PUT ME IN COACH
Let me tell you a story about Matt Middleton, the best pitcher the Miami Marlins have ever had. He started his young career at the AA level as a reliever, but he always had aspirations to be a starter. Then, when one of the team’s starters went down, he got his shot. He pitched a 2-hit shutout and solidified his spot in the rotation. Over the course of a season, he worked on improving his three primary pitches (four-seam fastball, 12-6 curve, and slider) while also learning new pitches to become a more formidable starter (changeup, cutter). He was soon promoted directly to the Marlins, skipping the AAA level all together, because they obviously recognize top talent when they see it. The broadcasters were in awe of his nasty pitches, and he went on to pitch six solid innings, giving up just two runs against the San Francisco Giants. He’s going to have quite a career if he keeps this up, and all this is possible thanks to MLB 15: The Show and its ability to import my save from MLB 14: The Show.
I’ve been a huge baseball fan for years, and I’ve purchased every version of MLB The Show since MLB 10: The Show. It’s been interesting to see the improvements made year after year, and the transition to PlayStation 4 was the biggest jump for the franchise in years. With MLB 15: The Show, San Diego Studios has taken their solid foundation from last year and made subtle yet important improvements to make MLB 15 the best baseball simulator ever.
The biggest improvement in MLB 15 can be found in the small details. Officially licensed merchandise is now used, and I was surprised at the difference it made. Seeing logos for real companies on equipment brings the game closer to realism than ever before. In addition, ballparks have added features that put them more in line with their real-life counterparts. Ballpark Village has been added to the backdrop behind the Busch Stadium bleachers (leave it to the Cardinals fan in me to notice that); furthermore, the sun and shadows in the stadium are generated in real-time and based on the time of year. Countless other improvements have been made, but most casual players won’t notice things like redone night lighting and additional minor-league stadiums. I’d still like to see the actual brands on big billboards and jumbotrons that are featured in most stadiums’ bleachers. Seeing something generic like “Enjoy Cola” where it should say “Enjoy Coke” is a little jarring. The additions made are still certainly welcome, though, and bring MLB 15 closer and closer to that line of realism.
Jersey physics and textures this year are better than ever. That sounds a little too technical, but with jerseys being the thing you see the most of, it’s amazing to see the raised lettering and how it’s actually sewn onto the jersey. The wind blows on jerseys and makes the textures stand out even more. The new sun and shadows help as well- when a player is standing in direct sunlight, you can see the individual threads of the material. More and more players also show emotion and look more lifelike. The overall attention to detail in this game is simply outstanding. The only problem is when your custom player faces off against a real player. The pictures aren’t even close to the same quality, and it is off putting.
When playing a ballgame, whether in Road to the Show mode or a typical game, many interface options are now placed conveniently on the screen and saved me the trouble of having to go into the options screen a few times. San Diego Studios, whichever employee did this, keep them and promote them. This kind of streamlining is exactly what is needed in the game. Quick counts and player lock return this year as well, providing a great way to get through a game quickly or play only as your favorite position player or pitcher. One particular presentation option I enjoy is the pitch trail for the pitching ball marker. Rather than just showing where my pitch should end up in the strike zone, the pitch trail shows the entire trajectory the pitch should follow from its release point to its destination in the catcher’s glove.
The typical array of modes returns this year. A simple “Play Now!” greets players on the well-organized home screen, and Road to the Show, franchise, Diamond Dynasty (MLB 15’s version of a card game), and season modes await those who want to invest more time into something much more ambitious than a simple nine-inning affair. When I first booted up the game, the newest roster update automatically downloaded AND applied itself, which fixes one of the biggest complaints I’ve ever had with the franchise. Players interested in wasting time between at-bats and hunting trophies can now challenge certain close calls, as well.
There aren’t many more problems left to fix for this series. Online works well this time around, and although quite a few new animations have been added and improved (the typical yearly changes), some animations are still a little awkward. For example, if a grounder is hit to the second baseman and he ranges to his left, he should be able to keep that momentum and either underhand the ball to first base or turn and throw from his side. However, MLB 15 still makes the second baseman stop, square up his feet, and go from there. Also, in the major leagues, if outfielders are able, they get under most fly balls and wait for them. The Show seems fine with slowing my player down to make sure he catches it on the run. Small animations like this break the realism the developers work so hard to emulate.
The broadcast booth commentary doesn’t do as well as I remembered, and seemingly takes a step back from last year. Matt Vasgersian leads the charge on at-bats while Eric Karros and Steve Lyons provide color commentary. However, if they are discussing a topic and the final out of the inning occurs, they are cut off mid-word, and then Vasgersian mutters something along the lines of “We will have to pick this up next inning.” In idea, it should work great. In execution, though, not so much, because the color commentators stop talking before Vasgersian even interrupts them, leaving a blatantly obvious silent moment where you realize that the color commentary doesn’t work properly. Public address announcers need some work, too. The Philadelphia Phillies’ PA announcer doesn’t sound the same as the New York Yankees’ PA announcer, but in MLB 15, one generic person does the job for every team. These issues need to be addressed to bring the series in line with a sports series like NBA 2K, which handles color commentary masterfully. Overall, though, these are just small, nitpicky issues that don’t detract much from the experience.
The Verdict: 9.2 out of 10.0
Baseball doesn’t get much better than it is in MLB 15: The Show. There’s nothing quite like leading your favorite team or your custom player through a baseball season, and only MLB 15 can provide that type of experience. If its few remaining issues can be resolved, it will reach the ultimate level of realism. As it is, though, it is still a baseball fan’s dream come true.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Matt Middleton is an associate writer for MONG. He is also a lover of Mexican cuisine, How I Met Your Mother, and fun video games. Follow him on Twitter for a daily dose of song lyrics, pictures, and thoughts about the aforementioned food and video games.