Baseball is back! For all of us who eat, sleep and drink baseball there is nothing better than that moment we hear that pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. That’s the moment that all of us can start to dust off our gear and get ready for the upcoming season. For us sports gamers, we too have a similar moment to the pros, which is when MLB The Show is released. This year, MLB The Show 18 came early – so long as you pre-ordered the game – as Sony allowed gamers to download and play MLB 18 just days before the game’ official release on March 27, 2018. As with any yearly release franchise there is a lot that is business as usual, however, this year San Diego Studios – the studio behind the venerable franchise – has made some substantial changes to arguably MLB The Show’s most popular game mode, “Road to the Show (RTTS).”
What’s New with RTTS in MLB The Show 18?
More Physical Customization
In previous versions of The Show you created your character based entirely upon preset choices that allowed you to pick several variations upon those main presets: skin color, faces, hair color, body type, etc. Those main presets were then broken down into things like eyebrows and facial hair, etc. for you to create a character that looked as close to you as possible (if that’s what you go for in RTTS). In MLB The Show 18 the developers created a slider system for some of those presets, which means that players can manipulate a good portion of those main preset features to help you to create a truly unique player.
New Baseball Player Archetypes
The staple of the RTTS series has been performance points for as long as the game mode has been in existence. Every on-field action gives and takes points away from your end game total, so if you hit a bomb you got 50 points, but if you made an error you’d lose 10 of those points, for example. At the end of each game you could freely spend those points on your character mostly as you saw fit to improve your character. Remember to keep this in mind as it’s important later.
For MLB The Show 18 the developers have completely revamped the way in which we create and progress our characters. The first thing to know is that your player can never be a true 99 everything. This is because they have brought player archetypes into the game. In a nut shell, player archetypes place point ceilings based upon the type of player you want to play as. For instance, if you want a prototypical lead off hitter, then the game will give your player a potential to have a high contact value and lots of speed, but to offset that value your player’s power will be capped at a lower value. If you want to have an ideal corner infielder then your player will have lower contact potential, lower speed potential but he’ll have a high power potential. These archetypes work for pitchers as well. Flame throwing pitchers will have high velocity potential but that will be offset by a lower stamina potential and control. We’ll break these down in more detail in a later article, but the point is that it’s a give and take, so you’ll have to decide which attribute is important to you.
Unlike previous version of The Show, this year’s edition has introduced some forced RPG elements to the game. Randomly your character will interact with the media, coaches, adviser, and agent, where you will be given the chance to give a humble, neutral, or arrogant answer to their question or to the situation. It has no real impact on your player’s development so… just do as you would do in real life when you are faced with those. In a nutshell, San Diego Studios has a lot that they need to flesh out of RTTS to make it a far more gripping experience.
Along with the RPG elements of this year’s RTTS, there are also forced training opportunities that the game will impose upon you. You’ll see a cut screen where the narrator will tell you how the “eyes of the organization are upon the team (you)” and from there it will send you off to complete a regurgitated training mission from the previous versions of the game. Fielders do situational hitting drills, base stealing drills, and fielding drills, while pitchers complete pitch location training and live pitching practice. Beyond the recycled training opportunities from the previous games, in MLB 18 the game introduces automated training. These occur routinely (about once a week) throughout the season. They consist of batting practice, fielding practice, and physical fitness. When you are prompted to select one of these three automated training events, it will then break it down into three sub categories within the primary category that you selected. So if you want to focus in on one particular category, contact chance for example, this will allow you to add extra training into that category to help propel your character to his current statistical cap.
What’s Missing in MLB The Show 18?
An in-game player control system that is more natural is the most glaring shortcoming. The fielding controls of RTTS haven’t changed much in a very long time. MLB 18 still has a very rigid control scheme that is based mostly upon a D Pad design. The game still doesn’t fully utilize the analog sticks in a way to make the player’s movements more fluid and natural. It’s one of the main reasons why I stopped playing the field in RTTS. It’s just not exciting and the controls are just too clunky to bother.
In a word, gender. To avoid a protracted conversation about gender equality, inclusion, and video games vs. reality, I will say this. Most major sports target women in their marketing campaigns but they are oddly missing from the video game adaptation of that sport – less hockey. I’ve never understood why that’s the case. Video games such as MLB The Show 18 or Madden aren’t simulations that are wholly grounded in reality, rather they are video games meant purely for entertainment and fantasy. Therefore, I feel that women should be added in as a creatable character in the RTTS series. Whether you use the gender or not is entirely up to the player, but it should be added in as an option, and it’s a bit sad and frustrating that it hasn’t yet been put into the game.
How Long Until I Get Called Up?
In previous versions of The Show you could expect to get a call up from AA to AAA after just a matter of months – assuming that you’re completely tearing the cover off the ball and wisely allocating your performance points. In MLB The Show 17, my venerable created player, Scott McLean was in a Major League uniform by July of 2017! Clearly that game’s focus was not on the day-to-day struggles of getting your character to the majors, but of the experience of having your character be in the majors as quickly as possible. All that has changed in 2018, however. In this most recent incarnation of The Show franchise you can expect to play through two complete seasons before you reach the bigs. That is, of course, not accounting for the other factors that get you to the show faster: being traded to an organization with thin Minor League talent, or the rare opportunity when you take the place of an injured player.
If you do find yourself wondering “when am I going to get called up?” then don’t worry, you can check for yourself. In The Show 18 we now have a player comparison where you can see how you stack up against your in-organization competition. What you need to look for is your unadjusted player rating. Once your player’s overall unadjusted rating is greater than the guy starting above you, then pack your bags because a call-up is incoming!
Final RTTS Thoughts
MLB The Show 18 continues the venerable PlayStation exclusive baseball series but adds very little to the cornerstone of this title. The new player archetype system is a smart way to add balance to the RTTS series and forces players to pick archetypes that favor attributes that they feel are most valuable to them and their play style. The added RPG elements are flat and do nothing to improve or enhance the RTTS experience. Overall, MLB The Show 18 has really good ideas that have yet to be fully developed for RTTS and perhaps MLB The Show 19 will realize those goals and give us the RTTS experience that we have been looking for.
Retro Arcade Mode
If you’re a longtime player of baseball games, and old enough to have played the 8 bit and 16 bit baseball games like RBI Baseball, then San Diego Studios has a mode that will get all of those childhood feelings bubbling up to the forefront of your being. New to MLB The Show 18 is Retro Mode, which is a new take on the old style of baseball games from the SNES and Genesis days. The game is played with a traditional overheard camera and pitches are controlled with the D-Pad (or Analog stick if you so choose to not embrace a fully retro vibe). The on-screen text is blocky and the music emulates the synthetic sounds of the SNES and the Genesis. It’s a wonderfully fun game mode that brings back those childhood memories of sitting in front of your old CRT television and challenging your neighborhood friends to see who is the king of the Machado Street hill. While I don’t see the replayability as being terribly high, it’s still a great new game mode for some good time-to-time fun.
For those that enjoy a cooperative game experience where you get a pal and manage your favorite team through various seasons from the comfort of your couch, San Diego Studios offers some excellent means to do so. Couch coop seasons are a feature mysteriously missing from many sports games, but MLB The Show 18 delivers in spades. Players can control the same team, either by playing individual players, or distributing the load of batting, pitching, fielding, and base running among each other. This means that you can play as your favorite team, take turns pitching, batting, and high-fiving each other in the living room. While there is room for improvement, MLB The Show 18 is far and beyond ahead of other games in the genre, and I hope other developers will take a page from San Diego Studios’ offering.
MLB The Show 18 attempts to add some RPG elements to the “The Show” but they have no real impact on your player. The new Player Archetypes places performance ceilings on certain performance characteristics (specific to each different archetype) to create a more realistic player. The grind to get to the show is familiar and in MLB 18 it’s a bit longer as well. Expect to play through about 2 full seasons before you’re in the lineup for the Major League team. As always, the fun-factor for MLB The Show 18 is high, and the addition of the new Retro Mode and excellent coop controls, mean that the game continues to deliver a fantastic baseball experience.