Hitting a baseball might be the hardest thing to do in professional sports. It's a feat not just reliant on athletic ability, but on skill, patience, and finely tuned mechanics. MLB The Show 17 revels in this fact, making each line drive and moonshot feel immanently special. From the emphatic crack of the bat as the ball is sent careening through the air, to the way the crowd rises to their feet with oohs and aahs in equal parts awe and rabid excitement.
Batting in Sony's long-running series has never been better. Previously, the series' ball physics were modelled on a baseball hitting a flat surface, which resulted in the ball taking relatively straight flight paths with minimal spin. I never considered this to be a facet of the game in urgent need of improvement, but now that the physics are based on the trajectory of a ball colliding off of a round bat, the leap in quality is unmistakable. Not only does this enhancement inject a dose of added realism, but it also increases the variety of dynamic hits you're likely to see. You'll witness balls sliced down the third base line that spin just enough to stay fair, bloops that fall between the second basemen and right fielder, and topspin line drives that soar over the center fielder's head before crashing into an outfield wall. I can't count the amount of times I've paused the game after a scorching double, just to hop into a replay and savour the ball's flight path. The physics are really that good.
Elsewhere, Franchise has received some time-saving improvements. Traditionally, playing a full 162-game season can be a laborious grind if you're not simply skimming your way through a vast majority of the games. Now there are a few more options on a game-by-game basis if you want to expedite the process and still feel involved. You can still play or manage a full game, or you can cut down the time of games by more than half by selecting quick manage or player lock. The former speeds through games at a rapid pace while still giving you a say in every single at-bat. And, if you want, you can jump in and out at any time and take direct control, even if it's only for one crucial at-bat or two. Meanwhile, player lock lets you play an entire game as a single player, à la Road to the Show. So if you've always just wanted to be Bryce Harper, now you can. These are smart new additions that ensure you can have a palpable impact on all 162-games in a season, no matter how much or how little you actually play.
After card collecting game Diamond Dynasty received a total revamp last year, it returns intact with 30 more legendary players added. So if you've ever wanted to trot out an outfield of Ken Griffey Jr., Ted Williams, and Mike Trout, now you can (provided you're incredibly lucky/willing to spend some cash). And with Griffey emblazoned on the cover, MLB The Show 17 invites some nostalgia with the new Retro mode. With its 8-bit filter and arcade-style one-button mechanics, it invokes old-school classics like R.B.I. Baseball on the NES. It's a fun novelty, but since it's limited to single games, it feels like a missed opportunity without the ability to play a full season.
MLB The Show 17 continues the series' fantastic tradition of consistency and refinement. Improvements to its various game modes give you more ways to play the game how you want to, and the action on the field has never been better, with smarter fielding AI, and enhanced ball physics that bring the hitting to life. Commentary is still a little too stilted for my liking, and there are other blemishes lurking throughout. But when you connect with a fastball and send the ball spiralling into a gap in center field, any issues retreat to the back of your mind. This is America's National Pastime at its best.