- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spring has sprung, and the smell of pine tar and bubble gum is in the air. For PlayStation owners, that means a chance to appreciate the latest edition of one of the top sports simulations.

Specifically, MLB 15: The Show (Sony Computer Entertainment, reviewed with PlayStation 4, Rated E, $59.99) delivers additions on many levels this year to offer an accessible as well as features rich way to virtually become part of a professional baseball franchise.

It’s crammed with minutia thanks to a development team who must not only feel under enormous pressure to impress last year’s “MLB 14: The Show” crowd but to tempt the next generation of fans.

At its most fun are, of course, the 9-inning games between the MLB teams played in some beautiful-looking, realistic reproductions of stadiums and sporting life-like humans on and off the field.

For this novice, it always comes down to simply being able to enjoy participating in baseball from my couch in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand format while playing head-to-head against a computer or friend.

Setting the game to the beginner difficulty and using classic controls accomplishes that easily and allows near any family member (tween and above) to begin to learn the nuances of the game at a very methodical pace.

My first few attempts to play “MLB 15: The Show” were dazzling to watch as well as participate in.

Be it the finely honed ability to select a pitch, get a clue where to deliver it or swing a bat with power, just for contact or being able to angle the direction of the ball off the bat while swinging (new to this year’s options), it’s all simple. Motions such as catching a fly ball in the outfield and tossing it back to the cut-off man, sliding around a tag or having the third baseman whip the ball to the second baseman to start a double play are a piece of cake and delivered with a press of the button or movements of the analog sticks.

During the simulations, I also could easily tell when my pitcher was getting tired (number of pitches, prompts from the announcer as well a shakier, pulsing target).  I swapped him when he reached his limit with first a middle reliever and then closer to record those final outs and seal the victory.

In a second game I played, an unforgettable moment occurred when I controlled the Washington Nationals and used pitching machine Max Scherzer to mow down Chicago White Sox hitters.

About the seventh inning, Mr. Scherzer had racked up 11 strikeouts and then it happened. At the start of the inning, an announcer discussed the pitcher’s current feat while a replay displayed every batter getting rung up through the final strike.

That virtual mega replay had my opponent and I shaking our heads with disbelief that developers would bother to dig that deep to further entertain us.

Suffice to report, the broadcast quality action combined with on the field action goes beyond what any normal human would notice or even realizes goes on in a real baseball game.

Take the case of Sony also tapping into Google satellite data to reproduce the exact shading and lighting on the players and field based on the sun’s position to the earth during the time, day and year, or even bother to make sure that the dirt and grass color matches the stadium using MLB game footage.

Who would ever think about that?

All of onscreen humans’ actions look very natural and include eclectic crowds (look at the differences in each spectator and his clothing) reacting to a call or, better yet, players now getting emotional with hands being waved and stomping by the runner for a close call at first.

The game’s presentation also features nuggets such as:

• Licensed equipment from carriers such as Rawlings, Wilson and Louisville Slugger. It’s not something I really care about but reveals the extra care taken to provide authenticity. My opponent kept commenting on the ridiculous detail of the branded cleats.

• The action incorporates hundreds of new motion captures to refine batting stances, pitching motions, situation and gameplay animations. Watch the action around the dugout, umpire calls, tags at the plate and follow the foul balls to see the difference. I’m still not thrilled with the Brillo Pad looking hair and beards of the players, but they really move and throw balls like humans.

Depth to “MLB 15: The Show” resides in the long-term investment within the season, franchise or career modes now offering a way to carry over saves from last year’s game.

For those hoping to spend their summers indoors and trying to build a fantastical World Series team or Hall of Fame player they will also appreciate the return of:

• Road to the Show — A mode that takes a player from showcase tryouts to the minor leagues and eventual major league starting line-up. Gamers can create and finely customize a player, train him and use points acquired with successful outings and awarded licensed equipment to upgrade his skills. My creation of lanky, right-handed pitcher with a fire-spitting fastball has become my current addiction as he climbs the ladder to the big leagues.

• Diamond Dynasty Distilled — A fantasy baseball team built by collecting virtual baseball cards either amassed through success in game modes or micro-transactions requiring the use of in game currency (called stubs) or using real money to purchase stubs. Gamers eventually own packs of cards to open and begin building a team and compete against other Dynasty opponents.

Options include using one customized player that can play any position and upgrades by feeding him discarded player cards. Also, managers who acquire all cards to a single team can unlock legendary players such as the Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Philadelphia Phillies’ Mike Schmidt to use in games

I readily admit to not being a deep, die-hard fanatic of “MLB: The Show.” However, the latest iteration at its most basic — single game, team-verse-team match ups — was quite the satisfying experience. Its highly recommend to any new PS4 owner who has never enjoyed the franchise.

They get a type of baseball mixing the love of the game and its history and all packaged to deliver, in theory, years worth of enjoyment.

Note: Don’t forget to actually get off your butt and go throw a ball with your offspring or friend. This video game version of America’s pastime should be as exciting as instructional and motivational.

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