When it comes to sports games, they can offer all of the options or modes in the world but none of that will matter unless the game actually plays well when you’re out on the field/court/ice/generic playing surface. This year’s crop of the usual contenders proved once again that no game is perfect in this regard when placed under the microscope, as it seemed they all had their issues that generated complaints. NBA 2K18 had AI problems and easy exploits, Madden 18 had more bugs than the patches could keep up with, NHL 18 is still fiddling around with its tuner set to get things right, and FIFA 18 has practically their entire community in an uproar. When the dust settled, MLB The Show 17 distinguished itself from the rest by adding some choice new features to what was already working fine in years past.
Perhaps the biggest (and surely the most controversial) change in MLB The Show 17 was to the game’s hitting engine, which saw a bit of an overhaul to allow for more realistic trajectories off the bat, and more variations in the types of slicing liners and bloopers you would encounter. While there were those who found the changes to result in too many warning track balls or frozen ropes hit directly at outfielders (not to mention the issues with the misleading feedback), it’s hard to argue that they didn’t at least achieve the desired effect of more variety in how balls jumped off bats. Another great new addition was smarter AI in fielders that allowed them to adjust their urgency on throws according to who was on the basepaths, essentially eliminating the recurring frustration of fielders being far too casual in their attempts to throw someone out. Now if they could only fix some of the slower throwing motions and tagging mechanics, they might actually approach perfection.
Aside from these larger wholesale changes, there were some smaller adjustments to further refine gameplay that was already pretty stellar in previous years. The heart of the game, just as in real baseball, has always been in the eternal struggle between pitcher and batter, and MLB The Show 17’s greatest feat is how accurately it replicates this strategic duel, even in online games where you would fear that lag might hinder the experience. Returning players will also appreciate the addition of many new animations within the game, allowing everyone on the field to now move a little more like actual people rather than the stiff robots they had a tendency to resemble before.
It would have been easy for MLB The Show 17 to rest on their laurels this past year and churn out a game that didn’t deviate much from last year’s formula, but they instead decided to innovate in ways that, while not always wholly successful, at least point the way to a more dynamic and realistic way of hitting. As far as sports simulations go, there’s no one recreating all of the subtleties and nuances that make up a sport better than MLB The Show 17.