MLB The Show 19 Review: Gameplay Videos, Features, Modes and Impressions

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2019


MLB The Show 19 developer San Diego Studios built a stellar base gameplay experience a long time ago and has spent the time since expanding the yearly title in various directions, especially in honoring fan requests. 

The latest entry in the well-known series does the same, leaning hard into feedback asking for player differentiation on defense. But it also takes another step forward in accessibility to match baseball's real-life juggling with modern attention spans and competition. 

A year ago, MLB The Show 18 represented a small dip in the road for the series (Metacritic score of 82), as incremental upgrades to Road to The Show and otherwise didn't move the meter much. 

MLB The Show 19 does more of the same while also introducing some new features, creating more of that new-game feeling, even for diehards. 


Graphics and Gameplay

Visually speaking, MLB The Show 19 is once again a solid experience, if not an immersive one. 

Series veterans will notice some of the work put in right away. Umpires have new, lifelike animations. There are new fielding looks that add some diversity to the experience. 

But video gamers, in general, know the drill at this stage of the console life cycle. Player models look good. Helmets properly (and almost distractingly) reflect the stadium lights. Jerseys sway with movement.

Much of last year's game fleshed out the experience around the field of play. Crowds dynamically—and more importantly, properly—react to the events. Dynamic weather turns a bright and sunny day into a misty one.

The game truly majors in the minors when it comes to details. Sweat visibly glistens on the back of a pitcher's neck. Crowds have varied models, even while searching for faults. The bat rolls off the ankle of a hitter paused at the end of his swing while he watches his home-run connection sail over the wall. 

Detailed work there aligns well with gameplay. Like last year, standing in the batter's box before and after a swing offers droves of detailed information. Charts, swing timings and more help create an intuitive experience for the stat fiends, or are safely ignored for those who want to just swing. The batting this year feels snappier and more timing-based, which brings to life more pick-up-and-play potential. 

Pitching follows a similar trajectory. The timing-based meter that determines location and effectiveness is responsive and difficult to master, but it's not impossible to be effective with it right away. Helpful heat maps and on-screen info again offer plenty of details. Keep in mind on top of all this info, players can choose varying types of controls, from more in-depth to simpler mapping designed to improve accessibility. 

Even a dip into the game's pause screen is information overload—in a good way. Without pressing a button, players can look at the pitcher's array of pitches, his pitch count and stats. The batter's numbers are there as well, as is his tendency in terms of hitting zones. The names of the next guys in the order behind him, as well as pitchers warming up in the bullpen, are also readily available. There is also wind direction and speed to influence your decision-making. 

It is fitting one of the most distinctive superstars in all of sports, Bryce Harper, dons the cover of a game throwing so much effort into improving how stars stand out individually on the field. 

The biggest changes to The Show this year come on the defensive side. For series veterans, these are noticeable upon loading into any game. Star third basemen get more acrobatic than ever while whipping the ball out of the dirt and to first. Fielders now intelligently step on the base themselves to turn a double or end an inning. 

This comes with a catch: Player stats mean more than ever before. Average players aren't going to pull off some of the feats mentioned above. An outfielder can take a bad jump in the wrong direction on a ball in the air and possibly won't recover, whereas a star will. This distinction is most notable when going from the early stages of Road to the Show as a created player, then hopping over to a normal game with a pro outfielder. 

But the player expression isn't limited to defense, either. There are clearly more negative reactions to events that unfold in real time, such as a batter slamming the bat with one hand after popping up, then starting his unnecessary trot to first. 

Given the upgrades to the game this year, this hasn't focused on batting much. Maybe for good reason: It's still incredibly fun. Playing the chess match with the pitcher, not to mention what sort of swing and where to drive, is still a good time. 

The Show feels notably different in how it plays because of the big upgrades on the defensive side, though. Refined animations, A.I. decisions and some new animations that can chain together during complex plays or errors—on top of an infusion of personality—marks a turning point for the series. 


March to October and More

The Show faces the same challenges as any annual release. Oftentimes, simply upgrading current modes isn't enough to convince players about re-upping.

A new mode in '19 aims to change that. 

March to October is a fun idea. Being able to pause a simulation at a critical moment is in no way a new idea for a sports title. But what sets this one apart from other barebones simulations is the way a player's performance in those critical moments factors into a momentum system. 

When the simulation picks up again, the team can either fall flat or go on a tear based on how the player performed. This is a fun mechanic to have in place, especially as it seems the nature of, say, a comeback win can earn even more momentum than simply pulling off a victory. 

As a whole, March to October brings an obvious idea to the forefront and sprinkles in an important mechanic. It's a nice way to play for those who don't want to sit through an entire season, nor find themselves burdened with a bevy of decisions. Perhaps more important than anything else, it arrives at a time the sport itself is trying to streamline and reach more fans. 

Those who want to throw themselves into the game should rejoice too, though, as there is some additional depth added to the base experience. Road to the Show's new features aren't anything to write home about, at least compared to last year's big overhaul. But it is a bit more immersive to hit the weight room and have some mini-games tie into stats and such. 

More interesting is the interaction with the locker room by managing the created player's personality. This can range from a "Heart and Soul" player to a "Maverick" and more. Using these personality types in responses to interactions with teammates and others progresses a skill tree, which unlocks important and impactful perks. Going with a "Lightning Rod" approach early on, for example, unlocks a perk that activates ShowTime (slo-mo) once in a game while at the plate. 

It's also nice to see the archetypes system get a bit of a do-over, this time going the simplistic route with smaller fielders, big bats and anomalies. This influences which stats are easier to train for players to build their ideal star. 

There are also in-game challenges to chase, which can add a bonus to skill gain. It's a nice way to set a goal at the plate, for example, and reap the rewards of coming through with a specific swing or picking up additional bases. 

Altogether, an RPG-lite element in Road to the Show (RttS) is a welcome addition. Players can build out their character while chasing superstardom and championships. The voice-overs are a little cheesy at times, and it's a shame much of the dialogue is text-based again, but the new layers to the mode only up the enjoyment factor and replayability. 

Diamond Dynasty is back. But despite interesting additions such as another tier of unlocks dubbed Signature Series, the mode isn't going to win over those who don't care for it in the first place. Fans of the mode will again be happy to see things like battle royale and some expanded conquest maps. The latter is especially interesting and remains a fun way to keep the relentless grind of these card-based modes fresh, as taking territory and winning over fans is fun. 

A couple of innovations within Diamond Dynasty stick out. Team Affinity programs are a way for players to get preferred loot while grinding. Picking a team and a set of team-specific goals nets points, which then allows for team-specific rewards. These range from batting a certain number of times with that team's players to wins with that team. Progress on these challenges can be completed outside of Diamond Dynasty too, which is a nice touch. 

This XP Reward Path is a great compromise. Not everyone wants to take a dive into a mode like Diamond Dynasty. Maybe they're off deep in the franchise simulation or crafting a RttS superstar. The mode still earns these rewards, so simply playing the game will give everyone access to rewards. It's a lesson plenty of games inside the genre and out could grab from, if they haven't already. 

Other additions from prior years are here as well and at least worth a casual glance. The Moments section does justice to some of the game's biggest points in history. Retro is a fun romp, and the home run derby is back as a cool pass-the-controller mode. These might be lesser items on a big list, but they serve their purpose and are nice to have.  



Thanks to a solid new mode and significant appearance and play changes on defense, MLB The Show 19 feels like a big upgrade on prior iterations. 

Smartly continuing the accessibility trend with March to October and the all-encompassing rewards, this year's offering is akin to a star utility player. Players can hop in and have some quick innings within a full season, skip right to the pros in a single journey or even hop online with their assembled team. Those who want to dive into stat sheets in franchise, grind in the minors of RttS or throw on Legendary difficulty in Diamond Dynasty can too. 

Likewise, hitting and pitching is as simple or complex as a player wants it to be. Enabling users to go at the sport how they want and rewarding them for that time investment on top of general upgrades is a good way to keep them coming back. 

Given the nature of the upgrades, MLB The Show 19 feels like a more significant boost than many sports games offer on an annual basis. Even with so much right coming into it, this year feels like a bit of fan service mixed with some necessary adjustments to keep it within striking distance of being the best sports title on the market.