‘MLB The Show 18’ Review

'MLB The Show 18' isn’t a grand slam, but it’s the baseball game to buy

Despite some missteps, MLB The Show 18 remains the best baseball game on the market.
Despite some missteps, MLB The Show 18 remains the best baseball game on the market.
Despite some missteps, MLB The Show 18 remains the best baseball game on the market.

Highs

  • Unparalleled hitting and pitching
  • Breathtaking visuals
  • Solid online infrastructure
  • Well-balanced dynamic difficulty

Lows

  • Missing online franchise mode
  • Road to the Show changes can be confusing

DT Editors' Rating

If we’re to believe James Earl Jones in the film Field of Dreams, baseball has been the sole constant in the United States since the country was founded. As our world was revolutionized and nearly destroyed, it was our pastime that allowed us to see the soul of America, the game’s simplicity and beauty reflecting our own morality and resolve.

But to claim that baseball hasn’t changed since it was invented in the 19th century is simply not correct. We’ve introduced instant replay in order to get on-field calls correct. Players have grown stronger, capable of launching balls into the stratosphere. Pitchers no longer need to move a muscle in order to intentionally walk a batter. Baseball has evolved with us, and in MLB The Show 18, developer Sony San Diego made its best effort to reflect this. The studio was largely successful, but the game’s changes come at the expense of some sorely missed features.

If you build it…

MLB The Show 18’s basic hitting, pitching, and baserunning gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played the most recent entries in the series, which is a very good thing. The Show has earned a reputation as the absolute king of baseball games: Its legacy begins and ends with getting the basic mechanics right.

The Show 18 remains a pitcher’s game, giving you the ability to hit targets with pinpoint accuracy and deliver devastating breaking pitches both making it seriously difficult to slap a ball into the outfield. The standard meter-based system allows you to paint the corners, throw a curveball in the dirt, or cause a ground ball with regularity, and it’s just difficult enough to occasionally have you miss the zone completely or serve up a pitch right down the middle. This is more common with pitchers who have thrown close to 100 pitches or have had their confidence hurt after a few bad innings, forcing you to plan ahead with relievers out of the bullpen. Rarely will you see a pitcher able to throw a complete game, but just like in the real show, it’s possible with efficient pitching and a few lucky breaks.

That isn’t to say MLB 18 is unfair – wait for a pitcher to make a mistake, and you’ll find the opportunity to drive a ball into the gap or knock it over the outfield fence. Though Sony touted the game’s new hitting engine in its marketing, we were hard-pressed to notice much difference compared to The Show 17. Patience is rewarded, and with a variety of control schemes making use of the analog sticks and face buttons, anyone willing to put in the time will be able to get the hang of the swing.

Learning to hit won’t magically make you into flawless slugging machine, though. The margin for timing error when at the plate is incredibly small. Hold back just a split-second on a fastball, and it will be in the catcher’s glove before you swing. Pull the trigger too early on a changeup, and you’ll hit nothing but air. After getting several big hits in a row and proving your skill level, the game’s dynamic difficulty system will automatically increase the challenge, dropping it down again if you begin to struggle. It helps to keep the frustrating at the plate to a minimum, as you’ll usually be able to break out of a slump within a few innings.

When you do manage to get wood on the ball after timing a pitch perfectly, you’ll have a chance to see The Show 18’s brilliant ball physics in action.

When you do manage to get wood on the ball, you’ll have a chance to see MLB 18’s brilliant ball physics in action. Balls tail away from fielders and curve around the foul pole when they’re pulled. Line drives that smack off pitchers’ heads will shoot across the infield, setting up tricky bare-handed throws to the bag. “Seeing-eye singles” will occasionally go out of reach of both middle-infielders. None of these occur frequently enough to seem like canned animations, either – not that we’d expect anything less from the series.

Fielding doesn’t feel quite as smooth, though. With three options available to choose from – “automatic,” “assist,” and “manual,” – you have plenty of options for dealing with batted balls, but the default “assist” option feels just a bit too sensitive. After a ball is hit into play, the game will automatically move your fielder a few steps toward the ball before giving you control. (This is standard practice in baseball games). Should you accidentally hit the stick just slightly to the left or right after the wrong time during this animation, though, your fielder will “break the spell,” so to speak, and he’ll forget that he was chasing after a ball at all. It didn’t cause too many missed outs during our time with the game, but lacks the grace found in so many areas of the game’s design.

Stuck in a pickle

The biggest changes in MLB The Show 18 compared to last year’s game can be found in its single-player career mode, “Road to the Show,” which follows a fledgling star on his path to the big leagues. Instead of creating a hall-of-fame caliber player right off the bat, your character must follow a more organic upgrade path to reach achieve superstardom.

Instead of starting with a blank-slate player for you to customize as you see fit, you’ll instead choose one of several pre-made “archetypes.” Each archetype serves as a character creation roadmap, offering a path to grow your player’s potential attributes and abilities in several key areas into likenesses of a current MLB star. You can play with the ferocity of Andre Dawson, or the speed of Kenny Lofton, but those talents comes at the expense of other statistics.

mlb the show 18 20

Past iterations of Road to the Show have used a point-based system in order to increase your character’s attributes. Should you make a huge play in the outfield or go three-for-four on the day, you’d be rewarded with points that you could then spend as you saw fit to increase your statistics. Even if your recent success had been at the plate, you could use the points to improve your defense.

This isn’t the case in MLB 18. Instead, your actions on the field directly affect particular statistics, and you’re no longer required (or able) to allot points yourself. The system allows you to naturally improve specific skills — You will get better at hitting if you keep knocking the cover off the ball — but it also limits your ability to improve in areas in which you’re struggling.

In theory, it seems like an interesting, if limiting, idea, but the system isn’t always easy to figure out. The rewards you earn for your on-field achievement don’t always make much sense. Legging out a tiny hit into an unlikely double will increase your power rating, but hitting a ball to the warning track will not. It doesn’t help that your skills only improve based on measurable statistics: Even if you hit screaming line drives in each at-bat, as long as they’re caught, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Hit-and-run, but don’t stop

When you’re ready to compete against other players, you can head online for one of MLB The Show 18’s several multiplayer modes. Diamond Dynasty, a card-based online mode similar to EA Sports’ Ultimate Team, is back in MLB The Show 18, as well, and it gives you a plethora of options for building up your squad and taking on the world. After choosing an initial 25-man roster, you’re free to compete against the computer, head online for a ranked match, take part in the elimination-based “Battle Royale” mode, or the strategy-like “Conquest” mode.

mlb the show 18 r  tm

None of these are new to MLB 18, but the sense of progression you feel without ever needing to spend a penny of real money (though you can) on additional player cards makes it more engaging than other sports games’ core modes. Even if you lose a game, you’ll get enough free cards and currency to continue building up your team, and special challenges related to certain teams and players will allow you to unlock better players fairly quickly. The online talent level has been pretty high since the game’s servers went live, which can be a little discouraging for newcomers, but you’ll notice an immediate increase in your performance after putting a few stars in your lineup.

Most of the MLB The Show series’ other famous modes make a return in MLB The Show 18, including the simple “retro” mode, which uses single-button hitting and pitching as well as a top-down perspective inspired by classic NES games like RBI Baseball. One legacy mode didn’t make the cut: Online franchise mode. Competitive players can still play online in Diamond Dynasty and ranked matches, but you can feel the mode’s absence. It’s particularly disappointing in this year’s game, as online latency is miniscule, making for some of the most enjoyable multiplayer baseball we’ve ever played.

Our Take

MLB The Show 18 makes some missteps this time around, and if you’re most interested in building up a star in Road to the Show, it’s an especially weak year. That said, with fantastic online play and the expected stellar hitting and pitching, it is still an incredibly fun game, and the best baseball simulator coming out this year. We just hope that for next year’s installment, Sony stops to think whether or not it’s really worth changing something for the sake of changing it.

Is there a better alternative?

No. Pound for pound, MLB The Show 18 is the best baseball option for fans planning to play a baseball game this season. That said, if you are specifically looking to play Road to the Show, you may want to stick to last year’s version.

How long will it last?

Given its many different, inherently repeatable modes, you can easily keep playing MLB The Show 18 until next year’s game comes out and fans move on.

Should you buy it?

Yes, despite its flaws. MLB The Show 18 is the best baseball modern experience available right now.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robo sidekicks, AC for your bed, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Product Review

'NBA 2K19' will dunk on you, but don’t worry. You’re going to like it.

NBA 2K19 makes smart changes that force you to dig deep into your bag of tricks to succeed. This might be the most accurate virtual version of NBA basketball yet.
Gaming

Ready to hit the gridiron in Madden NFL 19? Our beginner's guide can coach you

Whether you're a seasoned Madden player or a football fan hitting EA Sports' virtual gridiron for the first time, we're here to help you get started off right in Madden 19. From choosing a game style to understanding schemes, we've got you…
Gaming

Can a great sports game have a great story? Nope. And ‘Madden NFL 19’ proves it

Madden NFL 19 returns with a story mode, but throwing in more on-field action ruins the game's attempt to put gamers in the shoes of a professional football star. It's not the only game making that mistake.
Gaming

Here is our ‘World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’ leveling guide

This 'World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth' leveling guide will help you quickly rise from level to the new expansion's maximum of 120. Most of these tips work even for new players who've never touched the game before.
Computing

Pricing and lack of content are still barriers against the adoption of VR

A recent survey questioned 595 VR and AR professionals about business growth in the consumer and enterprise markets. Only 24 percent report strong sales in the enterprise while 18 percent show strong sales in the consumer market.
Gaming

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ goes all-in on fan service, and it’s better for it

The ridiculous number of characters and stages in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate proves Nintendo understands the series is about fan service before competitive fighting, and the game will be better for it.
Deals

Check out the best Nintendo Switch deals and bundles for August 2018

Looking to score Nintendo's latest hybrid console? We've smoked out the best Nintendo Switch deals right here, including some discounts on stand-alone consoles as well as a few bundles that feature Nintendo's creative Labo kits.
Gaming

‘Dark Souls Remastered’ finally hits Nintendo Switch this October

Dark Souls Remastered was originally supposed to release on Switch alongside the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions, but it was delayed. Fans will be able to pick the game up this October.
Gaming

Azerite armor is the key to your power in 'Battle for Azeroth.' Here's how it works

Progression is changing in World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. If you want to power up your character, then you'll want to know everything you can about Azerite Armor, and how to obtain Azerite.
Gaming

The ‘Fortnite’ sky rift is closing and rumored to disappear next week

Fortnite's giant sky rift that has lit up the sky for the entirety of season 5 is slowly closing and is rumored to completely disappear next week. Find out what's happening and why it is here.
Gaming

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ gets battle royale ‘Blackout’ beta September 10

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will hold a beta for its battle royale Blackout mode in September, and it will be available first to those who pre-ordered the game on PlayStation 4. The game releases October 12.
Product Review

Brutal and emotional, 'God of War' is everything a blockbuster game should be

In a new land, on a new journey, God of War evolves beyond the button-mashing action of its youth into an action game with engaging combat and an engrossing story.
Computing

Steam survey shows PC gamers are still mostly playing in 1080p and lower

Valve Software’s latest hardware and software survey for July 2reveals that 63.72 percent of Steam’s registered members still play games with a 1080p resolution. Even more, only 1.14 percent are playing at a 4K resolution.