Poor ol’, R.B.I. Baseball 18. You can’t help but feel sorry for this arcade-inspired adaptation of the Great American Pastime™, which is published and developed by Major League Baseball itself. Primarily designed to ensure there’s an MLB presence on multiple platforms, the PlayStation 4 edition is routinely forced to sit in the shadow of Sony’s own The Show series – and this instalment doesn’t exactly turn the tables.
As an official product, it’s all licensed, with every stadium from the real MLB circuit represented – and even player likenesses captured using some rudimentary polygonal assets. Rosters will update regularly right throughout this year’s baseball season, with form players brought into the fold depending on how they’re faring out on the field. It’s even fairly well presented, with a clean user interface and some likeable music to backdrop it all.
But it’s when you’re out on the field that it all falls apart. R.B.I. Baseball 18 prides itself on its accessibility, but it barely has more depth than Baseball for the NES. There’s only one type of pitch, which you can position using aftertouch, but because of the old-school camera position it’s practically impossible to work the plate and fish for fresh air swings. Batting is similarly simplistic; it’s all just a matter of timing.
Auto-fielding can be cumbersome and seems to favour the computer, but you can toggle this option off if you prefer. It is possible to make some swift double out plays, but that’s about the sum of the title’s complexity in a couple of paragraphs. You can pinch hit when you’re deep into the innings, and you can also turn to your bullpen if you need a new pitcher with the arm strength to see you through the latter stages of the game.
But that’s it really. There’s a franchise mode which allows you to play through an entire career, and you can turn to free agents and make trades in order to keep your team in tip-top position. There’s also the Home Run Derby if you want to attempt it, as well as an online multiplayer mode with virtually no one on the servers. And that’s more or less all you have to sink your teeth into; it feels like a 90s game with more modern presentation.
The real bunt in the belly is that the act of actually playing baseball just doesn’t feel compelling. Arcade sound effects add a teensy bit of excitement to each hit, but not even the best ‘bloop’ in the world can improve upon the loose hitting and tedious pitching. It’s not an abysmal game by any stretch, but after working through the top and bottom of your first innings, you’ll have witnessed the sum of the release’s complexity – and that’s a problem on a platform that plays host to The Show.
R.B.I. Baseball 18 doesn’t really need to exist on the PS4, which is an issue. While it’s competent enough to register a clean hit, The Show runs laps around the title in virtually every department. Yes, it’s cheaper and more accessible than Sony’s vastly superior alternative – but we still wouldn’t recommend pinch hitting San Diego’s effort for this.