'MLB The Show 18' review: Classic game has become an aging veteran

"MLB The Show" has proven itself the most dependable series in the sports gaming genre over the past decade. Year after year the most authentic gameplay experience would be delivered along with features added to expand the way the game could be played.

Recently, though, "The Show" has started to show its age as other franchises have surpassed it both technically and creatively. "MLB The Show 18" suffers some from stagnation, but maybe for the first time demonstrates actual regression for the series.

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Having long been lauded for the effort that has gone into avoiding the removal of features even when new and improved options have been added — something that other sports series have suffered from doing all too often — that narrative has been destroyed with "MLB The Show 18," which loses both Online Franchise and Season Mode. The former was announced a few weeks prior to release while the absence of the latter was hidden for consumers to discover on their own.

MLB The Show 18 Clayton Kershaw



The irony in the loss of Season Mode is that such an emphasis for the series has been put on providing the ability for games to be played faster in the past few years. Season Mode allowed for both the length of the season and the number of innings per game to be reduced while Franchise Mode does not. Contrary to what the name suggests, Season Mode was also not limited to just a single season. Instead, it was a simplified way to control a team over many years that eliminated most of the minutiae of running a franchise.

Those who enjoyed Season Mode in the past, planned to carry over their saves from "MLB 17," prefer avoiding the simulation of significant portions of the season, or simply find Franchise Mode to be too heavy or intimidating will unfortunately now have no alternative but to adapt.


MLB The Show 18 Vladimir Guerrero



The other traditional modes do return in Franchise Mode and Road to the Show, but sadly Franchise has received very few improvements (rain delays probably being the most notable) while RTTS offers more in the way of change, but arguably for the worse.

Road to the Show is the popular single-player career mode in which your character begins in the minors and eventually can move up to the majors. Along the way attributes are improved upon and new skills are obtained. With "MLB The Show 18," the mode has taken what could be perceived as a turn toward more realism, but in the process has sacrificed freedom and potentially some fun.

The progression system is now results-based, meaning how the player performs will impact how their attributes improve. In the past, the players have earned points that pooled and could be distributed in the manner in which the user desired. There is now much less control over building up the character. Additionally, there have been caps added that prevent attributes from exceeding predetermined limits. Considering RTTS is a single-player only mode, it's unclear why such limitations would be deemed necessary.

MLB The Show 18 Dee Gordon



Thankfully the gameplay in "MLB The Show 18" is still exceptional. The usual refinements have been made addressing issues that presented themselves in the prior edition. Hitting stands out immediately given the problems found in "MLB 17." Good contact and good timing are definitely being better rewarded. The enhanced swing feedback proves especially valuable for understanding why the outcomes were what they were.

The most pressing early issue is related to fielding. Players too often tend to struggle picking up a ball that's coming off the ground, both in the infield and outfield, and may simply run right by it without even making an attempt at it. That could be partially ratings-related but also seems to have something to do with animations. That being said, there are few other gripes to be had. Gameplay as a whole is challenging but thoroughly satisfying.


MLB The Show 18 Vladimir Guerrero



Diamond Dynasty remains the mode that shines the most in "The Show." The team-building, card-collecting mode has been a favorite among sports gaming fans since 2015. It is the most generous in terms of rewards and currency in the genre, and baseball is simply a perfect fit for roster construction and statistics-based goals.

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Naturally, more content is added every year and that may actually be a concern at this point for Diamond Dynasty. What was once the most straight-forward of the team-building modes now feels overwhelming and disjointed. It's difficult to determine what to prioritize at any given moment, how to track progress, and how to juggle players with just a single lineup that has to be adjusted frequently. Meanwhile, highly requested features such as multiple lineups (especially depending on opposing pitcher-handedness) and easier creation tools have not been provided.



MLB The Show 18 Vladimir Guerrero


No issue has troubled "The Show" over the years more than its servers. Last year alone "MLB 17" struggled not for days, or even weeks, but for months with serious problems that ranged from online-connected modes being unreachable to results from games never being recorded. It was so serious and widespread that the developer has decided to provide consumers with significant compensation.


MLB The Show 18 Vladimir Guerrero


Some marginal progress finally seems to have been made with "MLB The Show 18." The servers have definitely seemed more stable — only a few times so far have they gone down for stretches that lasted beyond an hour — but they are still totally unreliable. Real unease remains when playing in Diamond Dynasty, where time is such a commitment, and there is always the lingering thought that the time may end up having been completely wasted in the instances where results don't end up being registered.

When snappier menus and a new batting stance creator top the list of improvements, it puts into perspective that there isn't much to actually get excited about with "MLB 18." Instead, most of what is good now was already there in past, which makes such a review of an annualized release especially difficult. The game will still appeal to fans who place the most importance on authenticity and gameplay, but doesn't dazzle in a way that might entice others to the product.

"MLB The Show 18" is still a great game for those passionate about baseball, but the consistency the series has displayed over the past decade has been at least somewhat broken with this new edition. For many, the fantastic gameplay will offset the loss of modes, the lack of advancement in others, and the lingering server struggles. Ultimately, though, it's becoming more clear now than ever that the series is begining to have trouble meeting the heightened expectations now present within the genre.



MLB The Show 18 Vladimir Guerrero


3 1/2 Stars

Bryan Wiedey posts sports gaming news and analysis daily at Pastapadre.com, is co-founder of the sports gaming site HitThePass.com, hosts the "Press Row Podcast" and can be reached on Twitter @Pastapadre.