Also On: PS4
It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for R.B.I. Baseball 2017. After all, it’s arguably the first year since the franchise’s resurrection that it isn’t a complete and utter dumpster fire of a game, and it has the misfortune of coming out at the same year as MLB The Show 17 decided to include a retro mode that puts everything R.B.I. Baseball does to shame. When I wrote a few weeks ago that The Show’s retro mode seemed like a deliberate slight against R.B.I. Baseball, I did so without having played the latter game. Now that I have…well, the net effect from last year to this year is kind of like watching a bully beat up a proverbial 98-pound weakling, the weakling responding by bulking up and learning how to fight a little, and then, when the weakling shows up for a rematch, he discovers that the bully has developed mutant superpowers in the meantime.
The problem with that metaphor — apart from it being wildly, needlessly complex — is that it implies that R.B.I. Baseball 2017 gets anywhere close to being as good as MLB The Show 17. This is not the case in any way. It still, on the whole, sucks. The problems that existed before still mostly exist now. The ball moves in bizarre, unpredictable ways. The camera is a nightmare of random angles. The differences between the players is negligible at best. Fielding is still a constant adventure, while errors are simply constant, even with AI assistance on. The game is still extremely limited in its functionality: you can play exhibition games, seasons, or playoffs, and there’s very little depth to any of them.
On top of that, the new year brings new problems. Baserunner AI is mind-bogglingly stupid, with runners prone to staying rooted on their bases even after batters have driven base hits into the gap. In a similar vein, runners are generally pretty slow, to the point that any time you go for an extra base, you’re essentially rolling the dice. And to round things out, the controls — which never seemed all that complex before — look shoddy in comparison to MLB The Show’s one-button gameplay.
And yet, despite all the game’s many, many flaws, there’s no denying that it has improved. First and foremost, pitchers suddenly have stamina. No longer will you be forced to go to the bullpen after three or four innings regardless of how well your starter is doing; complete games are actually possible, unlike in R.B.I. Baseball 16. In a similar vein (that is, from the perspective that R.B.I. Baseball 2017 bears a closer resemblance to the sport it’s trying to portray), while the ball may move in unpredictable ways, at the very least it no longer goes flying off the bat on every swing. Slugfests, while possible, have ceased to be the default, particularly when you play the game on easier difficulty levels.
Beyond that, the game has also made a few minor aesthetic improvements. Like last year, players continue to move in ways that vaguely approximate actual human movement, and they’re able to do so independently of each other. On top of that, the graphics are noticeably better; the players may all be interchangeable, but the fields on which they’re playing look pretty nice.
That’s relatively speaking, of course. In absolute terms, R.B.I. Baseball 2017 doesn’t come anywhere close to looking as nice as MLB The Show 17, even when you play The Show in retro mode. This should come as no surprise, since R.B.I. Baseball doesn’t hold a candle to The Show in any other respect, either. This year, however, marks the first time since its return that the franchise isn’t a total embarrassment, either. Its improvements are modest — but when you’ve reached the depths that R.B.I. Baseball 2017’s predecessors have, modest practically constitutes a miracle.