One of the downsides of being a baseball fan is that, as with most any other sport, it’s not a year-round event. With our current baseball season now concluded, those with a fix will have to turn to Sony’s MLB 15: The Show, the latest offering from the PlayStation maker’s officially licensed baseball game franchise.
After MLB 14: The Show finally brought the franchise to the next-gen PS4 last year, it delivered the same highly refined and rewarding game of baseball, though it was difficult to argue that, as a next-gen upgrade, MLB 14: The Show was a bit of an underwhelming experience, beyond how gorgeous it was on Sony’s current console, of course. Fortunately, MLB 15: The Show feels all-around more ambitious, delivering a reliable helping of classic play modes and new rewards to strive for, while also delivering the same excellently polished baseball sim that Sony seemed to flawlessly refine years ago.
On the negative side however, none of MLB 15: The Show’s new additions are true groundbreakers for the series. They’re fine and good, but nothing that will have you coming back to this particular installment after the inevitable release of MLB 16: The Show next year. Still, if you’re looking for a baseball game to play on your PlayStation platform of choice, there’s still no baseball gaming franchise on the market that’s better than this one.
Now that the big push was made with the PS4 port of MLB 14: The Show last year, MLB 15: The Show can really start flexing the muscles of the PS4 in new and exciting ways. The game feels even more breathtaking than its predecessor on PS4, boasting near photo-realistic broadcast-style quality in the graphics, which will likely have passersby confusing the game for live sports broadcasts of actual professional baseball games. MLB: The Show has never failed to turn heads as a visual stunner, and its latest offering continues to boost the visuals nicely with each successive installment, particularly on the PS4.
The PS4 version of MLB 15: The Show also packs in several visual flourishes that weren’t present in its predecessor’s PS4 build, naturally, along with the expected rendering at a breathtaking native 1080p resolution. The lighting and shading effects have been upgraded in this year’s offering, which now more realistically present shadows and the movement of the sun to create stadiums that feel more true-to-life than ever before. Likewise, crowds are also surprisingly detailed, not only being full of diverse helpings of spectators within any stadium, but also having them interact in dynamic and varied ways, such as fathers and sons high-fiving and celebrating together after their team gets a big hit, and husbands ignoring their wives’ speech as they desperately try to focus on the game, and sometimes vice-versa! Given that most sports games tend to half-ass the crowd animations, it’s very commendable to see MLB 15: The Show render spectators that feel this incredibly real.
Even the many individual players from across the official MLB roster have their own personalities and dynamic reactions, whether it’s doing their true-to-life celebrations as they run across the bases after a home run, or disappointingly hanging their heads after a bad strikeout. Each player in the game feels like a true individual, and that helps to maintain the feeling that they’re all diverse and alive in their own ways, helping to boost the immersion in what’s already an incredible-looking PS4 game!
If you’re still forced to make do with the last-gen PS3 version of MLB 15: The Show, don’t fret, as the game still looks fantastic on Sony’s last-gen console, especially in motion. Some of the visual flourishes from the PS4 build are missing on PS3, on top of the PS3 version naturally capping at a reduced 720p resolution, but you’ll still get a gorgeous and well-rendered baseball sim with tons of detail and polish if you’re playing on PS3. There’s a few blurred textures here and there when you squint on things in the last-gen version, but it’s not a big deal. You’ll also notice that MLB 15: The Show on PS3 looks more or less exactly the same as the PS3 build of MLB 14: The Show, no doubt suggesting that Sony San Diego has already pushed the PS3 to its limits with their baseball sims, and can’t really push the console any further.
For those hoping to play the PS Vita version, good news, since the PS Vita port of MLB 15: The Show is highly improved over the shakier PS Vita build of MLB 14: The Show, in terms of the visuals, and especially the gameplay. In motion, the game’s handheld port almost looks as good as the PS3 version, and it generally runs and loads pretty decently as well. Again, things like scoreboards and textures will sometimes look fuzzy and grainy when you really squint at them, but that’s no doubt inevitable, since the PS Vita is a handheld, and can’t pack in all of the snazzy tech from Sony’s consoles.
All three versions of MLB 15: The Show are gorgeous-looking for the standards of their respective platforms, even if the PS4 version will no doubt floor you the most from a visual standpoint. Still, Sony San Diego is continuing to maintain their reputation for visually arresting baseball sims with MLB 15: The Show, which continues to push the PS4 especially to exciting new visual heights! You’ll also no doubt be happy to hear that the frequently brutal load times of MLB 14: The Show have been cut down significantly in MLB 15: The Show, especially in the PS4 version. The PS3 and PS Vita versions still have to take a bit of extra time to load, but even they no longer have you sitting on your hands for too long between sessions.
The audio in MLB 15: The Show is no doubt what you’d come to expect from any game bearing the MLB: The Show name. Sony San Diego continues to populate the menus with fitting and engaging licensed rock tunes that effectively get you in the mood to play baseball, even if they don’t come from any recognizable bands for the most part, and likewise, the sound effects are also flawless in execution. Everything from the crack of the bat to the roar of the crowd to the blaring of buzzers that signal the end of innings is done perfectly true-to-life, and as usual, it’s amazing to behold. Even more impressive is that fans will do things like dance and exclaim as you play well, or boo you if you play badly, just as they would in a real-life baseball game. The spectators have become just as responsive to your actions as the commentators, in fact!
If you’re privileged enough to play the PS4 or PS3 version of MLB 15: The Show with a sharp surround sound arrangement, that’s when the game is at its most immersive and awesome to listen to. This kind of setup will have you feeling like you’re immersed directly in a real-life baseball match, as wind and acoustics realistically sound all around you, and the stadium really appears to encapsulate your game room as you play. You can replicate some of this effect with the PS Vita version by plugging in a high-end pair of headphones, but the outstanding and highly realistic quality of the audio on consoles, particularly with good home theatre arrangements, makes for superb incentive to make one of the home console builds your primary version of MLB 15: The Show.
The usual commentators also return for MLB 15: The Show once again, with Matt Vasgersian, Eric Karros and Steve Lyons once again commentating on your progress and play style as you play various baseball sessions. Mike Carlucci also returns as the announcer, further adding to the palpable air of MLB authenticity. The commentating and announcing are all generally well-done, and they do a superb job of mixing things up, and reacting dynamically to different scenarios, players and team match-ups. Naturally, if you keep playing as the same team in the same play mode, the commentators will begin to repeat themselves after a while, but that’s something that’s bound to happen with any sports sim, after a certain amount of hours and devotion have been sunk into it.
Even on just a regular pair of TV speakers or handheld speakers however, MLB 15: The Show always sounds the part. It will immerse you in the sport just as effectively as the visuals will.
Sony San Diego already perfected the baseball sim several years ago. The gameplay formula is naturally still pitch-perfect in MLB 15: The Show, which gives you excellent control over pitchers, batters, fielders and basemen alike. Once again, you can choose a simpler control scheme to make the game a bit more accessible, if you don’t know your way around a PlayStation button scheme yet, or simply want a breezier experience that isn’t so unforgiving. If you’re intimately familiar with this series and the sport of baseball however, you’ll get unparalleled control over the ball, the bat and the mitt from every angle when you opt for the advanced control scheme, which demands precise timing and disciplined directional gauging to keep the game in your favour.
This brings me to one of the new features in MLB 15: The Show, which is ‘Directional Hitting’. With this addition, you can now nudge the left analog stick upon swinging your bat while on offense to add directional spin to the ball when your bat makes contact with it. This adds an awesome new dimension of strategy to offensive play, as you can now better do things like position ground balls and command where the ball may fly in the outfield to give you the best chance of clearing bases and scoring RBI’s. This, combined with the usual return of flexible pitching options for players on defense, makes for more interesting and unpredictable pitcher/batter duels than MLB: The Show has ever managed before, which fundamentally makes each game more incredibly thrilling than ever!
Even with this addition to batting though, the same expertly refined controls are present on all three platforms, down to helpfully allocating the face buttons for both pitching styles and base throws. Once again, the PS Vita version of MLB 15: The Show is a tad fussier, since the PS Vita’s analog sticks are stiffer and less responsive in contrast to the Dual Shock controllers that you can use on Sony’s consoles, but even there, the controls are intuitive and easy to understand for both newcomers and advanced players.
MLB 15: The Show also offers all of the play modes that veterans of the series no doubt already love. The series’ trademark Road to the Show mode, an RPG-style campaign that has you grooming a player from humble beginnings to the major leagues, including balancing an academic career and lifestyle, is back in MLB 15: The Show, and while it’s exactly the same as it was in MLB 14: The Show last year, the mode is still as enjoyable as ever. Likewise, Postseason, Home Run Derby, and of course, the online multiplayer suite on PS4 and PS3 are also present and accounted for, and feel just as refined and enjoyable as ever. The PS Vita version of MLB 15: The Show is still almost entirely missing online play, sadly, still limiting online play sessions to Home Run Derby exclusively on Sony’s handheld, but fortunately for console players, the online lag that plagued the PS3 version of MLB 14: The Show especially (though it was still a nagging issue on PS4), is now gone in MLB 15: The Show for the most part. You’ll still get the odd hiccup if you have a bad connection in the PS3 version of MLB 15: The Show most notably, but the PS4 version seems to consistently deliver smooth, interruption-free online matches with other players, and that’s fantastic.
If there’s anything you’ll be happy about MLB 15: The Show bringing back to the table from last year’s offering however, it’s your old save data, including records, stats, unused Training Points and accolades. Yes, at long last, the latest MLB: The Show game allows you to import your saves not just from the other versions of the game, but from MLB 14: The Show too! The series is way overdue for this, and it’s immensely appreciated in MLB 15: The Show, which now allows you to import your custom players and stats from both Road to the Show and Postseason most notably, finally eliminating the necessary grind of having to start your progress in these modes all over again with each passing year! You can even import data from a PS3 version of MLB 14: The Show to a PS4 version of MLB 15: The Show as well, in case you recently upgraded your PlayStation console, and through the cloud, you can actually freely move data forward between any of Sony’s current platforms, which is great!
There is a considerable caveat to this feature, mind you, since you can’t transfer data pertaining to players that are no longer affiliated with the MLB from MLB 14: The Show to MLB 15: The Show, for legal reasons. Those players’ stats instead carry over with wholly different names and likenesses. Likewise, Stubs, the in-game currency that you use to buy goodies in MLB: The Show games, also won’t carry over at all, so you’ll have to spend them all in MLB 14: The Show.
The inability to carry over Stubs could have something to do with MLB 15: The Show’s new ‘Universal Rewards’ system, which tries to add more depth to customizing your players and teams. This ties into the only real (small) upgrade to Road to the Show in MLB 15: The Show, in the form of licensed equipment, which contains the brands of real-world sporting good providers that are used in the MLB league, both upping the immersion, and giving your custom Road to the Show player a potential stat boost when equipped. These rewards also come into play when in Franchise Mode, now coming with increased GM demands when you simulate the management end of your preferred team. Doing well as a manager can get you more business opportunities and sponsorships, in turn making your team all the more proficient, but now, displeasing your sponsors in Franchise can also lead to you getting fired, which is a first for MLB 15: The Show that adds far more high stakes to Franchise Mode! The possibility of losing your (simulated) job makes Franchise more daunting, but it also makes it more thrilling, on top of making it more appropriately immersive with the addition of licensed sponsorship deals.
Of course, the real reason for Universal Rewards, and no doubt the inability to carry over Stubs you haven’t spent from MLB 14: The Show is probably due to another big caveat for this year’s baseball sim; Microtransactions. Yes, MLB 15: The Show sadly drank the Kool-Aid, and now ‘allows’ you to spend real-world money to buy in-game Stubs, so that you can get more equipment and bonuses for your custom players and teams. You can spend anywhere from $0.99 to $49.99 in real cash to artificially boost your Stub count, but don’t do it. It’s not worth it, at all. Making matters worse here is that you can earn Stubs from participating in any event, and playing however you choose, as usual, but MLB 15: The Show has now been rebalanced to make Stub payouts far slower and less generous, deliberately testing the patience of players so that they’ll open their wallets and pay the microtransactions, since even raising 1,000 Stubs, the lowest $0.99 offer, takes far too long now. Seriously, not cool, Sony! Shame on you! It is never, never excusable to put freemium-style microtransactions in a game that already demands a premium triple-A price to buy. An esteemed PlayStation franchise like MLB: The Show is no exception, and it should know better than that!
Even Diamond Dynasty, a great play mode that’s otherwise been streamlined to superb effect in MLB 15: The Show, is hurt by the unwelcome presence of the game’s microtransactions, but not fatally. Fortunately, this mode is still great fun to play for baseball enthusiasts, particularly with the removal of contracts, and all around more flexibility to just build the fantasy team you want to build, so long as you’ve unlocked the appropriate cards, anyway. Thankfully, collecting cards is easier now, since you can earn them from any mode in MLB 15: The Show, and not just Diamond Dynasty. This makes Diamond Dynasty more appealing and addictive without it feeling like a huge time sink that diverts your attention from other parts of the game, and that’s a welcome tweak.
You can even create a custom player for Diamond Dynasty, Road to the Show-style, who can play any position you want, at the cost of having very unremarkable stats. You can get around this however by ‘feeding’ your custom player unwanted cards, which can help boost his stats until he becomes a more competent and flexible player. This is another smart tweak to Diamond Dynasty, and helps you do more with cards you don’t want, or have too many of. Likewise, you can also sell unwanted cards to other real-world players for Stubs, in a sort of in-game marketplace, which can help you get around the slimy microtransactions in MLB 15: The Show, though this isn’t a perfect solution to amassing Stubs most of the time, especially when many players will opt to feed their custom player first and foremost.
The best reward in Diamond Dynasty for longtime baseball enthusiasts however is the all-new chance to unlock legacy players, known as ‘Legendary Players’, whenever you completely amass an entire team’s worth of cards, and that’s definitely worth striving for. The chance to assemble a team with personalities like the Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks or the Toronto Blue Jays’ Joe Carter should have those loyal to certain factions of the MLB eager to collect, trade and play in Diamond Dynasty, which overall now feels more rewarding than it ever has in MLB 15: The Show!
In the end however, despite these fantastic refinements and polishes to what was already one of the best sports game franchises on the market right now, for PlayStation platforms and otherwise, MLB 15: The Show’s gameplay, as I said, is more fine-tuned than it is truly revolutionary. That’s fine, since the game’s PS4 version in particular offers one of the best sports sims of 2015 as it stands. Just don’t expect the next big thing for virtual baseball, even when you’ll still get your moneys’ worth and thensome.
MLB 15: The Show is a superb baseball sim, and better capitalizes on a new generation of PlayStation hardware in contrast to its less remarkable predecessor. It won’t turn heads though. Established fans of the sport, and of MLB: The Show, will once again find the same expertly refined, highly robust suite of virtual baseball on offer here, which still leaves most other sports sims in its dust, even on competing platforms. The series’ true next-gen groundbreaker however still seems to be ahead of it.
With that said, so long as you’re not expecting the series to reset the bar for a baseball game, and are content for it to deliver more of the same highly enjoyable baseball goodness, MLB 15: The Show remains highly recommended for fans of the great American pastime. Naturally, the PS4 version is the best of the three, as it contains the most visual and technical polish, and offers the most streamlined presentation. The PS3 version is still mostly just as great, if you have yet to upgrade your console even now, though it’s predictably a bit uglier and more sluggish, and doesn’t offer navigation that’s quite as intuitive as it is on PS4.
The PS Vita version meanwhile is far, far better than the rather lacklustre PS Vita port of MLB 14: The Show from last year, as it looks better, plays better and runs better. The PS Vita port of MLB 15: The Show also sells for the low price of $19.99, at the cost of the physical package simply containing a download voucher for a digital copy from the PlayStation Store, making it a strong companion to either of the console versions, particularly since cross-save capability allows you to take your game on the go, then resume it at home on your console, and vice-versa. The PS Vita version of MLB 15: The Show is still completely missing online play outside of Home Run Derby, but beyond that omission, it’s a very respectable handheld port that makes for a great way to take your baseball obsession on the go.
MLB 15: The Show still represents the best baseball sim on the gaming market right now, on any platform, even if it’s a hop, not a leap, over MLB 14: The Show. I suppose that there’s only so many ways that one can hit a home run, even on today’s cutting-edge gaming machines, but we should still be thankful that a decade later, Sony San Diego still hasn’t lost their swing!
- Outstanding production values, especially on PS4
- Same great modes, with even more polish
- Finally allows you to carry over data from the previous game
- Doesn't break any new ground for the series
- Inexcusable microtransactions