Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
It’s been a long time since the MLB The Show franchise had any real console competition. The MLB2K series tried to match it as a true-to-life baseball sim, but it failed miserably and died an unremarked death a few years ago. After that, Major League Baseball themselves tried filling the void with arcade-style baseball by resurrecting the R.B.I. Baseball franchise, but it’s been handled so ineptly that every year’s release reaches new depths of awfulness. Apart from that, just about the only thing out there is Super Mega Baseball — which, don’t get me wrong, was pretty fun (and the upcoming sequel looks promising), but there’s still a pretty sizeable gap between that game and a series that, by itself, is reason enough to buy PS4.
Which makes the inclusion of a Retro mode in MLB The Show 17 kind of hilarious when you think about it. See, the game as a whole is, as you’d expect, everything a hardcore baseball fan could ever want, much like each of its predecessors. It’s got all the usual bells and whistles that have typified the series thus far, along with a few tweaks here and there that make the game even more addictive that I’ll get to in a moment.
Retro mode, however, seems to exist solely to show just how badly the reborn R.B.I. Baseball franchise series has fumbled the ball since its return.
Okay, probably not “solely.” I’m sure that Sony and San Diego Studios wanted to include a game mode that could be enjoyed by everyone, and it just so happened that they made one that wipes the floor with R.B.I. Baseball in every conceivable way. But still, it’s fun to imagine that the mode got its start out of spite.
Whatever its genesis, there’s no denying that whereas R.B.I. Baseball 16 was — like R.B.I. Baseball 15 and R.B.I. Baseball 14 before it — thoroughly terrible and an abject failure at providing a fun experience for casual players, MLB The Show 17’s retro mode shows how easy it should be to make a baseball game that even total newcomers can enjoy. Hitting is a breeze, pitching is simple, you can do almost all its core functions with just a few button presses, the ball moves in a way that obeys basic physics…really, it has all the core elements that helped ’80s kids fall hard for the original NES R.B.I. Baseball, and it does so with such a minimum of fuss that you can’t help but wonder how MLB Advanced Media consistently manage to screw up making a simple arcade baseball game every year without fail.
Aside from Retro mode, MLB The Show 17’s other big new feature is an RPG-style take on Road to the Show. Whereas before you simply created your player, played the games, and improved their skills, this time out RTTS seems to have looked to FIFA and NBA2K for inspiration. However, rather than taking the approach of those two series and focusing its attention on a pre-made athlete with a pre-written plot, MLB The Show 17 narrates your created player’s actions and gives voice to his thoughts. It’s…odd, and a little hokey at times. But it also manages the impressive feat of adding a new wrinkle to a feature that was getting a little stale without fundamentally altering what makes the feature so essential in the first place, so it’s a change I’m willing to live with.
A change I’m a little less crazy about is the fact Harold Reynolds is now one of the announcers. While I’m certainly open to anything that reduces Matt Vasgersian’s role in the game — as someone who’s put literally hundreds and hundreds of hours into MLB The Show over the years, there are only so many times I can hear him shout “Santa Maria!” — this is definitely a case of subtraction by addition, since not only does the game still recycle most of Vasgersian’s lines from the last decade, it now also features Reynolds spouting the same terrible analysis that he’s become known for on Fox and MLB Network, too.
Having said all this, there’s still one great unknown aspect of MLB The Show 17: its online. At the risk of getting too inside baseball (pun not intended), I should admit I didn’t get a chance to test that out because of review restrictions. The review version of the game only allowed for online play if you had a wired connection — something that just wasn’t possible in my case. Seeing as online generally worked pretty well in last year’s edition of MLB The Show, it’s probably not an issue here, but I just want to make it clear that my verdict on the game is based entirely on its single-player modes.
Of course, if I’m being honest, offline single-player is what I care about most when it comes to MLB The Show anyway, so it’s not like multiplayer was going to change my opinion too much one way or the other. And from that perspective — that is, as someone who’s probably going to spend a few hundred hours with the game over the next year, with 95% of that being in RTTS — I have to say that MLB The Show 17 once again delivers.