San Diego Studio’s dedication to the MLB The Show series and its penchant for realistic animation, visuals, and gameplay have made the series consistently phenomenal year after year. And although improvements are typically modest with each iteration, there’s always something new and exciting to find when diving into a new The Show.
"The Show has always been exceptionally pretty even on older hardware, but this year really knocks it out of the park."
This year we’re treated to some mild but noticeable visual upgrades. Some characters look a bit more like their real life counterparts than previous years, and although not every player is a perfect recreation, the vast majority could be easily identified even without their jersey. The fields look as beautiful as ever, players have received a noteworthy increase in animations, and the lighting has seen a moderate upgrade to help the graphics feel a bit crisper. The Show has always been exceptionally pretty even on older hardware, but this year really knocks it out of the park.
While the fundamentals of The Show remain relatively unchanged, we get some much needed quality of life improvements in 2019. The core gameplay offers some substantial upgrades to fielding – an issue that has plagued The Show for years. Players now have colors assigned to them to indicate their level of skill. The lowest level of gray indicates errors are more likely with that player, and the highest level of gold lends a sense of relief in knowing that the player is highly-skilled and likely to pull things off without a hitch. Having an idea of which players are going to be culpable for poor plays and which ones you can count on can be a boon to how you play the game. This excellent change also dictates how easy it is to position the players for things like pop flys as skill variation plays a role in how clear of a path you receive to field the ball. Lower-ranked players will create a lot more tension in these moments and force you to make split-second decisions based on gut instinct. As always, difficulty can be augmented further with a suite of sliders for every element of play.
The game’s premiere mode remains the RPG-lite Road to the Show. It’s a mode of mixed bags every year, and I often feel bogged down by the busywork and really just want to get back to playing baseball. Spending half of my time with this year’s new additions of doing things like playing weight-lifting mini-games or messing around on a virtual phone doesn’t add anything of value to my experience in a baseball game.
"The game’s premiere mode remains the RPG-lite Road to the Show. It’s a mode of mixed bags every year, and I often feel bogged down by the busywork and really just want to get back to playing baseball. "
But what Road to the Show does right is its actual RPG elements. Having the ability to choose between different classes for your player is a real treat, and choosing a specific path for him to follow opens up various perk opportunities. Having a list of perks along a skill tree may feel more RPG than baseball for some, but I love the ability to make decisions about my character and how he’ll assist his team moving forward. Shaping my player’s personality and improving his class-specific abilities stand out as some of the best moments in the mode, and it makes suffering through the more tedious moments of the mode far more tolerable and worth it.
In addition to these class-specific leveling options, Road to the Show sticks to the normal case of specific actions begetting specific rewards or consequences. If you do well at something during a game, you’ll find that your skill increases in that area. If you do poorly, you’ll lose some of that momentum, creating a feeling of genuine concern. I like this because it makes me try harder than I would in a normal exhibition game, and I know that many times my failures can be attributed to poor calls on my behalf and truly cost my player stat improvements.
I’m extremely disappointed to see Season Mode still absent and replaced by the lackluster March to October. Rather than giving players full control over a season, March to October simulates the majority of its season and only grants players control over key moments throughout the year. I like that the outcome of your time with the games plays a big part in how the remainder of your season plays out, but this knock-off version of a true Season Mode is a depressingly simple affair. Giving me control at the end of the 7th inning and tasking me with pulling off some kind of miracle to propel us towards a winning streak isn’t nearly as engaging as giving me full control of the games to grant me a feeling of security in my team and players.
"Franchise Mode, meanwhile, is consistently underwhelming each year. 2019’s iteration of The Show does nothing of value to improve this despite some minor additions that the more hardcore number junkies among baseball fans may find intriguing."
The other new mode titled simply “Moments” is a fairly straightforward affair that puts you in the shoes of some of baseball’s iconic players and asks you to relive their most impressive moments in short bursts of gameplay. I’ll admit I had a smile on my face playing as Willie Mays as he scored his 600th career homer in black and white, and I adored the real-life, old-timey footage shown to set the stage that teaches you about the player’s background. For instance, I learned Babe Ruth started his career as a pitcher – something I’d have probably never learned otherwise – and I was granted an opportunity to play with him doing just that. There’s a promise of more moments being added throughout the year, but although I enjoyed the mode tremendously, I’m not sure the limited gameplay and simplistic nature really offers anything beyond a quick distraction.
Your reward for completing much of these two modes is merely Diamond Dynasty rewards. I’ve had a long-running distaste for Diamond Dynasty based on its mix of grinding and microtransactions-based design, but for those into fantasy baseball, there’s a lot to love. There are a few dozen new legends, fairly fun objectives to unlock packs, an improved overall layout, and a well-implemented guide to help newcomers explore the systems behind the mode.
Franchise Mode, meanwhile, is consistently underwhelming each year. 2019’s iteration of The Show does nothing of value to improve this despite some minor additions that the more hardcore number junkies among baseball fans may find intriguing. The lack of an online franchise ability is also still sorely missed in a generation where many sports game have a fully fleshed out option for online play.
"While The Show hasn’t ever been a game without flaws, there’s so much it does better than any other baseball game in the history of video games, and 2019’s iteration proves it yet again."
Otherwise, normal online play didn’t give me any major performance problems aside from the occasional jitters I’ve come to expect from the servers in The Show. The addition of an online rating system for matchmaking is a welcomed improvement, but it does increase queue times noticeably since it uses multiple criteria to find a perfect head-to-head matchup. I found my matches felt more fair and balanced as promised.
Rounding out the game is passable commentary, a great thumping soundtrack in the menus, and the usual enhancements to the UI and navigation that make things feel efficient. While The Show hasn’t ever been a game without flaws, there’s so much it does better than any other baseball game in the history of video games, and 2019’s iteration proves it yet again.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Nearly flawless core gameplay; Quality of life improvements to fielding; Simple fun with Moments; Character skill and personality system.
Underwhelming Franchise Mode; Tedious mini-games in Road to the Show; Traditional Seasons Mode still absent.