If a big-market team like the New York Yankees underperforms and misses the playoffs, coaches’ heads roll and the roster is replenished with high-priced free agents and top prospects. MLB The Show is coming off of a down year in which online stability was an issue and card-collecting became a hassle. This was a rare stumble for a series that has been consistently great. Much like an elite team rebuilding in the offseason, developer Sony San Diego took a good hard look at its product and abandoned ideas that weren’t working. The studio also turned to the free-agency market with the hopes of finding a spark in some of the greatest players ever. This flurry of activity paid off; MLB The Show 19 is a return to form that delivers excellent new avenues of play and finds ways to rejuvenate some of its legacy modes in interesting ways.
This series has long celebrated the history of baseball, turning beloved players of yesteryear into highly collectible cards that can be recruited to user-created teams in Diamond Dynasty mode. This year, Sony takes us on a nostalgic tour through the league to highlight why some of these players made the Hall of Fame. Through an awesome new mode called Moments, we’re invited to play through the storylines that defined the careers of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and the Chicago Cubs’ epic run from losers in 2003 to champs in 2016. Our skills are put to the test to see if we can belt the home run Ruth famously called before stepping into the batter’s box, and tally Mays’ 3,000th hit. These one-off moments are handled quickly, either with success or failure, and the player just needs to try again.
Sony tries to make these moments era-specific, presenting the older games in black and white complete with throwback jerseys. Some of the historical magic is sapped by holes in the historical roster. Failing a moment because generic “Marlins second baseman” made a diving catch doesn’t feel right. Sony also didn’t create era-specific stadiums, so Ruth’s iconic homer attempt is done at modern-day Wrigley Field with Ruth’s image on the high-definition scoreboard. Regardless of the somewhat humorous inconsistencies, the moments are a huge success, not to mention a much better way of unlocking legends than last year’s push to gather and sacrifice meaningless cards, among other fun-stealing requirements.
Diamond Dynasty is a vastly improved experience across the board. Little touches like new maps in Conquest go a long way in making the experience feel less about grinding, even though you still have the option to. Big additions like the XP Reward Path and Programs, which are structured similarly to Fortnite’s Battle Pass, continually reward you with gold players, packs of cards, and more useful stuff just for hitting small milestones. If you like to grind, the newly structured Team Affinity program gives you great rewards for team specific feats, like playing 250 innings with Red Sox players or winning the World Series in the new offline March to October mode.
Offline progress carries over to Diamond Dynasty, and heavy emphasis is rightfully placed on March to October, another great avenue of play designed to get you through a season quickly (it took me just three days). In this mode, you don’t have to fuss with rosters or budgets, and never once play a full nine innings with a team. Instead, you are fast-tracked to the key moments in a season that can affect momentum both for the team and individual players. You may come into a game in the seventh inning down a run, or be asked to finish a no hitter. If you win that game in the seventh, your team catches fire and gains a bump for the simulation – a fitting reward for your efforts. Your performance in the no-hit bid gives that specific player season-long bumps. Once the season is complete, you can transfer your March to October save to Franchise mode for the 2020 season and beyond, another smart choice that lets you continue something you are enjoying.
Franchise is the least changed offering in the game, delivering tweaks to contracts and being able to extend player contracts, but not much outside of this. Online Franchise is sadly missing for a second year running. The other series staple, Road to the Show, received a number of significant updates, including personality types. While the banter between players, coaches, and the press in the clubhouse seems trivial and is repeated far too often as your career unfolds, the perks that come from being a Captain, Maverick, Lightning Rod, or the Heart and Soul of the team deliver bumps for your on-field performance. I also like how extra experience is handed out for specific feats in the game, like knocking in a run or only swinging at pitches in the zone. These scenarios add plenty of tension, and ultimately help you expedite your journey to the pros. I could do without the odd training minigames like testing your reflexes through a fictional mobile game, but they thankfully don’t come up too often and you have plenty of other options to choose over them.
I know I sound like a broken record for saying this each year, but the Show continues to be an awe-inspiring dynamo on the diamond. I probably shouldn’t think a fake throw animation is amazing, but Sony San Diego deserves a tip of the hat for the sheer number of transitional animations, off-play moments, and little touches that are everywhere. The stadiums, player models, lightning, and attention to detail for everything on and off the field are truly remarkable. As fluid as the play looks, it doesn’t always deliver realistic outcomes on bang-bang plays. Although I saw fewer awkward bobbles, fielders can still transition weight in the blink of an eye, and no matter what position a player is in, they can still zip the ball over to first at 95 miles per hour. Most of the balls put into play are accompanied by a high level of realism, both by how they are recovered and the physics that determine their destination. Regarding the battles at the plate, pitch speeds seem a bit faster (although pitchers still can’t break 100 miles per hour for some reason), and hitting outcomes are more realistic. If you don’t put good wood on the ball, you can feel it, perhaps lofting a power swing into short right field for a hit, or bouncing one weakly to second.
For the second year running, load times are drastically improved, which is great for the shorter legends moments and March to October games. Something I couldn’t say last year: Online functionality is mostly sound. I ran into a few bouts of light lag while batting and fielding, but the dozen-plus games I played on various networks mostly went off without a hitch. No lost studs or experience. No game results dictated by ridiculous chop.
Thanks to new avenues of play and smart restructuring decisions, MLB 19 The Show is once again a contender that is worthy of your time both offline and on. Iteration has paid off for this series in a big way, and it’s nice to see Sony taking chances with new ideas again.