‘MLB The Show 18’ review: Road to the Show mode makes strides

Available Tuesday

“MLB The Show 18,” published by Sony and developed by its San Diego Studio, is out Tuesday for PlayStation 4, $59.99

For a quality sports franchise like “MLB The Show,” which has been refining its formula over more than a decade of annual releases, creating a game that stands out distinctly from last year’s model isn’t easy.

While this year’s iteration, “MLB The Show 18,” falls a bit short of being a must-play advancement for the series, it does enough in key areas to remain one of the best sports simulations on the market.

“Road to the Show,” or RTTS, receives the most love from the developers this time around. Created players will now grow based on defined archetypes, depending on position. For example, the Power Corner type focuses corner infielders on fielding and power hitting, but won’t prioritize speed on the basepaths. These archetypes come with caps to certain attributes, so there won’t be any almighty, 99-rated stats across the board this time. It’s more realistic this way.

Raising said attributes is more organic, too. Rather than in-game actions earning points that can be applied to the skill of your choice, your exploits or struggles are applied to the appropriate stat. So, launching a homer off a lefthanded pitcher will automatically go toward improving your player’s power-hitting prowess against lefties. Additionally, frequent opportunities arise throughout the season to passively train, either raising a certain attribute or the cap on some attributes.

As a result, there’s more time spent on the diamond than in menus in RTTS. It’s easier than ever to breeze through an entire career, which begins this year as a long-shot draft pick instead of a blue-chip prospect. This career mode may not be the definitive top dog among sports games, but it’s in the conversation.

Outside RTTS, there’s less to be excited about. Franchise mode is largely the same as it’s been for a few years. Splitting seasons into phases makes it a bit easier to digest what can occasionally be a repetitive experience — something inherent to most games’ franchise modes.

There also now exists an option to play through the game’s niche Retro Mode, forgoing the more intricate visuals and controls of the rest of the game. It’s a nice option to have, but it’s hardly a selling point. Beware, however, the removal of online franchise mode, if that’s your thing. Overall, “MLB The Show 18’s” franchise mode lags behind those of other sports games.

A new batting stance creator is simple and fun once or twice, mostly when setting up an RTTS player. Still, it’s another layer of ownership for custom players, and it’s a small but welcome addition.

Gameplay and presentation are tight as ever. Keen-eyed gamers will observe plenty of additions and upgrades to fielding animations and physics. Diehards will notice some shortstops can make plays that others can’t. Just about every other sports franchise is playing catch-up to “The Show” in this arena.

Fans of Diamond Dynasty, the card-collecting mode that also offers microtransactions, do have more ways to acquire players without ponying up real-world cash. Otherwise, it’s not much different from last year. And, at least before wide release, online servers have been pretty stable.

“MLB The Show 18” maintains the series’ commitment to quality, but it comes more heavily recommended to those who prefer RTTS over franchise mode.