MLB The Show 17 is the latest iteration in Sony’s popular baseball franchise and it is as good as ever. The level of polish on this game is remarkable as everything seems to run smoothly and all of the different modes seem to work well. The detail is really impressive whether it is the stadiums you are playing in or the character models for the baseball players. MLB The Show 17 proves why Sony currently is the king of baseball games and why they might not have a legitimate challenger to that claim for quite a while.
If you are a big baseball fan than Sony’s latest offering is going to keep you busy for a while. Even if you aren't that big a fan of the sport this game has been made in such a way that all skill levels can enjoy it. You can simply put the default difficulty on “beginner” mode and enjoy just playing the game without having to get into the minutia of some of the deeper modes. Play in an exhibition game where you can just concentrate on having fun or try out the brand new Retro Mode. This was actually a mode I spent a decent amount of time playing as I really enjoyed the nostalgia trip of how baseball games used to be. This is basically what RBI Baseball should be every year but they always seem to fall short. Playing a game in Retro Mode simplifies everything and brings you back to yesteryear. Instead of choosing from a number of different pitches and trying to hit the specific spot in the strike zone like you do in the other modes, in Retro Mode you simply pitch by hitting the “X” button. You can control the ball in mid-flight using the left stick and if you push down on that stick when pitching you will throw a fastball. Similarly if you are the batter you can simply hit the “X” button to swing and the square button to bunt. There are also options that you can toggle that will have the AI make all of your baserunning decisions for you if you just want to concentrate on hitting and pitching and a number of different items. The graphical fidelity of this mode is pretty nice (and certainly much nicer than the games actually looked back in the day) and there is a really interesting 8 bit filter that you can turn on. The game definitely doesn’t look 8 bit when using this filter but everything is more pixelated and more “fuzzy” when this filter is applied. It is an interesting throwback to when I would play a baseball game back in those days but, again, they never looked this good back than. If you are trying to get all of the trophies in the game then you will need to play one game of retro mode using the 8 bit filter, so you’ll definitely get to see and experience it. Playing a game in Retro Mode also has a quicker pace than the standard modes so if you don’t have a lot of time but want to get in a game or two of baseball then you should definitely consider this mode.
One thing that isn’t new this year is the Road to the Show. You can begin a brand new playthrough and start your journey from the beginning or you can continue using your save from MLB The Show 16. For those of you don’t know, the “Road To The Show” mode is a single player mode that focuses on your path to the Majors. You begin as a prospect trying to impress all 30 MLB teams and after a little bit you go through the MLB draft. Depending on your performance you will get selected by a team and then you have to decide whether you want to sign a contract or not. If you do then the club you just signed with will send you down to their Minor League team where you can work on your skills and prove yourself. While I was playing through this I got drafted to the Philadelphia Phillies which means that they sent me down to play for their minor league team, the Reading Fightin Phils. You will have to stay there for a while as you work your way up the ranks. If you do a good job management will begin to take notice and offer you words of encouragement and different agents will begin contacting you. If you keep screwing up management will have a talk with you about trying to get better and how costly errors can be on the field.
Think of Road to the Show as a really big baseball RPG. As you play you will earn experience points. After games when you are back in the clubhouse you can use these points to improve your player. I chose to be a pitcher during my playthrough so early on I would use my points to improve my pitcher’s stamina. Once that was solidified I concentrated on “Pitching Clutch” which affects your pitching ability when there are runners on base threatening to score. You can also work on different pitches such as the velocity, control and pitch breaks. If you are happy in those areas you can try and improve on other areas such as batting or fielding and baserunning. Now I know working on your fielding and baserunning might sound weird since you are a pitcher. The thing is though, from time to time, you will be called upon to fill in a spot that you don’t normally play. I was a starting pitcher and there were times when they changed me and made me the closer. A colleague of mine chose to be a third baseman but there were a few games where they chose to make him a right outfielder. This doesn’t seem to happen a whole lot but you will want to keep it in mind when you are deciding how you want to level up your player.
It is important to point out for those who don’t have any experience with this kind of mode that it is a position mode. What I mean by that is if you choose to be a pitcher then that is all you will do. As a pitcher I rarely get a chance at bat and your coaches have control over everything, just like in real life. If you pitch the first five innings and then the coach decides you are done for the day, then you are done for the day. You don’t get to play as the pitcher that replaced you. Instead you get a quick notification that you were relieved in the sixth inning and then the game sims to the end so you can see whether your team won or lost. If you decide to play as an outfielder than you will stand in the outfield and watch your pitcher go to work and when a ball gets hit your way it will be your job to catch it and throw it wherever it needs to be.
Next up is the Diamond Dynasty mode. If you are a fan of the Madden series and have played with the Ultimate Team stuff then this is similar. This can be a fairly deep mode depending on how much or how little you actually want to do. One of the big things about Diamond Dynasty is building the best possible team you can. There are over 2,000 players to choose from in this mode ranging from superstars of the past to the current up and coming stars of today. Of course it isn’t going to be that simple and you won’t have all 2,000 players available at your fingertips as soon as you start. What you will need to do is find and collect players and other items that you can use for your team. You can do this simply by playing MLB The Show 17. I earned and collected stadiums and players simply by playing the game whether it was in Retro Mode, Road to the Show or just an exhibition game. You don’t have to be playing Diamond Dynasty itself to earn some of these rewards. Another thing that you will earn simply by playing this game is Stubs. This is the in-game currency that you will use to try and either purchase players in Diamond Dynasty mode or other items. There is a fascinating community marketplace where you can put your skills to the test as a stockbroker as you try to get the best deal whether it is you are trying to purchase something or unloading a player you no longer want. Prices and everything fluctuate on a normal basis so you will have to pay attention and decide when it is the best time to strike.
Once you go through all of that and you have your team built then there are a number of different modes you can play. There is of course the ranked seasons where you will play head-to-head online against other gamers as you try to climb the leaderboard. As you climb the leaderboard you will earn different rewards and the really nice thing here is that there is a new “season” every few weeks. What that means is if you don’t pick up MLB The Show 17 until this summer you won’t have to worry about not having the chance to acquire a top spot on the leaderboard. Of course those who have been playing since day one will still have an edge as they will have a better understanding of how the whole thing works but it won’t be like a first person shooter where if you wait a while to pick up the game you’ll immediately be overwhelmed at what is taking place with the online multiplayer. The next mode is “Battle Royale” and is definitely the most competitive mode within Diamond Dynasty. Essentially what you do here is you will be challenged to draft a team and outlast your opposition in a double elimination tournament. It can get pretty intense, especially if your team is on the brink of losing and being out of the tournament.
Another really unique and fun mode is “Conquest.” This sounds like a mode you would play in a shooter but in MLB The Show 17 you are trying to gain fans and assert your team’s dominance all across North America. You will need to try and “conquer” each MLB team here and utilize proper strategy to make sure you accomplish all of your goals. It is a bit similar to NBA 2K’s “Domination” mode and could keep you busy for a while. This is essentially a turn based strategy game. You will need to capture strongholds and work your way across the map. There are four phases per turn which are “Attack,” “Capture,” “Reinforce” and “Move”. As you begin to make progress in taking over the map you will want to concentrate on these strongholds. Once those are completed you will then be given access to missions. There are different categories for the missions such as “Player Spotlight,” “Diamond Program,” “Daily” and “My Career”. Each one will keep you busy for a while and adds even more depth to a game where there is already a ton to do. You also have time-limited “Events” to participate in, playing in casual and unranked games and just a lot more within Diamond Dynasty. If this is your type of thing I think it will keep you busy for quite a while.
Aside from all of that is your standard franchise, online franchise and season modes. In franchise mode you have the opportunity to try and build an empire. One of the new ways to play this year is with “Critical Situations”. Much like the name implies, this will put you right in the heat of battle on the baseball field. It might be bottom of the ninth and you are only up by one run so you have to try and prevent the other team for scoring or maybe it is your team that needs to score so you need to try and get on base. These experiences are more compact than playing a full baseball game and will offer you some potentially more action packed moments than if you had played the game start to finish. Another new feature is “Player Lock” where, much like Road to the Show, you are locked to one player and you play whatever situations they may be involved in. You won’t have to necessarily play a full nine inning game here. This will also allow you to get through a season quicker. This isn’t a permanent thing though which I really appreciated because it allowed me to experiment and see how I wanted to play. Before every game you have the option to choose a player to “lock on” so you can get experience as a short stop or maybe the center fielder or the first baseman or whatever. You are free to experiment however you see fit.
The “Quick Manage” feature is also new this year and if you choose to go this route you won’t even have to go on the field much at all. This is a text-based simulation mode where you are put in charge of all the managerial decisions. You will be able to determine what you think works best in any given situation whether it is hitting a pop fly to try and drive in a run or trying to hit it out of the park. One of the cool things about this mode is that you will see results immediately. As soon as you choose what you want to do and press the button you will immediately see whether you achieved the desired result or how you might want to try a different tactic in the future. This is also another feature which you aren’t locked into anything and I really appreciated that. If you get bored and you want to get on the field you can jump into the game at any point, as well as jump back to managing whenever you feel like it. It is pretty fantastic and helps you play however you want, depending on what your mood is at any given moment. Then of course there is the standard franchise mode stuff that is there every year like managing a team, trading players, watching the budget and trying to get sponsors. This is yet another mode in this game where you could sink a lot of time into.
There are a variety of other activities you can participate in as well such as the Home Run Derby, practice, the Challenge of the Week and more. Then there is of course your standard online play where you can immediately jump into a game with someone and not have to worry about or deal with any of the micromanaging that comes with some of the other modes. Rosters will update on a regular basis so you have the most up-to-date product possible, there is a media section where you can check on mlb.com news as well as MLB on Twitter, and much more.
MLB The Show 17 has an impressive amount of content. If you are a big baseball fan this should keep you busy for a really long time. If you are more of a casual fan there is still a ton of stuff here for you to play as well. A personal favorite of mine is the aforementioned Retro Mode. I don’t really have any complaints about MLB The Show 17 except for the odd animation or quirk that would randomly happen. This is quite possibly the best baseball game I have ever played and is definitely the best baseball game available on the market. If you are a baseball fan be sure to pick up MLB The Show 17.