Baseball fans with PlayStations at home were treated to the latest release of Sony's popular "MLB The Show" franchise this week. (If you're on Xbox, you're still out of luck until further notice.)
And while the real MLB Opening Day may still be a few days away, The Show allows gamers to get their baseball fix a little bit early.
As a big fan of the series, I decided to take a dive into the latest installment and see what it had to offer. After a few days of spinning, here are a handful of initial thoughts:
It feels relatively the same ... at first
When you jump into the first few initial games on "MLB 17 The Show" you may be inclined to think that this seems the same as last year. And it's true — there aren't a whole lot of glaring differences in the way of gameplay.
That's not exactly a bad thing, though.
Last year's installment of The Show was tremendous, so it makes sense that there wouldn't be many major changes to quality product.
Instead, the focus is aimed at subtle refinements and minor improvements for a more polished product.
There's added depth in hit variety, which helps provide more of a true-to-life, unpredictable experience with each game.
One of the biggest areas of improvement comes in the player animation department. Players' movements and reactions in the box, on the mound and in the field are more lifelike and authentic.
The result is a game that plays smoother, but not so drastically different from what you're used to.
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The graphics are outstanding
While MLB The Show has consistently been one of the best and most enjoyable sports games on the market the past handful of years, the graphics left much to be desired.
The graphics in previous versions weren't necessarily bad, per se, but attention to detail on players didn't seem to match that of the stadiums and parks. A large number of guys looked cartoony or generic.
The game's step forward in graphics this year is, frankly, astounding. Players' faces have seen a massive improvement with more texture and life. There's a major bump in realism.
The Show team has also made slight improvements to equipment like hats and jerseys, as well as the shadows they create on players.
They could still use a bit of work on making computer-generated players look a bit more lifelike, but overall this is a major improvement.
'Road To The Show' has some new life, but it needs work
One of the big new features of this year's game is an enhanced "Road To The Show," one of the franchise's most beloved game modes.
The new experience promises a role-playing element that allows a gamer to immerse him or herself in the shoes of their created player as they try to carve out a memorable Major League career.
Players will not only have to prove themselves on the field, but they'll also have to interract with agents, general managers, coaches and teammates as well.
Cutscenes allow gamers to make decisions that will impact the progession of their player's career. As these decisions are made, a narrator helps explain the consequences of each choice.
It's not quite as theatrical or polished as similar products like FIFA's "The Journey" or NBA 2K's "MyCareer," but it's a step in the right direction and breathes a little bit of life into a mode that was getting a little stale and one-dimensional.
It's a little underwhelming as a "new feature," but even if you expected a little more excitement from the role-playing angle, there's potential here. We can probably expect more significant improvements to "Road To The Show" now that the team has laid the groundwork for off-field storylines.
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They're trying to keep the broadcast fresh
Matt Vasgersian is back in the booth for commentary this year, though now he's joined by Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac, who replace Eric Karros and Steve Lyons.
The game also delivers multiple broadcast options and themes, including MLB Network integration, which brings a more authentic television broadcast feel.
And while it's clear The Show is trying to prevent the presentation aspect from getting stale, which is admirable, it still feels like more depth and variety is needed.
The commentary responds and coincides well to what's happening on the field, but there's a lot of repetition — and some of the new material from the three-man broadcast crew is too long-winded for the pace of a video game.
With the major advancements in player graphics, it may benefit The Show to get more ambitious with their replays and cutaways.
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There are a lot of ways to play
One of the biggest complaints about baseball video games over the years has matched complaints about the sport itself -- it just takes too long to play.
Baseball just isn't as fast paced and relentlessly action-packed as other sports, so devoting upwards of 45 minutes to slogging through a full nine-inning game of digital baseball can be daunting.
If that's not something you're interested in doing, MLB The Show 17 brings alternatives. In Franchise mode, gamers have the option of quick managing games, which relies more on strategy, or just dropping in during crucial situations.
This allows games to be completed in anywhere from 5-15 minutes apiece, which is just about the time it takes to finish a game in Road To The Show mode.
Franchise mode probably still needs some added depth, especially in areas that allow for more fun and creativity. Players still aren't allowed to relocate a team, build/upgrade stadiums or create new uniforms, which is a bummer.
This year's game also gets nostalgic with a retro mode. It's not something you'll likely use all that often (new games are typically bought for new features) but it's a neat option to have.