It's still a powerful, potent home run hitter, one capable of some of the most majestic moments in video game baseball. But there's a teeny hole in its swing these days, one that it needs to close up.
Such is the case with "MLB The Show 19." This year's iteration of the long-running PlayStation-exclusive baseball video game series again is one of the top sports games on the market, a deep, loaded experience that in some instances you'll confuse for real-deal baseball. It's the best game in the series yet, too, more realistic-looking than it's ever been, loaded with more goodies than it's ever had.
But at some point, they're going to need to attend to the Franchise mode in this storied sports gaming franchise, because, very gradually, that mode is starting to show its age and, even worse, fall behind similar modes in rival sports titles Madden and NBA 2K.
First, the good -- and there's plenty of it, because overall, "MLB The Show" has never been better. This year's game looks as terrific as it ever has, so much so that I had a friend over to play "The Show 19," a hardcore baseball fan, and he remarked three times during our first three innings of baseball how realistic the game looked. Stadiums look terrific, and players move as fluidly as they ever have, with only sideline reporter Heidi Watney's character model looking obviously synthetic.
The in-game mechanics remain largely the same, meaning a versatile set of controls that you can tailor to your liking. "MLB The Show" has consistently provided gamers with options for years, offering control schemes that both old-school gamers and newer fans can appreciate. Want simple? Jump in with simple button-pressing mechanics. Want more nuance? There are pulse meters for pitching and thumbstick controls for tighter hitting.
It's a splendid experience that's made better by improved defensive animations. In previous years, there were an incredibly finite amount of animations and occurrences you'd see on fly balls and liners, which very quickly made the game feel repetitive. This year, the possibilities are endless when the ball's put in play. No longer are all pitchers Gold Glovers; more balls than ever will glance off their knees and gloves, taking wild hops that demand infielders' attention.
And everyone, period, misses plays in more unique ways. In previous years, my line drives to third either made it down the line, or were nabbed by preternaturally brilliant third basemen. This year, I've seen third basemen knock the ball down, but miss the play anyway, when the ball took an odd hop. Ball physics feel more nuanced on the infield, and it all results in more varied, fun play.
There's also greater positional defensive nuance. In previous years, you could place a player anywhere on the field, even out of position, and if their ratings in fielding categories ranked high, they'd magically play the position well (I know because, for years, I'd boost a pitcher's hitting ratings and play him two ways, at shortstop and as a starter, just for kicks, in Franchise mode).
This year, out-of-position players act as if they're, well, out-of-position, making less fluid plays in unfamiliar roles. It's a subtle change that keeps you honest when you're late in the game, or in an extra-innings game and running thin on the bench. Fielders in general are truer to their ratings: Mike Trout makes more defensive standout plays than, say, Giancarlo Stanton.
Hitting also sees subtle improvements. Pitchers handle hitters with more realism and variance of pitches, no longer seemingly pounding the strike zone and avoiding walks almost exclusively. I've walked more in two months of "MLB The Show 19" than I did in the last few years of the game combined.
That finely tuned on-field experience is bolstered by several modes that aim to keep on giving you more and more fun. Moments and March to October join the typical suite of modes, and they both add spice to the monotony of sports games. March to October is the big highlight, essentially serving as an ultra-quick season mode. Basically, it has you simulating a season and stepping in at critical moments to play critical slices of game, with your performance in those moments driving season momentum.
Much like the introduction of Quick Counts a few years back, it's a smart way to keep action moving, a good alternative for anyone who can't really get into the nuance of franchise mode. A fun next step: Integrating March to October into Franchise mode somehow, so you can get all your managing nuance without the usual Franchise grind.
Moments, meanwhile, lets you step into iconic baseball moments, playing as icons and making things happen. It's a fun mode that feeds into Diamond Dynasty rewards, although it's less rewarding if you're not a hardcore baseball fan.
It's all strong stuff from "MLB The Show 19," which makes the game's glaring deficiency that much more noticeable: Franchise mode simply hasn't gotten any attention in recent years. By and large, it's still a well-conceived franchise mode, but increasingly, it's falling behind the competition.
While Madden and NBA 2K give you increasing amounts of control over individual player progression and continue to incorporate role-playing managerial elements into their gameplay, The Show 19's Franchise mode remains stale. It's a cold experience, the ability to trade and sign free agents, and some light morale components, grafted onto gameplay, but you never get any sense that you can truly develop players or find ways to really break the grain and develop an also-ran player into a star (something Madden allows you to do incredibly well). It's a missed opportunity by The Show.
And it's the lone missed opportunity by "The Show." "The Show 19," in every other way, pushes baseball video games toward more realism and depth than they've ever had before.
Next year, hopefully they fix the one hole in their swing.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4 Pro
Available on PlayStation 4
This article is written by Ebenezer Samuel from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.