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‘MLB’ Goes the extra inning for perfect game

By Bryan Carr | Shacknews.com

Platform: PS4
Genre: Sports
Mode: Single-player, multiplayer
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
ESRB rating: E, for Everyone

“MLB: The Show ‘17” opens with the dulcet tones of Vin Scully over a live-action video of classic baseball moments like Lou Gehrig’s famous “luckiest man on earth” speech and last year’s Cubs World Series win drawn by an artist in time-lapse on a chalk scoreboard, creating a mosaic of baseball history. It’s subtle and poignant, a reflection on the sport and the franchise as the latter enters its second decade. Watching it, it’s clear that the people who work on this game love baseball and care about it, and that care is evident in every bit of “The Show ‘17” as it pays tribute to the past and future of the world’s greatest non-scripted sport. This is the most complete, well-crafted “Show” yet.

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE

Considering its choice of the legendary Ken Griffey, Jr. as cover athlete, it’s no surprise the most-ballyhooed addition to “The Show ‘17” is a Retro Mode that evokes the slugger’s own 16-bit baseball franchise. This mode tosses the complex simulation of the game aside in favor of a high-angle camera and simplified control setup — fielding, batting, and pitching are all accomplished with combinations of the analog stick and the X button. With era-appropriate music and sound effects, pixelated chyrons, and even Griffey himself commenting on the plays, this mode is undoubtedly charming and fun. After a few innings, though, I found myself sorely missing the depth of the main game and thinking they might have scaled it back too much. While it’s kind of shallow to be the key addition this year, as a side attraction it adds a lot to the overall package and reinforces the game’s implicit nostalgic themes, which makes the lack of online for the mode all the stranger — you’ll have to have your old friends come visit you in-person to reminisce.

“Road to the Show” remains the best part of the game, and every year Sony San Diego inches closer to making the mode a full-fledged baseball RPG. New this year is the Pave Your Path feature, which adds to the mode’s narrative by portraying key moments in your player’s career — being called up to the majors, deciding whether to enter the draft, being traded — and giving dialogue options and choices that theoretically impact said career. While not all the choices have a meaningful impact on your player’s career, some occasionally added surprising emotional heft. In particular, an unexpected post-season trade to the Blue Jays farm team hurt both my pitcher Bubba Bottomley and myself more than I expected. It’s a great addition to the mode.

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

This is the first year in a while Sony San Diego hasn’t had to split development duties between the PS3 and PS4 and they made the most of it. The Show looks and plays better than it has since the current-gen leap, with better lighting and improved player animation that was noticeable even when I was playing in lower-resolution Remote Play mode on my laptop. Those animations contribute to smoother, less finicky gameplay than years past by improving the overall speed of in-game actions — outside of the aforementioned Player Lock issues I felt like I had fewer unforced errors than before.

Baseball is a numbers game, and I really liked that “The Show’s” improved stat-tracking system, which measures your batting average, ERA, and any other stat an amateur sabremetrician could ask for across all the game modes. In a particularly cool addition, the achievements compare your in-game stats to real-world players — it’ll take a while to reach 14,053 at-bats like Pete Rose but the game will let you know when you do. I also appreciated the new and improved Missions, which not only provide unique player cards, Stubs, and experience but reward the player for learning how to navigate the game’s systems. Everything you do feels like it matters in some way, whether it’s unlocking profile icons or new reward tiers, so it’s hard not to want to spend some time with the game.

SENDING IN THE CLOSER

It’s always easy to recommend “The Show,” and even easier on its best years. While there are still a few rough spots, it’s hard to look at this year’s edition and not come away impressed by the sheer amount of content and modes, as well as the polished gameplay and player experience improvements. This is a gigantic care package of baseball, with countless ways to play the game for both hardcore and fair weather fans alike. I’ll be spending lots of time with this game all year, even when my Tigers inevitably hit a brick wall in August (prove me wrong, boys — prove me wrong). “MLB: The Show ‘17” is a love letter to baseball and its fans, and one of the secret best reasons to own a PS4.