playing against the CPU and turning my franchise into a Championship side.
Another interesting mode, but more of a fun throwback is Retro Mode, which takes all the complexity of the game away and makes it feel like you’re playing an old-school baseball game from the 90s. It uses old-school sounds and interface, but still uses the 2018 character models and stadiums. It’s a fun and entertaining mode, and might I doubt it will have legs with the hardcore fans of the game.
Taking it online
A huge improvement for me personally was the ability to get online matches, which didn’t work so well last year. I managed to get a few matches to see what it was about. You have the option of the classic Quick Play Matches and also a Battle Royale mode, which sees you square off against others in a knock out game mode. Unfortunately, I went up against people that knew a lot more than I do, and I didn’t get very far. You can customise and build your online team, which is done by collecting and using player cards that look like the good old fashioned collectable Baseball cards. The cards are ranked as Diamond, Gold, Silver or Bronze. You earn these through events and achievements as well as just levelling up your progression through the game or buying them using the in-game currency called Stubs.
You can also buy Stubs with real money, which does bring in microtransactions, so if you’re willing to part with more money, you can collect all the cards you want much quicker. There is another way though since you can get doubles, which in turn can be traded at the online auction using your Stubs. The more valuable the card, the better price it might fetch you from the auction. It doesn’t seem too much of a difference when competing against other players, since you are limited to the number of Diamond and Gold cards you can use, and in some cases, you can add those to your team to balance things out even if you don’t have enough cards. So although it looks to be something that might cost fans a lot more money, it certainly doesn’t seem to be a Pay-to-Win scenario.
The Road to something really great
Baseball is a fascinating game. It is a slow game with a ton of strategy and a very specific language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand. Truth be told, I never really cared much for it, but MLB The Show 18 might have changed my mind a bit. I feel for the first time in my life that I want to understand this game better, and if only it is so I can become a better manager of The St. Louis Cardinals. The game had me reach for the internet to learn more about the sport and certain details, and that on its own should say something about the incredible job that San Diego Studios did with it.
If you are slightly interested in Baseball, or you’re looking for a new sports game to keep you busy for the year, then maybe MLB The Show 18 should be considered, because it has a lot to offer, and if you’re willing to learn the ins and outs of the sport, then you might find that this is a damn fine game.
[Ed’s note: It is worth noting that if you want to play this game, you have to buy it digitally as there won’t be any physical versions in the country.]