In the bottom of the second inning, after delivering a leadoff walk to San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Matt Shoemaker walked off the mound to gather himself…and never returned.
Such was the severity of the apparent existential crisis that befell the bearded 6-foot-2 righthander from suburban Detroit. Either that, or it was just one more symptom in yet another year of online failures in MLB: The Show.
In fact, sudden crises of conscience seemed to befall even the best of baseball’s mound men. Felix Hernandez. Clayton Kershaw. Madison Bumgarner. All delivered walks during online play. All left the mound shaken men, never to return.
Online play has always been The Show’s one true downfall, but this year was supposed to be different. Instead, as the aforementioned bug indicates (and as seen in the above screen, it still hasn’t been fixed even after Sony performed server maintenance last night), it might actually be worse in MLB 15: The Show.
Even when an online game does manage to make it to completion, lag is almost always an issue, making batting a deeply unfair endeavor at times. Much as I love the competitive fire of ornery Alabama native Jake Peavy, the dude shouldn’t be striking out 21 guys in a game at any point in the space-time continuum. And if Sony can’t even get online to work competently at 1 a.m. Pacific and 4 a.m. Eastern, what hope is there for prime time?
Yes, it feels like a broken record, but I have no choice but to repeat it this year: Sony San Diego’s hardball sim is generally good—some areas of the game are even spectacular. But for too many years now, the same problems have sabotaged the experience, and MLB 15: The Show simply doesn’t do enough to remedy them. Is it worth it for baseball fans? Absolutely. The Show remains the gold standard when it comes to consistency in sports games. Unfortunately, it’s become a little too consistent.
I wouldn’t be so firm on calling out the subpar online play (it’s nothing players of The Show haven’t experienced before, after all), but two elements make me less willing to forgive it this year. One, Sony San Diego promised that it had been a priority for the development team. “A lot of work has gone into improving online play in MLB 15: The Show,” read a post on the PlayStation Blog last month. “The overall experience will be more stable, more consistent, and feel better.” Their words. Not my experience.
And two, Sony specifically delayed sending review copies and codes to outlets until the day of release—and they did it to make sure online functionality was working properly, because they were “committed to ensuring that the experience reviewers have is representative of the final experience.” Well, a week after release, this is representative of the final experience—and it’s unacceptable.
At least I can always jump into Season, Franchise, or Road to the Show with this series and know I’ll have a good time, though. As always, my baseball-loving Neanderthal, Unfrozen Caveman Ballplayer, took to the field in the game’s career mode, Road to the Show—this time as a power-hitting third baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays organization—and slowly made his way toward manning the hot corner at Rogers Centre in the Bigs.
There’s not much new this year with Road to the Show except year-to-year saves, but that’ll be a big help for those of us who like to take our time improving our player’s attributes at every opportunity and progress at a glacial pace. I will say, though, that after dealing with the divas and the drama of NBA 2K’s MyCareer, I wouldn’t be totally opposed to inserting that element into The Show.
The other big change is licensed equipment, and I’ll be honest—I can’t tell Rawlings from Mizuno other than knowing that the former is American and the latter is Japanese. The authentic equipment does help improve your player’s attributes, though, so it isn’t just for appearance.
Other modes do see more obvious improvements, though. I even got some enjoyment out of Diamond Dynasty, The Show’s collectible-card fantasy-team option that hasn’t really grabbed me in the past—it required the investment of Road to the Show without the payoff, in my view. This year, player cards are yours to keep permanently.
You also have one created Dynasty player who “trains” by “devouring” unwanted player cards, which improves his attributes depending on whether he eats a power hitter like Chris “Crush” Davis or a slap hitter like Nori Aoki. It’s still not my favorite mode, but Diamond Dynasty actually felt worthwhile this year. And while I don’t feel as invested in my team, the Beach Hipsters, as I do my Road to the Show player, I did make more of an effort to build and tweak my squad, which says something about the improved, more streamlined interface and management. The ability to unlock 30 “legends” cards—one from each MLB team—is also a draw, but I question a collection of “legends” that puts Cliff Floyd on the same plane as Ted Williams.
Probably my favorite change this year comes at the plate, however, with the new directional hitting option. This is an integral part of baseball, and with defensive shifts now playing a big role in the real-life game, taking what the defense gives you has never been more important (less so in The Show, it seems, though shifts are definitely noticeable with some players, particularly with plodding left-handed sluggers like Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz). Now, you can more easily pull that inside pitch or go the other way with an outside pitch depending on how you aim the left analog stick during your swing. It’s not easy, but I appreciate that the game now gives me that option, and I’m slowly getting to the point where I can consistently pull that inside pitch over the fence, just like a real Major Leaguer.
Another subtle change comes on the mound, with the addition of the slide step to pitching mechanics—in layman’s terms, this means shortening the windup from the stretch with runners on base to allow a smaller window for the opponent to steal. It’s hard to believe this already wasn’t part of The Show, but considering the impact speedsters like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon can have on a game, it’s a welcome inclusion.
The Show also makes some defensive tweaks this year. Foremost among those mentioned by Sony San Diego was more realistic routes to the ball from outfielders, but I didn’t really notice any difference during my playtime. If anything, it’s still not realistic enough. Lead-footed Arizona Diamondback Mark Trumbo, who may be the worst defensive outfielder I’ve seen in the past five years, managed to comically sprint down a scorching blast in AT&T Park’s notoriously cavernous right-center field alleyway—that’s a play a fleet-footed fielder like Lorenzo Cain has trouble making, let alone a dude who makes molasses look fast like Trumbo.
Last year, Sony San Diego started The Show’s journey on the new console generation by making sure the stadiums were authentic. This year, they’ve gone one step further by implementing seasonal lighting. It always bothered me when I’d start a night game in the fall and it would still be light out, but that’s not an issue anymore. The developers also made an effort to tweak player models—some look slightly improved, but there are still way too many botched facsimiles. At least they finally nailed Hunter Pence’s crazy eyes, even if nothing else about him looks quite right. (Helpful advice: Just use Matthew McConaughey as your base model with him, and go from there!)
And when it comes to players, I will say I’m generally satisfied with their performances in The Show and how they stack up to their real-life counterparts, with one major exception: Madison Bumgarner. After his dominating 5-inning save on two days’ rest in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, I lost my mind in celebration—not just as a Giants devotee, but as a baseball fan in general. (My exact words over Skype to Ray Carsillo, the only other true baseball fan here at EGM, were “WHat; awl;dd lffd sufdfdadsfkmlfdotfdnedodreawr”)
It was a true performance for the ages, on par with the likes of Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, and Bob Gibson—legends I had grown up reading about. And now I had finally seen World Series dominance to match. Bumgarner was already my favorite pitcher to use in the franchise, and I looked forward to the improved arsenal he’d surely bring to MLB 15: The Show. Yet in-game, Bumgarner doesn’t feel any more dominant than he did in previous years—if anything, he actually feels slightly worse. His four-seam fastball doesn’t feel as crisp or overpowering, and his curveball doesn’t seem to feature quite the same devastating bite. Maybe part of the problem was my elevated expectations, but I anticipated more, particularly after his World Series heroics.
There’s plenty to like in MLB 15: The Show—but it’s all incremental. Not one change feels genuinely game-changing in a good way. I watched Sony San Diego’s pre-release livestreams on Twitch with great interest and heard their development philosophy in their own words. It’s clear they value the little things that are so important to baseball, and it’s invaluable that they have a few former professional and college players at the studio to help ensure a more authentic experience. But when it comes to the big changes, the team seems either unwilling or unable to execute (perhaps because Sony isn’t giving them the resources to do so).
This past Easter Sunday, I got together with my girlfriend and her dad, two lifelong Chicago Cubs fans, to watch the opening-night contest against their dreaded, dominating rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. This year, the Cubs promised, things would be different. They’re renovating century-old Wrigley Field and outfitting it with modern amenities. They’d acquired one of baseball’s top free agents, postseason ace Jon Lester. They have baseball’s best prospect, slugging third baseman Kris Bryant, who scorched baseballs all across the Cactus League this spring.
But on Sunday night, Wrigley was a mess, with unfinished bleachers, subpar lighting, and a disastrous restroom situation. The Cardinals broke Lester psychologically by running wild on him. And Bryant was stuck in the minors thanks to MLB’s arcane arbitration rules. They were the same old Cubs. And they’ve been that way for so long, nobody really believes that they’ll ever change. Playing MLB: The Show, I’m starting to get that same sense. It’s a nice time out at the ol’ ballyard, but will it ever make the next leap that fans rightly expect after all these years?
No one denies that MLB: The Show is a solid sports title. But there’s a definite malaise that’s come over many of its fans. Yes, we play it because it’s one of the best, most consistent sports titles on a year-to-year basis. But the series is coming dangerously close to lowering players’ expectations to an unacceptable level—and the developers at Sony San Diego are better than that. They need to take a note from their hometown Padres and reach for that brass ring.
Sony San Diego’s hardball sim only sees incremental changes this year, but several of them—particularly directional hitting—are welcome. The core game remains solid and even spectacular in places, but online continues to be a total joke.
Sony San Diego
Sony Computer Entertainment
E – Everyone
|MLB 15: The Show is available on PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. Primary version played was for PS4. Code/hardware was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|