When a longstanding sports series migrates to a new generation of consoles, the fan base expects changes. Developers usually answer this call with improved graphics, inventive game ideas, and advanced features that couldn’t be achieved with older hardware. MLB The Show 21 isn’t a strong argument for upgrading in any of these areas. You have to squint to see the graphical differences, the gameplay is identical and the only content reserved only for the new generation is post-game commentary and a stadium creator.
The biggest improvements are less load (around 10 seconds each), smoother frame rates, and higher resolution – basically what we see in most cross-generational games. Rather than stepping onto the plate as a flashy rookie who will redefine the sport, MLB The Show 21 is more like the accomplished veteran who has played the game for 15 years.
Sony San Diego has achieved great success through annual iteration and is regularly dazzled with a new idea that catches fire. This year’s game focuses on improving the core game on the field to make it tighter, smoother and more realistic. While not turning a new idea upside down, a multitude of gameplay tweaks and additions make MLB The Show 21 the best baseball game of all time. Yes, it’s the only notable baseball game in town for a long time, but it shouldn’t be neglected. The foundation has been fantastic and is among the best in any video game sport.
This year, fielding benefits the most from iteration. With hundreds of new animations, field players take more realistic routes to balls and can no longer laboriously adapt to the ball trajectories, but can now concentrate on course corrections. The speed of the infielder is also emphasized by cool little throwing movements on the wrist if their swing prevents them from a game. I’ve seen far less glitches or inaccuracies in the field animation than in years past, and most of the flashy pieces looked superb. I always like to see the little flourishes Sony brings with it, even when a piece ends. It’s an incredibly fluid looking game, and it’s amazing how quickly it can queue a specific animation for a situation, like a rocket ground ball eating a player alive.
If you think all of the existing pitching mechanics are too easy to paint the corners and make the batters’ knees buckle, a new pinpoint pitching system offers a higher level of difficulty as you have the timing and movement for certain pitchings have to perform various analog stick movements. A fastball requires little more than a back and forth movement. However, to perform a curveball or slider, you need to make gentle circular motions. Any deviation from the required movement and speed leads to a loss of accuracy. While I appreciate seeing the percentage of how accurate I was with a given pitch, I found this pitching mechanic to be tiresome over a nine-inning move and not as fun as the old measurement system that still was is in the game and better than ever thanks to realignment.
Road the Show is also a beneficiary of subtle but remarkable changes. Your rookie can now be a two-way player like Shohei Ohtani with the option to play and play the position of your choice. This player option gives you the best of both worlds. Beat and catch for four consecutive days and then play the rubber on the fifth. It’s a fun (and rare) introduction to the world of baseball.
The path to developing the show for all gamer disciplines is well mastered, but too much emphasis is placed on static bumps that come from collectibles like sunglasses, cleats, bats, and more. Player evolution is similar to a game like Destiny, where you keep changing how stat boosts are loaded. If you’re a two-way player you want different pitch and batting loads, which can be a nuisance if you have to retire to the clubhouse to change it.
The path to all of the show’s gameplay and progression paths remains largely unchanged, but post-game presentation and the appearance of a career-b ased narrative are enhanced thanks to videos and commentary from former big league players, MLB network analysts, and other guests. However, some of the changes to Road to the Show detracted from the experience. You can’t really choose a defined archetype anymore, and given the way player progression works, you won’t be able to import your MLB The Show 20 player. Still, I love how you can get your new rookie into the Diamond Dynasty to see how it fares against the competitive landscape.
It’ll take a ton of play and great loadouts to get him within the reach of 90+ legends, but seeing your rookie in the line-up between Roberto Clemente and Ken Griffey Jr. is damn cool. The selection of Legends on offer right on your doorstep is fantastic, as are the programs associated with some of them like Jackie Robinson and Eric Davis. Unlocking takes some effort, as does raising money to buy card games (which is a little more generous this year). Notable rewards are tied to the new daily moments, and legacy modes like Conquest and Programs have been redesigned to reduce the grind and offer better rewards. Upgrading player cards by using them is another nice addition. Diamond Dynasty is once again full of fantastic gameplay for both single player and competitive reasons. Even as Road to the Show improves, Diamond Dynasty remains the main attraction and makes putting together a roster a breeze.
Franchise mode received significant back-end improvements that will help with player development and evaluation. Revised depth charts give you a clear overview of the organization and who you want to give a chance. From March to October, prospects play a role in this single-season format thanks to quick moments that give you the opportunity to attract a rookie to the MLB potential. I’m still early in my March season and haven’t seen any of those moments, but I hope this gives my team a spark of youthfulness by the end of the year.
Whether you’re building your own team in Diamond Dynasty or looking for a new home for your franchise team, now is the opportunity to create a stadium that suits your needs and style when playing on new generation systems. The stadium’s creator is quite complex and not as intuitive as I’d hoped, but allows a wide variety of baseball cathedrals to be made. With the multiple options, I created a classic stadium like Fenway Park with huge blue walls in the right and left fields, and a fantasy park with live dinosaurs roaming a prairie beyond the outer field walls. Sony needs to better highlight the best user-made stadiums and also remove the user-uploaded offensive stadiums, but I’ve managed to find a lot of great creations to take my inspiration from.
For Xbox gamers getting into The Show for the first time, Sony has a nice onboarding system with quick and detailed tutorials for all of the game options. This includes offering a clear level of difficulty path for casual (recording and playing), simulation (based on player and team ratings) and competitive (focused on stick skills).
As for the system the game plays best on, the PS5 DualSense controller provides better haptic feedback for certain in-game actions as well as 3D audio. However, that’s the only noticeable difference I’ve noticed between the Xbox and PlayStation versions. All roads in this year’s game are equally good. Crossplay seems to work great with no periodic connection / server errors.
MLB The Show 21 lacks flash and new experience paths this season, but it continues to improve on the field and under the hood, providing a whole new audience of players with one hell of a game to start their baseball careers with.