MLB 15 The Show review: old reliable

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform PS3, PS Vita, PS4
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer SCE San Diego Studio
Release Date Mar 31, 2015

MLB 15 The Show developer Sony San Diego makes greatness look effortless.

Few of the new elements this year are dazzling departures from the series' previous games. The studio's renewed focus on iterating on the existing core, instead of coming up with showy new features, is emblematic of its relentless dedication to refinement. Nearly every part of the game has received some attention, with notable improvements in some key areas.

There may be nothing here as game-changing as last year's innovations, but MLB 15 is buoyed by subtle upgrades that combine to paper over a few lingering deficiencies and uphold the franchise's stellar track record.

Nothing here is as game-changing as last year's innovations, but MLB 15 upholds the series' stellar track record
MLB 15 The Show - Evan Longoria screenshot 1920

MLB 14 The Show introduced two major features, Quick Counts and Player Lock, that drastically reduced the length of an average game. But last year's interminable load times on PlayStation 4 negated the time-saving additions. Load times are mercifully much shorter in MLB 15 — an improvement that's particularly meaningful in a sports title, where you're constantly jumping in and out of games.

MLB 15 offers an entirely new method of swinging the bat that I loved immediately: directional hitting. You move the left stick during a swing to try to influence a hit in a particular direction (left side, right side, fly ball, ground ball). Directional hitting is a great risk/reward mechanic, amplifying your chances if you get a pitch where you're looking and reducing them if you don't.

In directional hitting, the hitting camera shifts toward the direction in which you're aiming. This makes it easier to read pitches in the area, helping you determine whether they'll be strikes or balls, and makes it tougher to get a bead on pitches elsewhere. Directional hitting is a smart addition as an intermediate setting that will help players graduate from the simple timing-based hitting to the challenging zone hitting option, where you must move the bat to the ball's location.

Sony San Diego made a meaningful change to pitching as well as batting. The new pitch trail is a wonderful tweak to the pitching interface, indicating exactly where a pitch with movement should end up in (or out of) the strike zone. This is much clearer than the nebulous old system of chevrons illustrating the general direction and degree of a pitch's break. It also provides a clear differentiation between pitchers of varying skill levels, and gives you the Platonic ideal of every pitch for each hurler.

This dovetails nicely with Sony San Diego's tweaks to fielding. The studio greatly reduced the magnetic attraction between a fly ball's landing spot and a fielder. This makes the act of catching pop-ups much less automatic than before, putting the onus on you to get your fielder into position at the right time without overrunning the ball. The change has definitely caused me to make more errors in the outfield, which is frustrating. Yet it fits with the increased agency that MLB 15 gives to fielders. It feels like you have more control over players in the field, and defensive outcomes feel less preordained as a result.

MLB 15 The Show - David Price crop review a 668

The fields themselves are marvelous. The Show has always rendered these cathedrals of baseball spectacularly, but the addition of a realistic day/night cycle, and sun positioning that's aligned with the time of year, shows off the ballparks in a whole new light.

The fans within the stadiums do a better job of responding to the situation at hand, too. There's nothing like the feeling of the crowd coming alive as you get set to deliver a two-strike pitch, and hearing the roar when you get the punch-out. This is also reflected with MLB 15's emphasis on player emotion — hitting a homer is always a great feeling, but I really got a kick out of seeing the opposing pitcher get pissed off at himself.

The audio side of MLB 15's presentation doesn't match the visuals. The series' commentary is perennially some of the poorest in any sports title. Matt Vasgersian, Steve Lyons and Eric Karros still speak mostly in generic terms about the action and the players involved, and it rarely feels like there's any interplay between them. Even with new lines, the commentary remains the worst element of the game and is in dire need of a shake-up.

Sony San Diego seems to have dedicated its audio resources this year to Franchise mode, where the new radio show is a step in the right direction. The news show comments with impressive specificity and decent variation in language on scores, transactions (like this trade), injuries, milestones and more. This is the kind of detail I'd love to hear from the in-game commentary.

The commentators still speak mostly in generic terms about the action
MLB 15 The Show - Citi Field screenshot 1920

The other changes to Franchise are smart tweaks that make the mode more realistic and engaging. General manager contracts set goals for your club that you must try to accomplish within three seasons. In addition to giving you something to strive for, the goals establish parameters for your management philosophy. Is your team a playoff contender, or rebuilding for the future?

MLB 15's revamped trade logic means that CPU-controlled clubs act in accordance with their current position. Some are looking to dump high-paid players and free up their budget, and others are willing to give up prized prospects in an effort to win now. All of this made my virtual league feel more alive.

MLB 15 The Show - Jason Heyward crop review b 400

You can increase your Franchise budget by accepting sponsorships from real-life brands like Nike and Rawlings. This is a smart way to integrate those companies, whose official gear appears in The Show for the first time, without it feeling like mere product placement.

Equipment is the only noteworthy change this year to Road to the Show, the single-player career mode, allowing you to outfit your player with bats, gloves, cleats, batting gloves and superstitious "ritual" items that raise his attributes. Road to the Show remains my favorite career mode in all of sports gaming, brilliantly enmeshing you in the journey from the amateur draft to the big leagues. While I'm not thrilled that it's essentially unchanged here from MLB 14, it's still a tremendous experience.

MLB 15 is also the first game in the series to allow you to import your Franchise, Season or Road to the Show experience from the previous year, and the process is smooth as long as you're sticking with the same console. I really appreciated the ability to pick up with my career where I left off in MLB 14; this is a feature whose importance can't be overstated for annual buyers.

MLB 15's other main mode, Diamond Dynasty, doesn't allow for importing progress, perhaps because it received a much-needed overhaul this year. Sony San Diego greatly simplified what used to be a confusing, convoluted mess of virtual trading cards, contracts, editable fake players and real MLB athletes. You now put together a squad from your collection of MLB player cards. You can earn additional cards by playing Diamond Dynasty or — through MLB 15's new overarching rewards system — any other mode, or buy them with Stubs, the in-game currency.

Every time the notification for a new card popped up, it made me want to jump back into Diamond Dynasty to see if I could put the player to good use. My main complaint with the mode is that the games take too long — they're full nine-inning affairs that you can't shorten with Quick Counts or Player Lock, even when you're playing against the CPU.

Many Diamond Dynasty games are played online, which has been a death sentence in previous years because of The Show's history of awful online play. That's perhaps the biggest area of improvement in MLB 15: I'm pleasantly surprised to report that I had no notable problems playing the game online. I did see some isolated instances of weirdness, like improper blending between two animations, but the experience was lag-free even when I was sitting in New York playing a friend in San Francisco.

Wrap Up:

MLB 15 confidently eschews splashy new features in favor of refinement

Yasiel Puig, the flamboyant star outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is the cover athlete for MLB 15. But his appearance on the cover belies the game inside the box. Sony San Diego eschewed developing splashy back-of-the-box bullet points in favor of refining an already great game, exhibiting a confidence that is itself quietly remarkable — just like this series' consistency.

MLB 15 The Show was reviewed using a final PlayStation 4 download code provided by Sony. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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