MLB The Show 18 is an extremely competent baseball simulator. It’s the Cal Ripken, Jr. of sports games: not very flashy, but it’s mastered the fundamentals. There are definitely a few areas where The Show’s formula feels a little stale compared to other recent sports games, but in the end, it performs where it matters, and that’s on the field.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t played a baseball game since EA Sports Triple Play 2001. But I played a lot of Triple Play, and jumping into MLB The Show 18 after almost two decades away from baseball games (besides the occasional foray into more recent incarnations of the RBI Baseball series) felt natural, like talking to an old friend I haven’t heard from in a while. This is mostly thanks to the plethora of gameplay options that The Show 18 offers both in the batter’s box and on the mound, which allows players to tailor their preferred hitting and pitching methods to their experience level and comfort. The fact that baseball games haven’t really changed all that much in the last twenty years didn’t hurt my chances either.
With that in mind, don’t expect much in the way of comparison to last year’s title in this review, since I haven’t played it. Hopefully, fans of the series will be able to tell what’s new and what isn’t, and newcomers like myself will benefit from my impressions. Still, I’m no stranger to sports games, and MLB The Show 18 is one of the most enjoyable I’ve played in a while.
On that note, one place where The Show 18 immediately stands out against other sports titles is in its approachability. As I mentioned earlier, it gives players several options for pitching, batting, and base-running, which allow for a uniquely customizable experience based on what best suits the player’s comfort and skill level.
The default control scheme for pitching, for example, is meter-based. Choose a pitch with one of the face buttons, pick the location for your pitch in or out of the strike zone, and let it rip. The first notch of the meter will determine power, and the returning notch will determine accuracy. While this control scheme is the best way to confirm an accurate pitch, it was also the most difficult for me to time correctly. Instead, I chose the pulse control scheme. As before, you choose your pitch type with the face buttons, and then your location. But instead of timing a meter just so, you will get a pulsing circle surrounding your ball. Timing the pulse so that you stop it when the circle is at its smallest and you will get a pitch that is approximately close to your intended target but not exactly where you want it. I even went so far as to use the classic pulse scheme, which puts a border around the circle, making it a little easier for me to gauge.
Likewise, batting has some similar tradeoffs. You can either use a directional system that will give you less accurate swings but will make it easier to make contact with pitches, or you can use a target-based system that will make your hits more accurate but give you a much wider berth for missing. On top of that, you can choose to swing by means of analog- or button-based systems, letting you curtail the batting experience to your specific choices without dumbing it down. The best part is that these control schemes have nothing to do with your difficulty settings, so if you become comfortable with your setup, you can choose to carry over those schemes to a higher difficulty setting.
Things got a little less comfortable for me when the ball was actually in play, and that’s mostly due to the fielding. The sheer variety in contact potential is great, as no two hits ever feel exactly the same, and the ball physics feel especially realistic, but this also made getting acclimated to MLB The Show 18‘s realistic fielding something of a challenge for me personally. Players move with a very specific inertia in this one, and this can lead to some very easy mistakes. Oftentimes, following a hit, it would take me a minute to see what fielder I was controlling. In that split second it’s very easy to accidentally press the left stick in the wrong direction. In most baseball games I’ve played, this is barely an issue, as correcting your direction is almost instantaneous. But The Show 18‘s realistic player inertia means heading in the wrong direction, even for a second, can throw off your fielder’s entire approach to a fly ball or a grounder. I even missed a couple of easy fly balls because the game’s adherence to realistic player movement can be somewhat impenetrable for newer players.
Still, the ball physics in The Show 18 are phenomenal and feel natural. Bouncing a hard grounder off the pitcher’s mound and up the middle into center field is one of the most satisfying moments you can have in the game. Baserunning feels fine; as with pitching and batting, The Show 18 gives you several options for how you will control your runners. I never felt entirely comfortable with either of them, but that’s mostly due to me often switching, trying to figure out which worked best for me. Overall, The Show 18‘s gameplay strikes a fine balance between approachability and depth, where the perpetual mind-games of pitching and batting aren’t dumbed down just by changing the settings or control schemes.
The game’s main modes are more of a mixed big than the actual gameplay. The career mode, Road to the Show, really stands out as a way to experience The Show 18. In Road to the Show, you take control of a created player who starts off as a prospect for either the West, Central, or East regions. Before you step on the field, you choose what position you want your character to play, and this determines what player archetype you are. Pitchers can either be better at throwing heaters or controlling breaking pitches. Short-stops, on the other hand, choose between archetypes that favor fielding and speed or contact and power. These archetypal choices determines which attributes are capped for your players. That’s right: You can no longer create the godliest baseball player of all time who’s rated 99 in everything. You have to choose what attributes and skills you want to prioritize and focus on those.
Likewise, your character doesn’t necessarily start as one of the top prospects in the game, and how long your character languishes in the minors before being bumped up to the majors depends on your performance. Getting hits and making plays increases the correlating skill, which is the only way (besides the occasional focus training) for your character’s attributes to increase. In Road to the Show, you only control your character, though you can choose how often you’d like to control him or how many games you’d like to sim. On offense, you obviously control your character when he’s at-bat, but it’s up to you if you want to run the bases. Likewise, on defense, you can choose to play only when your character is involved so you’re not standing around watching the CPU battle itself. You can also choose to basically just hop from one play to another, or you can get a quick text-based play-by-play summary of the game and jump in when it’s your moment to shine.
Road to the Show is the closest thing to a baseball RPG I’ve played and gives added weight to performing on the field. Unfortunately, it’s a little less engaging when the action’s unfolding off the field, as you’ll occasionally be prompted with some text-based dialogue choices that can affect your character’s career. These moments aren’t the most exciting, but they don’t take away from the overall experience that much, and thankfully they aren’t as cheesy as the cutscenes in NBA 2K18‘s god-awful career mode.
Perhaps most important (at least to me), The Show 18 nails its creation tools. Not only does it have an awesome character creator—where I pieced together my latest monstrosity, Jumbo Dirtbag—but it also has a fantastic batting stance creator. Jumbo Dirtbag ended up with the weirdest stance in baseball since Jeff Bagwell’s, and it helped me become instantly attached to my character.
Franchise mode isn’t as engaging as Road to the Show, mostly because its various menus are somewhat unwieldy and unengaging. There are just so many menus to manage, and making trades and moving around your lineup is a cumbersome process due to the lack of options for you to compare your players and their effectiveness. It’s one area where The Show 18 feels unwelcoming to new players. The various complicated and statistically overwhelming menus are bad enough, and having to sift through a bunch of text makes team management feel too much like middle management. The Show 18 isn’t the only sports game guilty of this problem, but at a certain point I’d hope that franchise modes will be able to figure out a more engaging way to make roster decisions than simply forcing players to scroll through a list of names and numbers.
If you don’t want to deal with any of that, you can set a lot of the managerial aspects of your team to auto and focus on playing or simply sim to the important bits. If these were the Triple Play 2001 days, I would have played most of the game in my season, but I just don’t have that kind of time anymore so I ended up simulating most of my games, which led to some interesting decisions being made behind my back by the auto managers. The Show 18 breaks a season down into different phases, ranging from the all-star break to the trading deadline, and the mode will pull you out of your sim so you can make some last-minute decisions if need be.
However, after simulating multiple weeks of the season and pausing the simulation, I returned to discover that I’d missed some important notifications from my managers and actually missed out on signing a free agent third baseman that would have really rounded out my lineup. This problem is obviously solved by simming only a few games at a time instead of an entire month, but it was still pretty annoying that the game didn’t stop to notify me about that free agent but still took the time to let me know that another team had made a trade.
Online multiplayer seemed to work fine following a few early problems with The Show 18‘s servers. I wasn’t a huge fan of the way that the online multiplayer expedited some of the games by giving players artificial pitch counts. Starting off with a 1-2 count is kind of bogus, though the game does pull this nasty trick on both players. Still, servers are consistent and reliable for the most part, even if I did get dropped from a match once in the few games I played.
As for Diamond Dynasty mode, I tested it out a bit but didn’t fully invest in it. The best thing I can say about Diamond Dynasty mode is that it didn’t seem to distract The Show 18‘s developers too much from providing an engaging single-player experience. And The Show players whose sole focus is Diamond Dynasty mode have probably stopped reading this review by now anyway.
MLB The Show 18 made me regret missing out on almost two decades of baseball sims. It’s a refined, comfortable, surprisingly deep baseball experience, but what’s interesting to note is how little has changed, at least on a macro level. Longtime players of the series might not be as excited as I was about this year’s iteration, but despite a clunky Franchise mode and unforgiving fielding mechanics, it’s definitely reignited my love for the game.
MLB The Show 18 offers a ton of options for new players to craft their own experiences while still giving veteran players the level of depth they’d expect from the latest entry in a series that’s been totally refined over the years. Some of its modes might seem a little dated, and only time will tell if MLB The Show 19 can finally be the game that makes Franchise mode a little more exciting to manage, but Road to the Show’s new RPG mechanics and The Show 18‘s overall great gameplay will give players new and old plenty to enjoy.
SIE San Diego Studio
Sony Interactive Entertainment
E – Everyone
|MLB The Show 18 is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Product was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.