April 18, 2016

MLB The Show 16 - Review

It's that time of the year again, the time when the temperature starts to warm up and the seasons roll on from Spring over to Summer (at least in America), the time of the year where the smell of delicious hot dogs, burgers and other amazingly delicious cholesterol raising creations waft around the good old ballpark, all set to a constant soundtrack of random organ tunes and yells of "Swing baaaattttter, Swiiiiiiing baaaaaaater" and "Strike 3 - You're out!" If you hadn't get by now that means it's baseball season, my favorite time of the year and thanks to Sony and MLB The Show 16 that means you can take your team of choice through the 162 game (they don't do things by halves in 'murica) baseball season and try and capture the World Series Trophy.

I am pretty much an American Sports junkie with a penchant for following some horrible teams such as The Los Angeles Rams, The Cleveland Indians and The Brooklyn Nets and one good team The Pittsburgh Penguins, my favourite sport by far is baseball by far but there is absolutely no bias when I make the statement that MLB The Show 16 is hands down the greatest sports game I have ever played.

The game is only available as a digital purchase off the PSN store in Australia and weighs in at a whopping 41.6 gig, so make sure you have an appropriate internet plan if you are planning on purchasing the game. The amount of game modes available is absolutely staggering and if I were to comprehensively explain them all in this review it would most likely run to the size of a book so I am mainly going to concentrate on the two main modes which are Franchise and Road To The Show (RTTS) and touch on some of the others. You gain experience points and ticket stubs from playing through most of the modes in the game which you can use to purchase cards of current and past players, sponsorship deal and equipment which can be used in certain modes of the game. The cards of players can be used to assemble your team in Diamond Dynasty mode, the sponsorships can be used in franchise mode to bring in extra money for your teams budget and the equipment can be equipped by the player you create for RTTS mode in order to improve certain stats depending on the equipment, for example a Nike batting glove may give you extra batting power whereas a Wilson mitt may increase your fielding and throwing strength, it's a nice touch that adds a certain RPG element to the game.

Every year I start off by playing RTTS mode, in this mode you create your own rookie hopeful that will work his way from being a lowly young baseball prospect through the minor leagues up to the bigs and hopefully all the way to the Hall Of Fame. The amount of customisation available when you create your player is pretty comprehensive, you can take your pick from various templates and then tweak these even further to your liking by stretching facial features and prominence of cheek and jawbones, changing hair colour and styles as well as adding any distinguishing markings such as freckles etc. You can also customise your players name and where you were born, thankfully Australia is included in the list of options. The commentators will even announce your players name if you are lucky enough to have a surname that is on the list of over 500+ available, unfortunately mine wasn't on the list, if you find yourself in the same situation you can always choose to have the commentators call you by a silly nickname like "Big Boy" or "Boom Stick".

Once you have created your player and also tailored his equipment to suit (long pants, short pants, glove types, cleat types etc) you then get to spend a given amount of skill points to improve your player in certain areas. I always play as a pitcher so I chose to increase the velocity and control I had on my fast ball. You are then entered into a 3 day event called the Topps Prospect Showcase. The first day is known as Bowman Scout day and this is where you showcase your skills to the eagerly watching scouts, as a pitcher I had to throw various types of pitches (fastball, slider, splitter etc) and nail the various parts of the plate where the catcher wanted me to throw them to, if you choose a different position other than a pitcher then you will be tasked with batting or fielding balls hit to you, after the conclusion of this you are graded on your skills and then given an estimation as to where you will be picked in the upcoming MLB draft. The next two days in the showcase are spent playing against other teams from the Central, East, West and International regions after the conclusion of these games you are graded once again and you can either choose to enter the draft and take a chance upon which team you are drafted by or simply elect to choose your favourite team that you wish to play for. I chose to go into the draft and ended up being picked at number 16 in the first round of the draft by the New York Yankees, I hate the Yankees and really did not want to play for them so luckily after being picked there is an option you can choose to go back to college for 1,2 or 3 years and spend time refining your skills, I chose this option and came back in 2 years time, went through the showcase again and this time ended up being drafted as the first pick in round one of the draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I started off on one of the Phillies minor league teams as a starting pitcher and made great progress striking out many a batter each game, the better you perform in game situations the more training points you receive and every so often you will be able to play a training mini game that will even further increase the points at your disposal to use in order to refine your player even further to your play style. You can make him faster, have more stamina, add more pitches to his arsenal or be able to bat with much more proficiency.

I made about 7 starts with the Phillies minor league team before the major league Philadelphia Phillies bought my contract and I was suddenly thrust into my first major league start, the game just a great job of making this feel like a milestone moment by showing you out on the pitchers mound while the camera rotates 360 degrees around you and the commentators talk about the accomplishment you have made to make it to the major leagues. In fact the commentators do a great job in making you feel like you are progressing all the way through your career by talking about objectives you achieve such as your first strike out or first win as a pitcher. RTTS may not have a story as deeply scripted as NBA 2K16 but in my opinion that's a good thing because the story mode in that game was an absolute disaster, you can refer back to my review of the game for more information on that.

The one big addition to the RTTS mode this year is called "Showtime" and you can choose to leave it on by default or turn it off. Showtime basically allows you to slow down time (Max Payne style) in order for you to make that perfect pitch or perfect throw to first base or slow down time as a batter in order for you to perfectly time your swing personally I found it a great addition to the game, when you engage the mode everything goes quite and time slows to a crawl and it really makes you feel like you are in the heat of the moment and allows you to pull off some amazingly satisfying plays.

The next mode I chose to tackle was Franchise Mode, the mode where I try and get my beloved Cleveland Indians to actually win a few games and make the playoffs rather than what actually happens in real life. In franchise mode you get total control over your team (or you can set some of the tasks to be handled by the CPU) you control the lineups, who to call up from or send down to the minor league teams, what training regimes are set for individual players, how to manage your teams budget and which regions to send your scouts out to in order to seek out future prospects. As general manager of the team you also have certain goals the owner will set you to achieve for the season, fail these goals and you might find yourself on the unemployment line. It is your job to build a powerhouse that will be capable of going all the way through a 162 game season and the playoffs and hold the world series trophy aloft at the end of it all. Since each game can take an hour or more to play through it can become quite a task to play through all 162 games so there options to simulate games or you can also to choose to play a game in "quick count" mode, this will only put you in control in certain key situations in games such as when a batter from your team is at the plate with a 3 balls and 2 strike count, or when your pitcher is on the mound with the same sort of count, it is a novel way of shortening the games while still being able to participate and you certainly feel way more involved than you do just by simulating a game but for me playing through all the games is the most satisfying way to play, I want to be in control of every moment of my teams success and failures throughout the season.

This brings us to Diamond Dynasty mode, this mode with all the options it provides could actually be a separate game unto itself. You basically create your own team, name them, pick where they are from (unfortunately Australia was not an option though places like Egypt, Italy and Abu Dhabi were, c'mon Sony pick up your game, there are plenty of Australian players in the majors, the option should be there) and then you can create uniforms for your team. The uniform creation options are absolutely comprehensive. You can design really intricate logos using layers upon layers of shapes, pick the colours of your jerseys and pants, the trim colors, whether you have pinstripes or not, the hat colors ... I could seriously write another 3 or so paragraphs entailing how much customisation you can do to truly create a team and make it your own, but I won't because it would be boring and I am lazy. Thankfully if graphic design is not your thing (it certainly isn't mine I am still at stick figure level when it comes to designing anything) you can download logos that other people have shared. I found an awesome "W" Wu Tang Clan logo that somebody had created and decided I would call my team the Cleveland Killer Bees.

After designing your logo you then assemble your team, this is where all those baseball cards you earn in other modes come in handy as you pick from the ones you have collected to create your team, you can also choose to spend in game money you have earned in game to buy packets of cards from the store or purchase these using real money if you wish.

After your team is assembled you can then choose to play games against the CPU or play tournaments against other real life players, in either of these modes you will earn even more cards to help you try and improve your team even further. Unfortunately the online mode at the moment is very laggy and bug ridden to the point where at times you cannot even start a game against an opponent without receiving an error message, Sony are aware of this problem and are looking at addressing it in future patches but this really should of been sorted out before the game was launched.

There is also a brand new mode in Diamond Dynasty called "Conquest" this mode plays out like an RTS game and you take your turns on a map of America and the aim is to steal fans from other teams fanbases and in turn bolster your own teams by deploying them in areas surrounding your home team. You can choose to attack other teams, which will then launch you into a short 3 inning game against that team, if you currently have the same amount or more fans than they do then it should be less of a challenge to beat them and steal their fans, if you attack a team that has way more fans than you then be prepared for a very challenging game. This mode was a really interesting and unique take on the way to try and create your own dominating baseball franchise, a great addition to the game.

The graphics and presentation in this game are absolutely stunning. The detail of the players themselves and the animations as they move could actually fool onlookers into thinking they were watching a real game of baseball. The only downside is that sometimes at certain stadiums some of the cut scenes do get very choppy, this is something that Sony do need to work on as this happened in last years version of the game as well. This year the team has improved the lighting and also the way that objects and players in the game reflect light and the result is nothing short of amazing. The team even used Google satellite data to determine where the sun is in the sky at particular times of the day and year and used this data so the sun will be exactly where it should be in the sky as the time in the game progresses. It works extremely well, if your game starts off at 1pm the sun will be high in the sky but as the game progresses and you reach the 9th inning the time will be about 4pm and because the position of the sun has changed the shadows all around the ballpark have changed in relation to the sun, it does look absolutely amazing. All the scoreboards in the ballparks actually work and show information relevant to the game you are playing even the scoreboards that show out of town games that are currently being played in the league show the scores of game in progress or final scores of games that have ended. In future additions I think it would be great if they could cross to other ballparks for important moments that may be happening in other games between innings in the game you are currently playing but this could prove to be difficult due to the memory limitations on the PS4.

The commentary in the game while not as complex as 2K Sports NBA series is still pretty comprehensive, as with any sports game you will hear some of the same lines over and over again especially if you play as the same team all the time, I did appreciate the way Sony added in commentary this year that told more about the background of certain star players though, it added more authenticity to the game. The only problem is for long time players of the game is we have been stuck with the same commentary team for the past 5 or so years now and while they are competent, I can't help but think this part of the game is one that is crying out for a breath of fresh air. The commentary team from 2K Sports now defunct baseball series of games (especially Gary Thorne, I am in love with that mans voice) were nothing short of incredible, and I have always thought if we could have that commentary team in MLB The Show then we would indeed have the perfect baseball game. Another thing I did notice about the sound this year is that the sound of the ball hitting the bat sounds much meatier and true to life especially when you hit a home run, you can tell by the crack of the ball off the bat you have hit one even before it goes over the fence.

The control system in the game this year is much the same as in previous years where you can choose to use buttons to bat or to throw and pitch or choose the analog sticks on the controller to do the same, the big addition being that this year they have brought back the stride control which a lot of fans had been calling for. This basically means just as the pitcher lets the ball go as the batter you pull back on the analogue stick so as to pull back and go into your stride and then snap it forward to hit the incoming ball, I for one always felt this way of hitting felt more natural and I am glad they have brought it back.

There are a plethora of sliders and difficulty modes available to customise the game to make it as challenging as you like, and the on screen tutorials certainly make it easy for someone who knows nothing about baseball to be able to pick up and play. There is also a "dynamic difficulty" mode where the game actually adapts to how well (or bad) you play and the difficulty will either go up or down accordingly and is represented by a nice slider graphic at the top of the screen to show how you are doing. I found this worked well until my pitching difficulty went up to Hall Of Fame difficulty level and at that point it became so hard that I could very rarely ever pitch a ball over the strike zone and when I did managed to it usually got crushed out of the park for a home run. To solve this I simply turned off the dynamic difficulty and set the difficulty level one step back from hall of fame level and found this provided me with a satisfactory level of challenge.

MLB The Show 16 is a fantastic game it is packed so full of modes and features that I think it would be impossible for any fan of baseball to become bored of the game at least before they got hundreds of hours playtime out of it. This is the type of sports game that could even entice people that don't even have an interest in Baseball to pick it up and give it a go.

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