Also On: PS4, Switch
Publisher: MLB Advanced Media
Developer: MLB Advanced Media
This is Francisco Lindor. He?s become one of the most popular young players in baseball not only because he?s incredibly talented, but also because of the way he plays the game — with so much joy that his nickname is “Mr. Smile.”
This is how he looks on the cover of RBI Baseball 18. Cold. Impassive. Stoic. In other words, the exact opposite of how he usually carries himself on the field.
There?s probably something to be said here for how Major League Baseball markets — or, more accurately, fails to market — its young stars. Reading even deeper, I?m sure you could possibly also come up with some theory related to how black men are portrayed in media (they did the same thing with Mookie Betts on the cover of RBI Baseball 16, though given that RBI Baseball 17?s cover featured a scowling — and lily-white — Corey Seager, and that the Canadian version of the game has featured an equal number of angry and/or impassive white Blue Jays, the more likely explanation is probably that MLB just don?t seem to want to show players looking like they?re having fun). As far as I?m concerned, though, more than anything else, Lindor?s bored indifference on the cover is a pretty good approximation of how you?ll probably be feeling if, for some reason, you decide to pick this game up.
Actually, that?s not fair: there?s a very good chance you?ll look angry — angry at yourself for buying RBI Baseball 18, angry at Major League Baseball for making it, angry at the uncaring universe that would allow yet another terrible entry in a franchise that has become known for terrible entries year, after year, after year.
Angry, indifferent, annoyed: there are lots of potential reactions you may have to RBI Baseball 18, but it?s safe to say that none of them will be good.
This is because RBI Baseball 18 is horrifically bad at almost literally everything it does.
Some of this horrible-ness is inherited from previous years. Fielding AI is still incredibly stupid, not to mention wildly inconsistent. During my time with the game, I saw outfielders who watched as home run balls flew over the fence, and who would then pick that moment when the ball left the field of play to start running after them. I saw first and third basemen hugging their respective foul lines, yet who lacked the basic motor skills to catch a ball hit in their general vicinity. I saw infielders position themselves in completely nonsensical spots before the pitch, making it so that ground ball balls can easily go skipping past them into the outfield.
Likewise, runners are still painfully slow. In one of my games, I saw outfielders try to throw runners out at first at least five times — and, what?s more, they were successful two of those times. Another time, I was able to have my second baseman cleanly field the ball at his usual position, and then run over the ball over to first base himself for a force out (rather than throwing it to the first baseman), and when that was all over the hitter was still only halfway down the line or so. AI Runners are also mind-bogglingly stupid, apparently unsure of whether they can advance even a single base on cleanly-hit balls into the outfield.
With a new entry in the franchise, however, comes new opportunities to screw things up — and it should come as no surprise that RBI Baseball 18 embraces these opportunities. For example, players intermittently have incredible range: sometimes they can leap halfway across the infield to snag a line drive, while other times they can barely catch a ball that?s only a few steps away. On a related note, I don?t think I?ve ever seen a game in which catches looked so strange: rather than making it so that fielders caught balls in their mitts, the game decided to make it so that fielders absorb balls hit near them. It?s tough to describe, but there?s really no other way to put it — one moment a ball is flying in the air, the next it seems to vanish into thin air when it reaches a fielder?s general area.
RBI Baseball 18 also, for some reason, decided to bless every player in the game with a cannon of an arm. No matter where someone is standing on the field, they can usually hit no-hop — and, on some occasions, no-look — throws to any base. Coupled with the slow runners, you?ll suddenly understand why there were so many attempts to throw runners out on clean singles, not to mention why so much of the offense in this game is built around runners advancing one base at a time and hoping for a home run.
Speaking of home runs, this time out RBI Baseball 18 decided to include a Home Run Derby mode. In broad terms, this is good — derbies are fun, especially since they made the move to timed rounds, and it?s always better when games include more ways to play. However, since we?re talking about RBI Baseball 18, having a Home Run Derby included is actually an excuse to showcase even more of its flaws. Wonky ball physics and bizarre ways of measuring distance are, of course, two of the big ones: it shouldn?t take you long to discover that crowding the plate and pulling the ball down the line is an easy way to launch pop flies into left that somehow go 500+ feet (when, it real life, pulled home runs are often the shortest ones, since the distance down the line is shorter than it is to centre field), whereas balls on the exact same trajectory and at the exact same speech — two measures the game helpfully includes — hit to other fields will usually constitute lazy fly balls that don?t come anywhere close to the fence.
Home runs in the proper games are equally flawed. On the one hand, they lead to home run trots, which are playful and fit in with the arcade vibe the game is going for. On the other hand, they?re unskippable, which means they take up more time than you?d think. They also highlight the fact that the players look?wrong. Not wrong as in they don?t look like their real-life counterparts, but wrong as in they don?t quite look like humans. Rather — at least for the more well-known stars — the players in RBI Baseball look short and squat, with faces that look almost-but-not-quite like the real things. Basically, imagine if a bunch of dwarves or trolls were wearing cheaply-made Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton masks, and you?ll have some idea of how the players look here. It?s as if RBI Baseball 18 decided to create an uncanny valley just for itself, and you see it most easily during home runs, since that?s when the game inexplicably zooms in on the pitchers and hitters, and you see them in all their misshapen glory.
On a less funny note, home runs also lead into loading screens, and if there?s one area where RBI Baseball 18 could be described as truly bottoming out, it?s in the loading times — between innings, between home run trots and the next pitches, between booting up the game and having it start up, between picking a mode and getting into it. At every opportunity, RBI Baseball is deeply committed to making you wait for its awfulness.
And, apropos of nothing else, I have to point out that the controls here — at least for stealing bases — and maddeningly inconsistent. Sometimes you press X and hold in the direction of a base, and your player will take off when the pitcher goes into his windup; sometimes your player will stay completely still. I?d think I was just doing it wrong, if it weren?t for the fact that it worked every so often.
I get that there?s joy to be found in truly terrible games. I?ve even been known to play games that I know to be terrible, just because I want to experience first-hand exactly how bad they can be. But RBI Baseball is a different kind of awful: it?s a poorly-made, soul-crushing experience that shows that, several years into its rebirth, the RBI Baseball series is still no closer to becoming even remotely competent baseball game. That Sony San Diego are still making any improvements to MLB The Show is a miracle when you consider that a game like this is, at present, its only competition. RBI Baseball 18 is so bad it will make you pine for the days of MLB 2K — which, I?ll remind you, was pretty atrocious. RBI Baseball 18 is so bad, it?ll make you wonder whether the folks at MLB Advanced Media have ever watched their own on-field product, or if the company is a front for NFL, NBA, MLS and NHL interests to try and take their competition down a notch. RBI Baseball 18 is so bad…that really, there?s no reason why you should think about buying it even for a moment.
MLB Advanced Media provided us with an RBI Baseball 18 Xbox One code for review purposes.