The MLB The Show franchise has been the pinnacle of baseball simulations since 2006. It leads the way in authenticity, from ballparks and player animations to play by play and physics. There hasn’t been another baseball game on any system that has come close to contending for that crown. For PlayStation players, this has been a great ride, as the sim was only offered on Sony’s platform, leaving Xbox players out in the ballpark parking lot looking in.
That all changes this year, however, as Sony Dan Diego’s baseball juggernaut is now available on both the PlayStation and Xbox systems, giving both ecosystems the chance to play out their baseball fantasies against each other. But now that it’s widely available, is it worth the upgrade to this year’s version?
Of course, if you’re an online ballplayer, the answer is always yes. You’ll need to update to the newest version to have any hope at playing games online, as last year’s sports games have virtually no lobbies. If you’re an Xbox player that has never played The Show before, I’d also say that you’ve got to try it, and The Show ’21 is an excellent entry into the series (it’s also on Game Pass, which makes it a no-brainer). If you’re a PlayStation player who has played every year, the answer is a bit more complicated.
If you’ve got your brand new PS5 – and the Dualsense controller – you’ll notice that this game takes advantage of a lot of its features. The graphics, however, especially from a Sony game made for its own next-gen console, haven’t changed much from the previous year, which is frankly a bit disappointing. The animations are very familiar and there are even voiceovers that have been reused from past iterations, making the game feel older than it should. One area where the next-gen bump can be felt though is loading times. The PS4 iterations load times were awful, and that is noticeably improved here. The time between games and series has greatly diminished, and the game feels snappier as a whole.
I’m a huge Road to the Show (RTTS) player, and most of my reviews center around this mode. I don’t really play MLB online, and I don’t do the whole card thing but I love to sink my teeth into sports RPG-ing. This year, the RTTS mode had been upgraded quite a bit and in some interesting ways. First of all, your created player starts out as a two-way player, whether you like it or not. You’ll need to pitch and bat for a few games before you make your choice which one (or both) you’d like to stick to. It’s kind of an interesting addition, as I always liked the pitching mechanics in The Show, but never wanted to create a pitcher and have to do only that, so the ability to pitch sometimes is a nice addition that breaks up the monotony of hitting dingers over the green monster ad nauseam – ok maybe not that many homers, but I digress.
Customization options have increased, and there is also a new stadium builder which is neat if you want to completely customize your teams diamond for franchise mode. You can add food stands, change bleacher seating and even change the depth of your outfield. It’s a feature only available on next-gen consoles though, so if you haven’t been lucky enough to snag one yet, you’re out of luck there.
The thing about this franchise though, is that it always feels great to play. They’ve introduced new pitching and hitting mechanics to make the game more challenging. Hitting and fielding feel as intuitive and reactive as always (even though the hit-the-circle mini-game gets a bit old after a while). I think I was just expecting to see a PS5 game, whatever that means. I was expecting to be blown away by the graphics, or some other never-before-seen feature or mode, but instead found a completely serviceable, fun-to-play baseball game. It’s not a bad thing, but in a year where we got the system and not much else, it would have been nice to have a game that truly screamed next-generation. While MLB The Show is still at the top of the baseball sim ladder, it will be interesting to see how they incorporate the processing power and graphical fidelity into the 2022 version.
Overall MLB The Show ’21 a great entry into the series; there are some new features and it plays well and looks beautiful. Fans looking for a true next-gen experience however will likely be a bit disappointed as there is nothing here that really says this is the next generation of baseball games. Still, it’s hard not to recommend this game to any baseball fan as it truly is the best baseball video gaming experience you can have. If you’ve played it let me know what you thought in the comments!