MLB The Show consistently delivers one of the best baseball experiences you’ll find in a videogame. MLB The Show 19 is no exception: the depth and attention to detail in its simulation of the sport is second to none, with an array of game modes from an arcade-style retro mode to hardcore management sim ensuring there’s something for everyone.
This year’s game includes a new mouse that’s quickly become my favorite: March to October. Instead of playing the full 162 games of a season, March to October puts you in control at “Key Moments” with specific goals—things like winning your opening game, sweeping a series against a rival, or closing out a no-hitter. It’s not all about winning games, either; sometimes a Key Moment is something as simple as not getting walked off during extra innings, or having a player in the spotlight have a good performance despite the outcome of the game—anything that gets the team’s momentum going.
That momentum then influences how well your team does in between Key Moments. All those intervening games are simmed in much the same way as simmed games—i.e. those left to The Show‘s algorithms to determine the outcome, instead of having you actually play—in any other mode, but being on a hot streak skews things in your favour. Likewise, being on a cold streak from failing in Key Moments stacks the odds against you in simmed games, making success in those moments all the more important.
In this, March to October manages to capture the sense of progression and working towards a goal that’s bigger than just winning a game, but without being as time intensive as playing a full 162-game season in Franchise Mode. It’s focused on the game changers, instead of asking you to slog through plate appearance after plate appearance.
In short, it’s the perfect middle ground between lengthy modes like Franchise and MLB The Show 19‘s more casual offerings.
But don’t take that to mean The Show doesn’t have plenty of depth to offer. Continuing a trend that’s become one of the series’ selling points, The Show 19‘s Franchise Most delivers a robust simulation of being the general manager of a ball team. Everything from game day lineups to talent scouting to contract negotiation is yours to manage—and not just for the major leagues, but for your chosen team’s double-A and triple-A affiliate teams, as well. If you want, you can even go pure manager, leaving the on-field action to algorithms while you manage your team’s positions and performance from the sidelines.
If you want to just skip all that and focus on playing ball, you can do that, too. A series of options at the start of a new Franchise Mode save lets you choose which aspects of GM role you want to manage yourself and which you want to leave to the AI. Before each game, you get a choice of how you’ll play it, too: either playing the full game yourself, choosing one player to focus on, playing the full game in the simplified, faster-paced “Retro Mode”, or quick or full versions of the aforementioned managers’ perspective. There’s always the option of simming part or all of any game, too, if you want to speed things up.
Road to the Show offers a similarly deep baseball experience, this time focused on one player’s journey from newly-drafted minor leaguer to (hopefully!) MLB all star. This is The Show‘s RPG mode; you create your character, complete with personality traits and play style, which all contributes to what sort of a player you are. In Road to the Show, what happens off the field is as important as what happens on it: choosing how to spend your off days, which teammates you spend time with, and your players responses when talking to coaches, teammates, and rivals.
This year, personality is more important than ever. Most dialogue choices you make result in development along one of four broad archetypes: “Captain”, “Heart and Soul”, “Lightning Rod”, and “Maverick”. With these developments come perks that you can equip to boost performance on the field, in line with each personality’s style. Heart and Soul, for example, is the morale booster on the team, and with that come perks to help pump up your team in clutch moments or make you more resilient to losing streaks.
The single-player options in MLB The Show 19 are rounded out with smaller modes designed for quick play sessions. You can play a single game, either in standard mode or the aforementioned Retro Mode; you can jump straight to a postseason, with either randomised teams or those of your choosing; you can relive moments from MLB history and play out what-if scenarios in the new Moments mode; and you can take part in a weekly challenge—though players outside the United States aren’t eligible to win the impressive prizes that Stateside players can get from coming out on top in said challenges.
The final piece of MLB The Show 19 is Diamond Dynasty, this series’ take on card-based online modes like the Ultimate Team modes in EA’s sports games. I’ll admit, I haven’t spent a huge amount of in Diamond Dynasty—I have little interest in the “Games as a Service”—but the basic idea is that you slowly put together a team of players past and present by collecting baseball cards. Said cards are earned through play with some regularity, but you can also purchase “Stubs” with real money, which are then used to buy card packs from the in-game store or individual cards direct from other players.
I’ll be honest: this sort of game mode doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Diamond Dynasty runs with all the same tricks that free-to-play games use to make money off their playerbase, only in a full-priced game and in a multiplayer mode where you can quite literally pay your way to victory by buying big until you get all the best cards. Daily login bonuses and time events, with the promise of free cards and packs, work to make regular playing a habit—or even an addiction—and that’s not something that a videogame should ever encourage. Still, I’ll concede that The Show 19 mostly keeps its “recurrent spending” nonsense confined to Diamond Dynasty; if you want to just play the regular game, either by yourself or locally with other players, you can do so without too much intrusion.
My only other wish, though one I doubt will ever be granted, is to see The Show extend beyond just the MLB. If the licensing hurdles could be overcome, it’d be fantastic to see international teams and leagues given the same treatment as the MLB and the minors—think Nippon Pro Baseball, the Australian Baseball League, and national teams. Even if the full leagues and player likenesses couldn’t be incorporated, it’d be neat to at least see those teams’ available for quick play modes, and their logos and uniforms as options for custom teams.
International teams would be the icing on the cake, but even without them, MLB The Show 19 is essential for any baseball fan. It’s the best baseball sim on the market (and one of the best videogame simulations of any sport), with enough depth to cater to the most hardcore armchair manager, while still having plenty of ways for people who want to just jump in and play ball to do just that. March to October is a particular delight this year, delivering a highlights package of a full MLB season without the time investment Franchise Mode demands. Whatever your playstyle, MLB The Show 19 delivers.
Sony Interactive Entertainment supplied a review copy of MLB The Show 19 to Shindig.