Coming from a country whose sports diet consists mostly of Basketball, Baseball is quite a foreign concept to me. Similar to other sports like Football and Soccer, I know of the sport – I’ve watched a few games, I know how the game is played, I’m familiar with the teams and the names of the players, but I’ve never really taken an interest into actually watching it. Thus, I’m excited at the prospect to learn more about it through a medium that I’m more familiar and comfortable with. Enter MLB The Show 21, quite the ‘controversial’ game to say the least, making headlines just weeks before its April 16 release. Once a PlayStation exclusive, MLB The Show 21 is the first time the game is making its way to the Xbox, and day one on Game Pass even, which is sure to bring in a new audience for the title.
It wouldn’t be far off to compare the game to NBA 2K, with both titles being the best titles in their respective fields. Much like NBA 2K, MLB The Show 21 features the best gameplay, the best looking models, and the latest rosters and teams to bring you the most authentic Baseball action any game out there can give you. As good as it is, can it actually convert newcomers to the sport, like me?
Base hit for beginners
As a rookie to the sport and to the game, my initial feeling was that the game might be too hard for me because the last time I’ve played a Baseball game was back during the PS1 days of Triple Play. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as MLB The Show 21 has some pretty good options to welcome newcomers on board.
From batting to fielding, you can change up each experience to suit your level of exposure to the game. Some hitting options will require you to flick the right analog stick, allowing for much more control and accuracy. If you’re like me though and you want things a bit basic, then there’s the default use of the Square, Cross, and Circle buttons, each representing a different type of swing. The options are varied, and every player will surely find one that will appeal to their playstyle.
Pitching has the most amount of options for the player to choose from, with some needing a heavy amount of involvement from the player over 9 innings. You can switch options at any time, so it would be good to test out what works for you.
It’s easy to get lost in the thick of things, but the UI is pretty clean and easy to understand, even for beginners. There’s a lot of information show on screen at various sections of the game, but I’ve asked around with some friends who are actually watch the sport, and they said that the breadth of data shown is great for enthusiasts.
From the speed of the pitch to the exit speed after the hit along with even the angle of the hit, everything is laid out cleanly for the player, and is something not overdone or exaggerated. It took me a while to get accustomed to the terms used by the commentators during the game, but even that is something you’ll get used to just by playing regualrly.
One thing that does stand out is how good the game looks. While it could use the next-gen polish that we’ve seen in NBA 2K21, MLB The Show 21 does not look bad by any stretch. The players look very much like their real-life counterparts, and what’s even more impressive is how each of these players move on the diamond.
The animations are fluid, and players move very naturally. It is very easy to notice this during pitches or while batting, and while it may be easy to dismiss this as part of a game that doesn’t have a much movement as other contact sports, Sony San Diego have done quite a good job with MLB The Show 21. Some of the more impressive actions you’ll see are the off balance catches which turns into a throw to first base, or even those diving catches from the center field player on a clean hit.
No frills, straight to the game
One of the things I look for in a sports title is its Story mode, similar to MyCareer from NBA2K. It’s a great way to get introduced to the sport while at the same time familiarizing yourself with the game as you improve your skill levels. MLB The Show 21 has that, to an extent, but the production values aren’t quite there compared to what you’ve been accustomed to.
If you’re looking for some sort of backstory to it, MLB’s “Road to the Show” puts you in the spot of a budding 2-way player (you can pitch and hit / play another position well) on his way to breaking into the Major Leagues. That’s as much backstory as there is to it, unfortunately. Some players may appreciate this more, but I would have loved an actual storyline connected to it.
Throughout the campaign, the game gives you some semblance of choice on whether you want to continue on your path to becoming a 2-way player or specialize in a certain position. Its great that you’re given a chance to do so, since some people may find pitching to be quite boring.
You can obviously dress up your character in threads which you can unlock and purchase but overall, the progress here feels very slow in relation to the number of games you actually play. Considering that almost every action you do gives you a + or – on a specific trait, you’ll only progress 2-3 points on a stat on a regular playthrough until the “Road to the Show” playoffs, which doesn’t feel very fulfilling.
To top it off, some of your training drills to improve your batting or pitching is reduced to playing a mini-game on your mobile phone or some simple animation that just gives you the corresponding increases. They’re not very interactive, and is something that could be improved.
In between games, you’re treated to some podcast-style commentary from various personalities, and this aspect of it feels very current and modern considering our situation at the moment.
Other standard sports mode for enthusiasts are also present, such as Diamond Dynasty (MyTeam in NBA2K), Franchise Mode, and March to October which brings you straight to the post-season. Out of all of these, Diamond Dynasty is where most players will spend most of their time, building a team that you can take to online play against other players. There’s the temptation of microtransactions here, but the urge isn’t as strong thanks to the generous reward system of the game.
There’s also a Stadium Creator mode, which lets you, well, create a stadium to suit your needs. There’s a TON (not kidding) of options to choose from, with some ranging from modern designs to some dating back to the pre-historic era (yep, you can add dinosaurs). You can let your creativity shine here, as long as you get used to its rather confusing user interface.
Sadly, MLB The Show 21 fails to “wow” as it takes to the next-gen consoles. You’ll get the improved loading times and improved frame rates, but the game overall looks and feels like something that was meant for the PS4 era, which is not a bad thing, but still not “next-gen” enough.
The Dualsense controller gets some form of haptic feedback support, which feels nice, but isn’t really a game-changing feature. It is implemented in some areas of the game which feel great, especially during your time at bat, and is not sprinkled in just for the sake of. 3D audio is also utilized, and is a treat when using a good pair of headphones.
Even at 4K 60FPS, MLB The Show 21 does not receive the same next-gen treatment as NBA2K has done with its next-gen version. I’m expecting this to probably come next year, but it would have been a fantastic showcase this year, especially when the game is releasing to a much wider audience for the first time.
What we liked:
- Best-in-class experience
- Microtransactions aren’t as blatant
- Smooth and flawless gameplay
- Improved loading times on next-gen consoles takes you to the game faster than ever
What we didn’t like:
- Figuring out when to advance or go back while base running can get complicated due to bad camera angles
- Progression during “Road to the Show” mode is rather slow
- No mind-blowing next gen upgrade
Verdict: Wait for it.
Overall, MLB The Show 21 is the best Baseball game you can get out there, bar none. With its impressive visuals and realistic gameplay, the game is something any self-respecting fan of the sport should have in their library of games, whether it be on the PlayStation or Xbox. It has a bevy of beginner friendly options that make any other sports title pale in comparison, and it also has robust gameplay modes available for all of your Baseball needs.
That said, MLB The Show 21 strikes out on an opportunity to capitalize on its next-gen debut unlike its Basketball counterpart in NBA 2K21. The next-gen version of NBA looks and feels like a brand new game, and while MLB The Show 21 has a couple of next-gen features such as improved loading times and frame rates, it doesn’t quite push the envelope as much.
PlayStation fans will see a familiar and fun game, while Xbox gamers would probably be the ones who will come out of this experience most impressed at what they’ve been missing all this time.
*MLB The Show 21 was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 via a review code provided by the publishers.