Another MLB season is here which means it’s time for SGO to review MLB The Show 21. The latest installment in long-running baseball series from Sony San Diego, MLB The Show 21 marks a major milestone for the franchise as it not only makes its debut on the next-gen PlayStation 5 (PS5), but it also brings the series to Xbox consoles.
This year’s game brings gameplay changes, needed updates to Road to the Show, and even a brand new option for next-gen players. But with (virtual) stadiums full of fans waiting for the crack of the bat, does MLB The Show 21 keep the series at its peak, or is a decline starting to happen?
Let’s start this right by talking about the absolute best area of MLB The Show 21: Gameplay.
There are three different gameplay styles to choose from: Casual, Simulation, and Competitive. This allows you, no matter how you want to enjoy the game, to be able to play with the controls you want and the realism you desire.
Dynamic difficulty remains my favorite way to play MLB The Show as nothing feels unfair on the field. If I’m struggling, the game will adapt; if I’m hitting homer after homer, the AI will change things up. Also returning this year is the PCI customization which continues to make hitting a more personalized experience.
On the mound, Sony San Diego has added Pinpoint Pitching to MLB The Show 21. A brand new pitching interface, Pinpoint Pitching is the most challenging pitching mechanic in series history, bar none. It’s a mix of the old MLB 2K pitching along with PGA Tour 2K’s swing mechanics. You use your right analog stick to trace a pattern and place your pitching. The timing of your motion will also see you find more success or be punished by opposing batters.
As someone who still likes using the traditional pitching meter — don’t judge! — Pinpoint Pitching will leave you questioning your abilities over and over again. But, I still find myself wanting to try and master it, it’s that good.
With more than 100 new fielding animations at hand, there’s rarely a time where I questioned why or how a player was doing something on the diamond. When the ball is in play, the fielders are actually moving much better than they have at any point over the last few years. I don’t question how a player seemingly warped towards a liner. It’s actually the other way around. There are times where I think my fielder is sure to make the play, only to just miss it. It’s something I’d rather have 10 times out of 10 than the opposite.
For the better part of the last decade, gameplay in MLB The Show has been the biggest selling point over anything else the series has offered to me. From a response time to animations, everything continues to be as smooth as butter with this game.
It’s really hard to find a sports game that plays as close to its real-life counterpart better than what MLB The Show 21 does.
When it comes to available game modes, MLB The Show 21 has the deepest collection of offerings. Whether you want to go it alone or play against others around the World, there is something for you to dive into.
Your expected smaller modes like postseason, Home Run Derby, retro, weekly challenge, and more are there. But the main modes you’ll play are still Diamond Dynasty, Road to the Show, and Franchise.
Diamond Dynasty is the deepest mode the game has to offer. With so many options for both online and offline players, you can carve out a full path to success in the mode. Every card in the mode can be unlocked without spending a dime, though grinding is still going to be tedious for many players that just don’t want to invest endless hours into earning cards.
There’s even more added elements to the mode this year with the ability to bring in your created stadium and Road to the Show player.
Speaking of Road to the Show, the mode gets a fresh coat of paint this year with the addition of podcasts to document your player’s journey. Last gen users get them as audio-only episodes while those on Xbox Series X|S and PS5 get them as full video shows.
If you were a fan of the old Tony Bruno shows in the old Madden NFL games, you’ll find a lot of enjoyment from these episodes during your career.
Developing your ballplayer has also seen a welcomed change in the mode as you can decide you want to be the next Shohei Ohtani by being a two-way player. There’s also the ability to have a different loadout per game based on the situation at hand, adding more strategy within the mode.
Road to the Show could still use a bit more updates, specifically with contracts, but it’s deep enough to keep you coming back months after launch.
March to October is back with some changes like multi-year campaigns,minor league roster management, and player-locked episodes. Personally, that’s one of the best new elements as it puts the focus on one player at a time, and will center around key moments and decisions involving that player. For minor league management, fast track allows players to be MLB ready quicker to coincide with the speed of the mode.
It’s still the perfect mode for those who want to control a team for a full season but don’t want the added pressure and abilities that comes with Franchise mode.
Now, year after year, Franchise Mode fans are often left feeling like outcasts. It seems like more and more efforts are placed into the modes that bring in money than those that preach replayability. MLB The Show 21 will feel no different to anyone who feels that way.
The biggest addition to the mode this year are changes to trade logic and — wait for it — depth charts. That’s right, depth charts. Don’t get me wrong, the depth charts are a nicety, especially when you want to quickly see how your team will look two/three years down the line. But this should not be one of your “back of the box” features for the mode.
The mode gets the benefit of Stadium Creator for rebranding and relocation, and budgeting has become simpler for those who want to do a bit less. So while there are plenty of things franchise mode needs to improve on, the mode can still be fun for players. One thing I did really like is the contracts being handed out by teams just feel more authentic to what we see. Silly season exists for the big names while some you’ll see wait out for hopes of getting a decent prove-it deal.
I don’t like that you can still only sign contract extensions with players during Spring Training and during prep for the Trade Deadline. Nor can you sign extensions with players that have more than a year remaining on their deal. I would love to be able to get a contract done for a player ahead of time than have to wait until the literal last minute.
There is also a problem with AI teams not filling out their rosters as the season moves on. Though a fix for that is apparently on the way from Sony, so it should be taken care of soon enough.
For the big new mode — yes, I call it a mode — Stadium Creator is finally a part of the game after years of hoping and begging by fans. And this isn’t an over exaggeration when I say this: the suite is deeper than anything anyone could’ve hoped for.
You can either start from scratch or edit a premade template to create (or recreate) the ballpark of your dreams. Want a volcano in right field? You can have it. Want it to be impossible to hit home runs? Build that wall. There are so many options at your disposal that you can spend hours just building ballparks.
The creator is a next-gen exclusive, but it’s clear the power of the new hardware was needed to get everything the mode offers into MLB The Show 21. My only complaint is placing things can be a bit finicky, but that’s only in certain situations.
When taking the game online, the servers are more reliable than in years’ past. However, the syncing when making contact still can be bothersome for those who either are new to the game, or rarely play the game online.
Now, let’s take a minute to talk about what isn’t available in MLB The Show 21. And if you think it’s going to be small, you’re going to be disappointed.
First thing’s first, there is still no online franchise and Custom Leagues got no additions for this year. So, you still need human players to fill out your league, there’s no drafting, no free agency…nothing. It may be time to start taking bets on what game gets a legitimate online franchise mode back first: EA Sports NHL or MLB The Show.
Circling back to Stadium Creator. For all the greatness of it, there’s one thing that’s bothersome. If you are using a custom stadium, you can only play day games. If you thought it would be cool to see the pier in the backdrop lit up at night during a game, you can’t experience that in MLB The Show 21. Hopefully that’s one thing that can be changed later on in a patch.
Lastly, it was announced right off the bat that carry-over saves wouldn’t be available for this year’s game. And even after months to digest that news, it still doesn’t make it any less disappointing after years of it being a part of the game.
There are players, like myself, that have grinded a franchise and player for years only to have to start from scratch this year. If there was something big that Sony was bringing to the game as the reason, that’s one thing. But there seems to be no reason for the omission.
Let’s just address the major elephant in the room, the game’s UI is absolutely awful. While it’s fast on the PS5 — which is a great thing — it is visually unappealing and has too many buried elements. It makes searching for what you need a nightmare at times simply due to the fact that you don’t know where things are.
As far as how it looks, I’ll be blunt: it looks more like a first-run concept demo than anything that should’ve been approved for final release. It’s not the biggest problem with the game, but it’s definitely not something anybody is going to say, “this is how it should be.” I’ve seen one-developer indie games with better UI than MLB The Show 21.
The only “next-gen” feature of the new UI is how fast it is loading from one thing to another, which is definitely a plus.
UI aside, the game’s presentation could also use quite a bit of work. The game returns Matt Vasgersian, Mark DeRosa and Dan Plesac return as play-by-play commentators with Heidi Watney back as the sideline reporter.
The interactions and flow are pretty seamless and have a true broadcast feel to them. The problem with the broadcast is that the lines are mostly the same as the last few years. There’s nothing new here, and it’s starting to feel stale. MLB The Show is long overdue for a complete overhaul in the broadcast department, and it needs to come sooner rather than later.
Speaking of feeling stale, look at the player models and in-game visuals. While they’ve hit the limit on what can be done on PS4/Xbox One, a new generation of hardware should mean a jump in graphical power. With MLB The Show 21, that doesn’t feel the case at all.
There are upgrades to the lighting which makes some moments look better, but everything else looks identical. When some of the biggest “changes” in graphics is the length of a player’s hair, you know you’re behind the eight ball.
For me, it’s just another argument for leaving the last generation behind immediately when a new console generation launches. And that’s a hill I’m ready to die on.
Though it may seem like it after reading through this review, you can’t call MLB The Show 21 a bad game. The gameplay remains extremely fun, and there are modes for pretty much every type of baseball fan and player.
Though the focus of the game remains centered around Diamond Dynasty, the improvements to Road to the Show add a nice breath of fresh air to the mode while Stadium Creator is deeper than anyone expected a first-time effort to be.
The biggest problem with MLB The Show 21 is the crossroad that Sony San Diego is starting to find itself at. Franchise mode is feeling abandoned, the presentation can use a refresh, and online still isn’t where a 2021 AAA game should be.
There may be an audience on Xbox consoles enjoying the game for the first time, but that doesn’t mean the team needs to not keep the long-time players of the game happy. And as it stands now, there’s a lot that needs to change for MLB The Show to avoid becoming viewed by its fans in the same way as Madden NFL is by its.
NOTE: A review copy of MLB The Show 21 was provided to Sports Gamers Online
MLB The Show 21 Review
MLB The Show 21 isn’t a bad game, but there’s a lot that needs to starting changing for MLB The Show to avoid becoming viewed by its fans in the same way as Madden NFL is by its.