Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
I?ll say this right up front: by any objective standard, MLB The Show 19 is better than R.B.I. Baseball 19. Like, there?s such a massive gap that there?s no question about. The Show is deeper, it has a more varied selection of game modes, it looks nicer, it caters to a wide variety of play styles, it has a thriving online community…however you want to measure it, you?ll find that MLB The Show 19 comes out ahead.
And yet, for some reason, this year I almost find myself liking R.B.I. Baseball 19 more.
A huge part of this comes down to expectations. R.B.I. Baseball 19 comes after a long line of abject failures. Since its resurrection, there?s been nothing good to say about the series whatsoever. By contrast, I?ve put more time into The Show franchise than any other game or franchise by several orders of magnitude. Last year, two of my top 3 most-played games were MLB The Show 18 and MLB The Show 15 (Vita means life!). The year before that, it was MLB The Show 17 and MLB The Show 15. I suspect that if I were to tally up how I?ve spent every hour of my life over the last decade, MLB The Show would probably merit its own category. So when I say that I kind of like R.B.I. Baseball 19 more than MLB The Show 19, there are very clearly two competing curves at work — one that rewards R.B.I. Baseball 19 for being the first non-terrible R.B.I. Baseball game, and another that dings MLB The Show 19 for not being as perfect as it has been in previous years.
Because really, that?s what bothers me about MLB The Show 19: the little things that it gets wrong. One of the most exciting things about this year?s edition — at least for me — was the creation of a Moments mode, where you go back in time and relive famous moments from baseball history. And while it certainly adds something to the game, I can?t help but notice that it skimps on the details.
Take the Moments section dedicated to cover star Bryce Harper. You play through key moments in his career-to-date, except several of them are tweaked so that they?re not actually the same moments. You?re told, for example, that you have three games in the minors to show what you can do, except you then play the same game three times in a row (and with the scoreboard identifying you as playing for Washington, rather than their minor league affiliate). You play Harper?s debut against the Dodgers, except, rather than facing the actual pitchers who took the mound that day, you face off against their current pitchers — or, more accurately, Clayton Kershaw and ?Dodgers Reliever”. And, bizarrely, the game doesn?t even include last year?s Home Run Derby, which seems like a major oversight.
Things are even more infuriating when it comes to the historical moments. You relive important parts of Babe Ruth?s career, like teeing off in the 1923 World Series against the Giants and their famed pitcher, uh, Giants Pitcher, while trying to drive in your teammates, Yankees 2B and Yankees 3B. It?s possible there are licensing issues at play involving former players, except that doesn?t explain why, when you play as Willie Mays trying for his 3,000th hit, you?re facing a nondescript Expos pitcher named Steve Renko — who, it should be noted, wasn?t on the mound against Willie Mays at any point in 1969, let alone on the mound when Mays notched his 3,000th hit. And don?t even get me started on the fact that the game has Mays going for his 3,000th hit in AT&T Park/Oracle Park, which opened 28 years after Mays played his last game for the Giants. I get that these are minor little details, but when you?re talking up baseball history, it seems like the least you can do is get that history right.
There are similarly infuriating features in the other new mode, March to October. The mode essentially allows you to play a condensed version of season, playing key moments in your favourite team?s drive for a pennant. The problem is, it doesn?t give you very much control over the team. You can?t, for example, tinker with the line-up. Nor are you allowed to change your team?s roster — which is particularly bad if you?re, say, the Blue Jays, and the game gives you a roster featuring three catchers, three first basemen, no utility infielders, and four outfielders. I mean, I have my problems with the team?s terrible roster construction, but even I wouldn?t accuse their current management of being that stupid. It?s a really neat mode, but it?s held back by weird details that make it less fun than it could be.
Thankfully, the standby modes aren?t too bad. I don?t play much online or Diamond Dynasty, but both are here, and both pretty much conform to my expectations — though I will say that I liked that Diamond Dynasty allowed you to build up your roster by competing in Moments. I may not have been crazy about the mode as a whole, but it did a good job of integrating the two things together. Franchise is still here, and it still allows you to take control of your favourite team and tinker to your heart?s content — which is all the more appealing after March to October takes that ability away from you. And, of course, there?s my preferred mode, Road to the Show, which fixes the major issue from last year, the fact that every player had their abilities capped. I?m still not crazy about how they do it — I want to be able to max my player?s abilities in every category, verisimilitude be damned! — but at least this year they merely make it more challenging to level up in certain categories, rather than simply making it impossible. (I?ll also never forgive last year?s RttS for doing something so stupid, since it meant my interest in continuing the record-breaking career I?d embarked on in MLB The Show 17 plummeted to zero once I discovered that my abilities from the previous year didn?t carry over.)
Oh, and Matt Vasgersian is still here, sounding exactly like he has for the last decade. While his voice is certainly familiar at this point, I can?t help but wish that the game went for someone new. There are only so many times you can hear him say the same things over, and over, and over again, you know?
Don?t get me wrong: MLB The Show 19 is still a very good baseball game. Even if it has its share of flaws, as I said, most of these flaws are magnified because of how well the game does everything else. If you want a true-to-life baseball experience, this is almost certainly it. But when you get so close to doing everything right, what you do wrong stands out more. With MLB The Show?s track record, I have no doubt that, come MLB The Show 20, they?ll fix the niggling little issues that prevent MLB The Show 19 from being a truly great game — but for now, those issues still exist, and they?re what prevent the game from making the jump from very good to great.
Sony Interactive Entertainment provided us with a MLB The Show 19 PS4 code for review purposes.