Spring is in the air, which means a new entry in the long-running MLB The Show series is hitting the shelves. The popular MLB series is coming off a financially successful year, as MLB The Show 22 was one of the ten best-selling games in the US last year. Despite this, players felt MLB The Show 22 was a step back in many ways. The lack of innovation in several game modes, along with frustratingly inconsistent gameplay, forced many players to reevaluate the state of The Show.
Enter MLB The Show 23. This year’s game promises to improve where last year’s game failed. The game is said to feature significant improvements and additions to both game modes and gameplay. Is it a hit, or is it finally time to call strike three on what has been the major MLB franchise for almost two decades now? Let’s find in our SGO review of MLB The Show 23.
Gameplay in MLB The Show 23 is very different from previous years. The most significant change is fielding. The updated button accuracy meter makes things much more challenging. Now when you make a throw, the section of the meter you need to hit might move depending on the difficulty of the throw. If you land outside the green section, you’ll have an inaccurate throw resulting in many more errors. While this change is frustrating at first, it does force the player to be much more engaged on defense. Defensive ratings now play a much more significant part when deciding who to place in your lineup.
Fielders in general also feel much slower. This is due to the fielding rating now deciding how good of a jump fielders get when the ball is hit. You can’t just put whoever in the outfield and expect to make every play. There has been a lot more ground balls getting through the infield and more fly balls dropping in the outfield. This makes contact hitters much more viable options for lineups as well.
It’s a good thing contact hitters are useful again because power hitters feel a lot weaker, especially on the competitive playstyle. Exit velocities only feel impressive when pulling the ball or on Perfect/Perfect swings. It seems rare to see any swing to center or opposite field get an exit velocity above 95 mph, even when making good contact with high power hitters. It makes sense that pulling the ball would naturally generate more power. However, balls that aren’t pulled are just a bit too weak.
Launch angles also feel very inconsistent with regards to PCI placement. I have seen higher launch angles on balls where my PCI was above the ball than on similar swings where my PCI was even with or below the ball. This inconsistency is very disappointing, as it was one of the main things that hurt gameplay in last year’s game. The bright spot here is that I only encountered this issue in the competitive play style. On simulation and casual, which are available in all modes outside of Diamond Dynasty and online play, exit velocities, and launch angles felt much more realistic based on the ratings of my players and where my PCI was placed.
There are some positive changes to hitting this year. This year’s game significantly reduces the number of foul balls in an at-bat. Now, if you swing at pitches far outside of the strike zone, you are going to miss more often than not. The new bat PCI option also gives a better idea of where to line up your PCI to get the best possible swing on the ball. The clutch rating is more important now as it will replace your hitter’s contact rating when runners are in scoring position. Suddenly, your high-power slugger might be useless with runners on if they have a low clutch rating.
Some of the new MLB rules that went into effect this year have also been added to the game. The new shift restrictions have arrived across MLB The Show 23. This prevents teams from having more than two infielders on either side of the field. This rule also requires all four infielders to be on the dirt when the ball is hit. SDS has said they will monitor to see how teams adjust to this new rule. If teams develop new ways to combat this change, SDS will try to implement these strategies in later gameplay updates.
However, the game leaves out other rule changes like the pitch clock and pickoff restriction. There has already been a pitch clock in MLB The Show in online head-to-head matches for several years now. However, the 15-second clock that so many have been talking about is not included in any part of this game. The restriction where three unsuccessful pickoff attempts result in a balk is also left out. While it is understandable how these rules could be awkward to implement into the game, the fact that the biggest rule changes for MLB this year will not even be optionable in the main MLB video game is disappointing.
Overall, the gameplay of MLB The Show 23 seems to have surpassed that of last year’s game. Hitting feels better despite some inconsistencies. Fielding finally matters and adds a whole new level of strategy to lineups. A slight buff to exit velos and launch angles on balls that aren’t pulled would make this some of the better gameplay we have seen in the series over the past few years.
The biggest new game mode in MLB The Show 23 is Storylines. This new mode is a cinematic offline mode that tells the stories of eight legendary players from the Negro Leagues. Some of these players you have likely heard about, such as Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. Meanwhile, others like Buck O’Neil and John Donaldson are probably new to many people. This mode features several episodes for each player. The episodes begin with an introductory video from Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. After the video, players will hop into moments to recreate the biggest plays in these players’ careers.
This mode takes what other games have done with historical storytelling and propels it to a level that is unprecedented. Bob Kendrick does an amazing job narrating these stories. His joy, laughter, and giant smile that he wears throughout the videos makes the stories he tells come to life. The incredible artwork, music, and writing are also top notch. I also have to commend the commitment to historical accuracy. The team at SDS went to great lengths to create new equipment, uniforms, and stadiums specifically for this mode. They even went so far as to make the fans and umpires dress as they would during that time period. The amount of passion and effort on display in this mode is simply unmatched anywhere else in the genre. For any fan of baseball history or American history, Storylines alone makes downloading the game on Game Pass worth it.
Diamond Dynasty remains the biggest mode in MLB The Show 23. The structure of Diamond Dynasty this year takes the card collecting mode format and completely flips it on its head. Usually these type of modes slowly drip feed players slightly better versions of cards in order to get them to continue playing and spending money on packs. Diamond Dynasty now gets rid of all of that. The best versions of the best players are available day one. Mike Trout, Chipper Jones, and Babe Ruth are just some of the greats that already have their 99 OVR cards featured at launch.
This change to having the best cards available at launch is part of the new Sets and Seasons mechanic of the mode. Cards are assigned to a set based on what season they are released in. The season determines which sets are allowed to be used in certain parts of the mode. Meanwhile, other parts allow for all sets to be used. Diamond Dynasty has always been the most consumer-friendly of the card collecting modes. This change takes that to the next level and begs players to earn the best cards in the game for free.
The new set of legends is also sure to get players excited. Collector’s Edition cover athlete Derek Jeter makes his much anticipated return to the series for the first time since his retirement in 2014. Two of the best power hitters in Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa make their first appearance in the series this year. The mode also features tons of players from the recent World Baseball Classic. This marks the first time players from international leagues have been featured in the mode.
There are other new features to the mode as well. The new Captains feature introduces theme teams to Diamond Dynasty. Captain cards can be activated to deliver powerful boosts to teams if the lineups meet certain criteria. The DH also finally arrives in Diamond Dynasty after years of requests. Two-way player cards, like Shohei Ohtani, now have secondary positions allowing them to hit and pitch in the same game.
Franchise mode also gets some much needed love this year. There is a brand new scouting and drafting system for both Franchise and March to October. Now, scouting is a weekly process. Players will use their three scouts to learn more information about the upcoming prospects. Prospects are younger in general, as the pool of available players features more 18 and 19 year olds. The classic 20-80 scouting scale has been dropped to make it easier to gauge a prospects abilities.
The process continues once the player is drafted. At this point, you still have a few weeks of continuing to scout your picks and trying to convince them to sign with you. To sign them, you will also have to get them to agree to your bonus proposal. The MLB Draft Bonus Allotment system is fully implemented into the mode. This addition is a critical part of the process. If you fail to sign a prospect, they can go back to school and show back up in future drafts.
Progression and regression seem to be better in Franchise than in year’s past. Previously, whenever a player was past 10 years of service time or the age of 31 or 32, they hit a wall and would often be out of the league in a couple of years. Now, I have seen players like Mike Trout and Manny Machado continuing to get better and better well past 10 years of service time as they went into their late 30’s.
Not everything is perfect in Franchise mode though. Trade logic continues to be a sticking point. Relief pitchers were one such example of this. The trade logic in the game has often overvalued these players. The team at SDS said they fixed this issue. However, I continue to see 85-90 OVR relievers get traded for three of the best prospects an organization has. This is just too much for a reliver based on how they are valued in real life. I also see far too many trades within divisions. One trade I found particularly egregious saw the Baltimore Orioles trading Gunnar Henderson, the current #1 prospect in MLB, within the division to the Boston Red Sox for an aging pitcher with an ERA near four.
Where Franchise at least got some major improvements this year, Road to the Show is mostly copy and paste this year. The only major addition is the new Face Scan ability. This can be done using the MLB The Show 23 companion app. The results of which are passable at best.
Outside of this, UI redesigns are pretty much all you get. On field training drills have returned as an option for getting slight attribute upgrades on your days off. This really doesn’t feel like an addition though when it follows the feature’s subtraction only a few years earlier.
If I had to say something I like about the mode it would be the podcast segments now occasionally feature actual MLB footage. I must admit, I’m always a sucker for when sports games do that. Also, the dynamic challenges can offer program points as well as equipment packs, which is a nice touch.
Outside of this though, Road to the Show is incredibly disappointing this year. The low number of additions to the mode over the last few years is ridiculous at this point. For the main casual mode in the game to go an entire year with minimal changes at best, is just unacceptable for the main MLB game on the market.
Presentation and Commentary
The presentation this year feels like a natural progression of the changes that were made last year. The bottom line ticker in Franchise and Road to the Show now includes a few additions like preseason projections, WAR leaders, and fantasy leaders. The modes also feature new broadcast graphics that help the modes feel even more immersive. Select stadiums now have exterior shots as well, giving you the feel of a real broadcast.
Several modes now have their own unique graphics, including Diamond Dynasty modes like Conquest and Mini Seasons. For example, the commentators will now refer to Mini Seasons as the Global Baseball League. This plays on the fact that the CPU teams you face are from all around the world. These teams also now have their own stadiums in their home location.
For commentary, MLB The Show 23 feels like more of the same. John “Boog” Sciambi and Chris Singleton return to the broadcast booth. There are now more lines of commentary that are unique to the mode you play. The pair do a good job and have genuine chemistry together, even if the lines can get a bit repetitive early.
The graphics of MLB The Show 23 do look slightly better than previous games. I reviewed this game on a PS5 where the improved lighting and new equipment make the game look a little better. New animations, especially with fielding and baserunning, make the players feel much more alive when playing.
However, I do feel like the old consoles are holding the game back. If you showed me a player model from this year’s game and one from the last couple of years, I’m not sure I could easily tell them apart. This seems pretty clear in the new broadcast stage which shows up before some games. This is a cool idea, but something about the lighting or the amount of color in the background just makes these player models look lifeless and from the PS3 era. Which is weird because the players look pretty good when you’re in the actual game. Hopefully this is the final year of the game being on the old hardware and we can see a true next-gen jump soon.
In certain areas, MLB The Show 23 takes some of the largest steps forward the series has ever seen. The changes to fielding and ratings bring an entirely new level of strategy to lineup creation. Storyline mode presents the stories of eight baseball legends to a new generation of fans. Diamond Dynasty’s new format completely revamps the card-collecting mode genre and makes the mode more accessible to those who don’t want to spend extra money on stubs. Franchise mode finally got some serious love and effort this year to the part of the mode that needed it the most.
On the other hand, some parts of the game feel relatively untouched. Road to the Show was completely left in the dust this year. Exit velocities and launch angles still need some adjustments when the ball isn’t being pulled. And two and a half years into the new console generation, the game has yet to see truly upgrade to next-generational graphics.
Despite these shortcomings, there is plenty here to entertain and educate baseball fans more than last year’s game. If you are a hardcore MLB The Show player, this will be a great year for you. Meanwhile, for casual players, I feel Storylines and changes to Franchise and Diamond Dynasty can still offer you hours of easy-going enjoyment.
MLB The Show 23 hits a home run in some key areas and in others, not so much. However, while popular modes like Road to The Show are still being neglected, San Diego Studios still manages to improve enough to keep the experience fresh.