In October of last year, I saw MLB The Show 16 on sale on the PSN for a mere $25 and I just had to get it. It’s a surprise to some people but, despite my nerdy love for RPGs and grand strategy games, I also really love sports games, namely the NHL series. I started playing hockey games way back. The first one I remember was Wayne Gretzky Hockey on my dad’s PC but I think I really started playing with NHL 2000. Until recently, I usually played about 1 or 2 game every day and I did so for 13 years. I’m not going to calculate how many hours that represents. Anyway, when I play MLB The Show, I can’t help but to compare it to NHL. Hence, there are 2 points I feel I need to make: the first being about MLB The Show 17 as a game and what it adds to the franchise and the second on what MLB The Show says about NHL.
MLB The Show 17: Another Home Run
MLB The Show 17 doesn’t mess with a good formula. It fields the same game modes as it did in 16 and they mostly work the same way. It’s not necessarily an extensive selection but I think it offers something for everybody.
Road to the Show (RTTS) lets you create a rookie, choose a position and his general specialization (power, contact, speed, fielding), get drafted and progresses from AA ball to the majors, gathering points for each play to invest into your stats. The Show 17 adds a mechanic where you have an agent that’ll sometimes call you to check up on how you’re doing, asking if you want to change positions or teams. A bit annoying more often than not, this doesn’t result in anything because it depends on what your team needs. It’s kind of strange that you get offered something that you can’t actually get. Overall, RTTS is my favorite mode. The games are quick since you only play through the plays that you’re part of (that can be adjusted but I don’t see why you would).
Franchise Mode is your classic GM mode: managing rosters, including minor leagues, scouting, player development, finances, everything. You can play through your team’s games however since a match game can easily last 45 minutes and with 162 games in a season, you’re better off taking the hands-off, long-term approach and simulate games. Overall, it’s a very complicated mode and probably caters to the stat-heads amongst the player base. If you only have a cursory grasp on the details of MLB team management, you might be overwhelmed. I sure was.
Diamond Dynasty is the most player-friendly mode and the more popular one. You build your team from a collection of player cards and you then gain points by playing online or offline games. You can then exchange those points for packs of cards to try to improve your collection. Cards can be bought and sold for points on the online market, allowing you to sell off your doubles. There are leaderboards and various rewards. I haven’t played this mode too much but I intend to in the near future.
All of these modes were in The Show 16, so what’s new this time around?
Well, MLB The Show 17 gets a slight boost in graphics: player faces and bodies look better, the lighting is a bit more realistic and little less glaring and the crowd models are also better. One of the biggest upgrades though is the much improved ball physics. The game now models how the ball hits the bat better and will produce a livelier result. A brushed ball will tend to slice, a ball that gets hit high will tend to drop faster because of front spin while a ball hit low will tend to float in the air. It makes the game more interesting, especially for fielding, as a hit ball will be less predictable than it was in 16. Apart from that, the game is pretty similar to 16, although they’ve replaced two of the three game commentators. They’ve also polished some of the AI. In 16, it was not uncommon to have the CPU bunt with 2 outs or a player to pick up a ball and have this weird delay before throwing it to a base.
All in all, mechanically, 17 isn’t a huge jump from 16 but I’ll say that a big part of that is that MLB The Show 16 was already a very polished baseball game. There’s no aspect that I could really point to and say “this is subpar and could be improved.” Maybe the only minor thing I’d wish for is an unstructured practice mode where you can just face pitches, maybe even define what kind of pitches you want.
MLB The Show VS EA Sports NHL: A Clear Winner
I’ve just said that I find that MLB The Show is a polished and solid baseball simulation game. In most situations, it looks and feels like an actual baseball match: the ball physics are good, the player animations are fluid and realistic; just the overall flow of the game feels baseball-esque. It really feels like a videogame programmed by and for people who have an appreciation for the actual sport. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the NHL series. One moment, the goalies are too good, the next, they let in these ugly goals that make no sense. A player might skate over a puck and not take it. The whole game feels simultaneously too stiff and too loose compared to the real sport. Watching a hockey game and then playing NHL really highlights the disconnect between the two experiences.
Now, I’m fully aware that it must be way harder to produce a good hockey simulation than a baseball one. Baseball is slow, its plays are separated by delays and most are individual in nature. Hockey is much more fluid, leans heavily on teamwork and the action is constant. It definitely creates issues in terms of programming AIs. On the other hand, FIFA gives a very good soccer experience and NBA 2k is almost the standard for a good sports game so what’s the issue with NHL? It’s often been said that the main problem with NHL in video games is the same as in real life: it’s the #4 sport in most places in North America and probably way further down the list elsewhere. It might be very popular in Canada but it doesn’t have the draw of Madden, FIFA or The Show. Fewer sales equates to lower budgets. And so, EA keeps rolling out a NHL title every year with few changes. Even when the franchise moved to the next gen consoles, EA messed up by cutting out half the features and game modes.
As I’ve said, I endured those annoyances for many years but The Show seems to have broken that streak for me. It’s like driving a jalopy for years because you really like its paint job and then driving your friend’s new sports car. Suddenly, your own car is revealed to be the compromise that it’s always been. That’s how I feel about NHL now and so when I turn on my PS4, it’s to play The Show 17.
Screenshots taken by the author.
DISCLAIMER: MLB The Show 17 review copy was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.