No, no, not the fact the NCAA men's basketball tournament is getting down to the nitty gritty with just eight teams remaining or the fact that The Times Sports staff just finalized our all-area basketball teams or even that the beginning of the Major League Baseball season is right around the corner, but the anticipated release of SIE San Diego Studios' newest edition to its franchise.
The "MLB The Show 18" video game, featuring New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge as the cover man, for the Playstation 4 went live on Friday for those (like me) who pre-ordered and will be available in stores on Monday for around $60.
The game of baseball, in its simplest form, comes down to pitching, hitting and defense, and for many years now the folks at SDS have blown gamers away with their ability to let us, even though in fantasy form, get the feel of what being — from a 19-year-old, first-year minor leaguer to an aging MLB veteran — is like.
This year's version brings back all of the modes we've come to expect, many with huge upgrades and revamps, plus improved graphic presentations which include more dynamic crowd actions, 1,000 new gameplay animations and an overall (didn't think they could top last year's product) better "I'm a real baseball player" type feel. Former Cubs player Mark DeRosa replaces Harold Reynolds as a commentator along with mainstays Matt Vasgersian and Dan Plesac.
• Diamond Dynasty: Involves building the ultimate baseball team using a virtual trading card collection. The player creates a customized team — selecting the players (current and past), a team name, logo, and uniforms — to play against other players in online tournaments. Better results in those games can mean a better chance of earning cards of better players to add to the club.
• Franchise Mode: It's as simple as taking over the duties of an MLB general manager. Well maybe not that simple. You're in charge, making every decision that could make or break what you're trying to build. This year the game incorporates 19 important moments during a typical MLB season that a GM would need to be at his best (trade deadline, contract negotiations). It also allows players to play in six different modes to match how in depth one would want to go. One downside to this mode is it isn't an online game.
• Battle Royale: This is an online player-versus-player experience where you’ll be tasked to draft a team that outlasts opponents in a double-elimination tournament to acquire unique rewards.
• Conquest Mode: A single-player game that involves testing your skills with an MLB team of your choice against the other 29 squads to try and defeat them (while the other computer-generated teams are doing the same) and take over their fan base and ultimately be the team that every MLB fan loves.
• Road to the Show: This is personally my favorite mode, and according to SDS the most played mode by far on any. You create a player from the ground up — name, height, weight, hair color, shoe color and so on. This year your player, depending on the position you want to play, will have an Archetype, and each one will has a pair of strengths and a weakness. For example, a Power Corner Archetype to start will have strengths in arm and power, but lack speed.
Gone are Trading Points. In previous editions of RTTS, one would have the ability to max out his players ratings across the board in a few seasons and stay there using points earned or buying them. So, pretty much having an unrealistic player that is a 5-star guy for 10-15 years straight. This year, your player's ratings will directly be increased/or decreased by your play (pitch-by-pitch) on the field. There will also be Caps (Current and Max) of each attribute of a players ability, but these can also be driven up with 25 Focus Training sessions during the season. The bottom line is that your player has a chance to be a perennial All-Star and maybe even a Hall of Famer, but it won't be easy, and it's going to take solid play day in and day out. Hmm, just like a real MLB player.
SDS has also introduced a batting stance creator this year. Tune your stance, swing and follow through anyway you like to fit your style. There are so many more improvements to the game this year that it would probably take double my allotted column space to cover them all.