Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth your time (and money).

Baseball has been a lot more exciting for me since the Cubs won the World Series. I was there outside Wrigley Field last November when they won it all, surrounded by raucous revelers, and then I attended the home opener to see the championship flag unveiled. It’s energized me, and now I’m even watching more games on TV than I have over the past few years. It’s been a nice shot in the arm for my flagging MLB fandom.

Likewise, that old itch to play baseball video games has returned, although I no longer have the kind of free time that allowed me to pour hours into MVP Baseball in college. So I was certainly intrigued when I saw Glu’s MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 pop up in the App Store, promising all of the official teams and players with a streamlined, on-the-go sensibility. However, this freemium affair is just too dull, repetitive, and obnoxiously monetized to satisfy.

The pitch 

Andrew Hayward/IDG

Here’s your view for pretty much the entire game.

As mentioned above, this year’s Tap Sports Baseball entry has the full Major League Baseball and Players Association licenses, meaning you can swing the bat as any star player wearing all of the official garb. That’s encouraging. So I picked my favorite team, started up a game, and got ready to smack homers as Anthony Rizzo or the game’s icon star, Kris Bryant.

Sadly, neither of the Cubs’ heavy hitters were on the roster, nor were star hurlers like Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. In fact, the vast majority of the roster was MIA. They’re in MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017, somewhere, but they weren’t on the Cubs. Not my Cubs, at least. 

That’s because Tap Sports Baseball’s free-to-play approach is built around amassing players gradually over time and building out your dream roster. So instead of giving you the Cubs or Red Sox or Giants that you know and love, you get a few mid-tier starters and then a bunch of lower-level players from all around the league.

fft mlbtapsports17 menuAndrew Hayward/IDG

Glu packs a lot of freemium stuff on one menu screen.

And that’s just one of the early surprises once you start playing. The other is that Tap Sports Baseball is built entirely around batting, which means you’ll never take the mound to throw pitches, never have to try to make a great play in the field, and can’t manually sprint around the bases. You’ll occasionally decide whether to send a runner to home or another base, but that’s just a press of a button. The only tapping you’ll do in this sport is to swing a bat or navigate through menus.

Expectedly, that approach turns tedious pretty quickly. There isn’t much nuance to hitting here: it’s purely a matter of timing your tap and swinging at pitches in the strike zone. That would be fine if there were more happening once you smack the ball into play or once you switch sides, but as the entirety of the play experience, it gets old quickly. That’s true whether you’re taking turns to bat in asynchronous play against another player (the computer controls your pitchers), or zipping through a full game in one sitting against an A.I. opponent.

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