Developer Sony San Diego has been delivering The Show for more than a decade on PlayStation platforms. Even though the series has evolved since its beginnings, they find themselves way behind their competitors in the sports genre in many areas. With MLB 17: The Show they've put some effort into bridging the gap between themselves and other sports simulations.
Given the name of the game, it's pretty obvious that Road to the Show is the main mode here. This is Sony's take on EA Sports' Be a Pro and 2K Sports' My Career. You control one single player through his career and follow his progress through the minors, aiming for a shot with the big boys in the Major League. Being the first developer to introduce us to this game mode back in 2006, many of us expected that they would lead the way. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Even if this year's edition is massively improved with a bit of narrative, it is far less than what we should expect from a game having this mode as its main focus.
There is a narrator telling you what is going on at any given time. With the lack of voice from the coach, agent or even the player itself, it just feels a bit underwhelming. The response you get from said staff and player is strictly in writing and retold in a boring way by the narrator. The choices you make in these conversations do have an effect on the game in some way, but several of the situations are fictitious and consist of events that would never happen in the real world.
One example of this was when we got drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays after putting on a good show ahead of the draft. To start with, we chose to play as second baseman. After some time in the Double-A league, my coach asks for a meeting to check we might want to change our main position to third baseman instead. He tells us the team is lacking a star player in that position in the majors, and that the move will give us a better shot at making it to the big league. This seems fine, and we would probably appreciate this if we didn't have any knowledge of the Rays. You see, the only position the Rays actually have a well-known star, is third base with two-time Golden Glove award-winner, Evan Longoria.
Even with all these annoyance, Road to the show will most likely be the most played mode in this game. Not because it is all that great, but because it's the best mode in the game.
Over the year's we've gotten to know EA Sports' various Ultimate Team modes (FUT, MUT and HUT). This year, Sony San Diego has made their own version of this too, without succeeding all that well. It's a messy setup with way too many difficult terms, even for a hardcore baseball fan, turning Diamond Dynasty into an underwhelming experience.
But enough about the negative elements. What really counts when it comes to a game is how it plays. MLB 17: The Show gives you way more than most of us expected in this area. The casual gamer will probably feel like the game is pretty much a roster update to last year's effort. But if you look closer at the little details, you'll see that it has been completely renovated. New commentators, new ball physics, and not least better AI; all keywords for this version of The Show.
With graphics that makes you wonder if it's a real baseball game or a video game you're watching, it's hard not to be impressed. The players look so lifelike that if you were to take away the tooltips and all of the unnecessary visual clutter on the screen, it'd be easy to get confused. If you start a computer-only game and let them play out the game, you could easily drift off and start believing that it's an actual game. Both graphics-wise, presentation-wise, and now also in terms of performance.
The presentation of The Show 17 is pretty much the same as you find when you watch the MLB Network on TV. With advanced statistics for every player and information about them that you didn't even know you needed, it really feels like a real-time broadcast. Smooth movements and a good flow to the game helps for realism, and even if the ball comes at you at 100 miles per hour you are able to follow the ball the whole way. This doesn't necessarily make it easier to hit, though.
Sadly, we've yet to attend a real baseball game. That is why we can't say for sure that it sounds real when you hear a bat break or gravel being sprayed ahead of you as you reach for a base. TV does not always transfer these sounds well. That being said, we wouldn't be in the very least surprised if they are accurately depicted. It sure does sound realistic.
The only negative thing we have to comment on with regards to the presentation and game day experience, are the reactions from the crowd. Again, these are better than it has been in previous years, but it still looks a bit silly when a fan is looking in the opposite direction of the gameplay and cheering.
We tend to play most sports games online with or against others. Up until now this has been near impossible with baseball games and (American) football games. Basically, this is a result of there being fewer Europeans playing these games, at least when compared to FIFA, NBA, or NHL. Having to play against overseas players, the Atlantic ocean has caused a delay that is critical regarding a reaction sport like baseball. After playing roughly twenty games that ran pretty smoothly, it sure looks like they have improved their online setup (or maybe just the servers), making it easier for Europeans to play Americans. A very promising sign in terms of the longterm appeal of the game.
To sum things up MLB 17: The Show is without doubt the best entry in the series so far. Great improvements have been achieved where it matters the most, and even if it is possible to find flaws in game modes, we are sure to fire up this game several times this summer and beyond. With the added option to finally play baseball games online for Europeans, we're looking forward to a lot of fun in the coming months.
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