With no competition and an unexciting elevator pitch [Poor pun intended – Ed], we were ready to pinch hit on MLB The Show 19 until next year’s instalment. Long-time fans of this franchise will know not to sleep on developer Sony San Diego, though, as the studio tends to throw acclaimed curveballs on an annual basis. And while this year’s edition may not have many buzzwords to pull punters in, there’s no doubt that it plays a great game of ball.
For our money, this is the best sports series on console right now, and the under-the-hood improvements make the latest iteration the best it’s ever been. The most notable overhaul has been applied to the fielding, with thousands of animations added to make defensive play more robust than ever before. Unlike in previous entries, it now genuinely feels great cutting off a ball batted into the ground, and then firing it into first base for an easy out.
This rounds out the full on-field experience, as minor physics adjustments mean that the pitching and batting gameplay is as tight as usual. Various control options and difficulty settings mean that anyone can enjoy the core loop, and whether you’re a veteran at the plate or a total baseball beginner, you can wring some entertainment from the action. The commentary is starting to feel a little tired now, but the overall presentation is sublime – the tiny visual flourishes really set the franchise apart.
Which brings us to the spectrum of modes available. Road to the Show – the series’ trademark role-playing campaign, which sees you work your way up from the minor leagues to the big-time – once again returns, this time with a new dialogue system that allows you to develop your player’s personality. Depending upon the decisions you make, you’ll unlock perks which influence how your star will perform in clutch situations, which is a nice touch.
There are also new minigames that you can complete during the course of the season, and while some of these feel like they belong on an old Flash website like Newgrounds, they add some variety we suppose. One neat touch is how you can now build a rapport with your teammates and rivalries with your opponents, adding to the locker room dynamic and leading to meaningful outcomes as you work your way towards the business end of the season.
It’s the new mode March to October that really stands out, though. This truncated take on an admittedly lengthy season allows you to take control of any of the 30 iconic MLB franchises, overseeing key moments in their pursuit of World Series glory. Tasks range from pitching a perfect ninth inning through to coming from behind in the top of the eighth, and each time you succeed you’ll carry momentum into simulated matches which will maintain your streak.
The idea is that, rather than playing the full season, you’re taking charge of pivotal events, with new sideline reporter Heidi Watney providing context on how your team’s been faring while you’ve been away from the plate. It’s a really well-executed mode that suits MLB’s gigantic 162 game season perfectly, and with further iteration we can see this evolving into something special over the course of the next couple of seasons. We wouldn’t be surprised to see other games “borrow” the format, too.
Successfully completing a March to October season will reward you with themed Diamond Dynasty items depending on the difficulty, and MLB The Show 19’s card collecting remains as addictive as ever. The series’ inspired twist on RISK returns yet again, with new maps to conquer and even more rewards than ever before, while Programs give you in-game objectives to aim for in reward for more cards, cosmetics, and collectible items.
Perhaps the biggest addition is Moments, though, which allows you to either replicate or reverse the course of history by playing key games in baseball lore. Not only does this allow the title to showcase some of its new legendary players, but it also operates as a kind of history lesson, with archived footage really adding to the storylines of icons like Babe Ruth. There’s even a black-and-white filter, although retro stadiums would really add to the atmosphere of these challenges.
Elsewhere in Diamond Dynasty, the traditional online play feels sturdy, although server drop-outs can make committing to a nine inning game a little dicey. We’d still like to see a few more quick play options incorporated for time-strapped players, as it can be a bit daunting pledging your time to a full-length match – even if online players have a tendency to swing for every pitch, curtailing games with fly balls and copious strikeouts.
Perhaps the only disappointment, then, will come for fans of Franchise mode, which has largely been untouched this time out. While it remains as comprehensive as ever, the only real underlying improvement has been applied to contract and financial structuring, which is unlikely to particularly appeal to anyone but the most hardcore of players. There’s also no online option, which has been a point of contention for a couple of seasons already.
MLB The Show 19 doesn’t appear all that enticing on paper, but step up to the plate and its gameplay is still pretty much unparalleled. The significant improvements to fielding mean that the series now excels in every discipline, while additions like March to October provide an entertaining way to play in short bursts. Diamond Dynasty is arguably the best card collecting game on the PS4, and despite some dry commentary, the overall presentation is borderline obsessive with its sheer attention to detail. The biggest disappointment comes in the lack of meaningful additions to Franchise mode, but this is still a feature rich option even if it has been left largely untouched. Simply put, Sony San Diego’s hit yet another homerun.