MLB The Show 16 Review: Five Tool Player

MLB The Show 16 continues to build on what works, with some smart if unambitious improvements to the decorated franchise. Our review-in-progress, pending some testing of online features.

8

The game of baseball is controlled chaos, a swirling mass of variables you can never take for granted. Maybe your ace starter pitches a shut-out one week, maybe he gives up 12 runs the next. Short of the St. Louis Cardinals being insufferable, there are few things in the sport that are as reliably dependable as Sony San Diego’s The Show franchise. MLB The Show 16 continues the series’ tradition of outstanding presentation and deep gameplay while mixing in some interesting if not game-changing additions. 

Put Me In, Coach

The Show’s formula has always been built around authenticity to the MLB experience both on and off the field, and while this year’s game is no exception. Many of the new additions experiment with looser takes on the sport. While new additions to the Franchise mode allow for flexibility in scouting and player recruitment, those less interested in contract negotiations and competitive balance taxes can gravitate toward the flagship Diamond Dynasty fantasy mode, which offers two new game types this year.

Fans of Hearthstone’s Arena mode and Madden’s Draft Champions mode will find a lot to like in The Show’s take on draft “deckbuilding,” Battle Royale. As someone who spent most of his Madden time last year in Draft Champions I was pleased to see the concept works just as well here thanks to a 3-inning game variant. Unfortunately, unlike Draft Champions, the mode can only be played online and requires players to buy-in with Stubs, the in-game currency. While earning Stubs is slightly faster in this year’s game, it can still take a decent amount of time before you are able to generate enough to play (unless, of course, you pony up real money). While not a deal-breaker or even prohibitively expensive, it was nonetheless disappointing to be limited in how often I could play what is otherwise my favorite new mode. I felt less strongly about the new Conquest mode, a strange Risk-like board game in which you attempt to capture and move fans around the United States to overtake the strongholds of other teams. It sounds more fun than it is. 

The Road to the Show mode has historically been my favorite part of the franchise and this year is even stronger thanks to some clever if not quite dramatic additions. Just as last year’s edition pushed this mode toward its destiny as a baseball RPG with honest-to-god equippable loot drops, this year adds “spells” in the form of new consumable perks that grant benefits like guaranteed strike zone pitches or an increased likelihood of fielding errors. The trade-off? Doing so depletes the also-new Showtime meter, which lets you pull big plays like rifling in a pitch just above a batter’s lumber or making a slow-motion diving catch. The more perks you activate, the less this meter regenerates. 

In theory, this forces you to think strategically and save for a game-critical moment, but in practice I found Perks and Showtime were more slight advantages than wild game-swinging effects, with Showtime mostly only useful in very specific situations. It’s amusing to get a favorable pitch count when you’re on base or mind-control a runner into stealing second, but the effect is subtle. If anything, I wished Sony San Diego had leaned even harder into RPG mechanics, perhaps by using skill trees to facilitate builds for specific positions. 

Regardless of which mode you spend your time in, your efforts are gradually rewarded thanks to a reworked XP system. Last year’s XP meter felt like a market-mandated afterthought, but this year it is given purpose thanks to the new Captains system, in which the XP gained in any game mode can be assigned to one of six different star players to unlock increasingly higher reward tiers in their themed “store.” Furthering the “baseball RPG” motif, new Missions task you with achieving certain statistical milestones or collecting complete sets of team cards for higher XP and Stubs rewards. These rewards foster a sense of progression that ties the modes together well and offer plenty of motivation to keep playing. 

Even without the rewards, gameplay in The Show is still as deep and rewarding as ever with some small tweaks to fielding paths and physics. Thanks to the refined dynamic difficulty option that adjusts to your skills, a library of control schemes, and simplified player stats, the game feels more customizable and accessible. That said, players looking for a more arcade-like experience may find themselves frustrated by finicky fielding and catching controls that can sometimes end in blown plays. I also found that online play occasionally had unwelcome small bits of lag between actions or pitch selections, though the experience was generally smooth and stable. 

Fields of Dreams

Visually, The Show ‘16 continues the series tradition of faithfully reproducing the sights and sounds of a day at the ballpark, from the analog scoreboard of Wrigley Field to the home run slide at Miller Park. Where the first two current-gen editions of The Show felt more iterative than impressive at times, The Show 16 smooths out some of the rougher legacy visuals with new animations and improved lighting, as well as incredibly detailed stadiums I wished I could walk around and explore. Cheesy stock footage for the in-game broadcasts and some questionable player models aside, this is the best-looking edition of the game yet. 

Where previous editions of the game had occasionally irritating load times and clunky menus, The Show 16 feels snappier and smoother, especially in offline modes. I did notice menu lag during peak server times. Load times are generally brief, and when playing a multi-game series in Franchise or Road to the Show they are dispersed with altogether, allowing you to go from one game to the next without having to exit to the previous menu. It’s such a simple and welcome fix it’s kind of baffling it took them this long to figure it out.

Nailing the Fundamentals

Developers Sony San Diego are eleven games deep into this franchise, and it can feel at times like they are playing small ball–focusing on the fundamentals and what works without taking any massive risks. But swinging for singles and playing defense can win the pennant, and The Show 16 looks like it will be hanging up yet another one in its decorated clubhouse.


This review is based on a PlayStation 4 retail copy provided by the publisher. MLB The Show 16 will be available in retail stores and digital storefronts on March 29, for $59.99. The game is rated E.

Freelancer
Review for
MLB The Show 16
8
Pros
  • Gameplay is even more polished and accessible than before
  • Outstanding visuals and presentation
  • Clever new modes and tweaks to existing modes
  • Quality of life tweaks make game more pleasant to play
  • Incredible amount of content
  • Showtime and Perks system just makes it more of an RPG
Cons
  • Battle Royale buy-in and Conquest are disappointing
  • Occasional lag and finicky controls
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