MLB The Show 21

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studio
Release Date: April 20, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'MLB The Show 21'

by Redmond Carolipio on May 20, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Take your Ballplayer across game modes to own every at-bat, every pitch, and every play and for the first time ever you have more ways to play than ever before.

Buy MLB The Show 21

What do you add to a sports game that has practically everything? That's what I asked myself of MLB The Show 21, the latest excellent iteration of Sony's all-consuming baseball avatar. The real-life season is now churning along as fans are returning to ballparks and chunks of society feel as if they're experiencing a seventh-inning stretch of their own in dealing with a worldwide pandemic. Last season's game felt like a relief, coming to us as sports was shutting down; this one feels more like a celebration.

I've always enjoyed the series' accessibility to players and fans of all skill levels. At its heart, baseball is one of the more difficult games to play, whether you're on the mound, in the batter's box or in the field. The Show offers settings on settings that essentially allow your experience to be as challenging or arcade-y as you like. If you want to hit bombs and get challenged as a pitcher, awesome. If you want to stress over every detail while playing shortstop, enjoy. That's why a shortstop (Fernando Tatis, Jr., of the San Diego Padres) is on the cover. If all you want to do is pitch, you can. That flexibility makes semi-knowledgeable non-seamheads like myself willing to pour hours into the experience.

I have a tradition every year when I check out this game out for WorthPlaying: I like to mash through its Road to the Show (RTTS) mode as much as possible and use it as a portal into the gameplay. This season's RTTS throws some different and welcome stuff at those who like to create players and guide them through their odyssey of a career. It's best to create your player first before going into RTTS this season; otherwise, you start out as the basic "Joe Random" and will need to tweak everything later.

The first thing I noticed was the difference in narrative investment. In the past, players would be portrayed as a random longshot hoping to get noticed by the pros after playing a few exhibition games. There'd be some text conversations that would help lay the groundwork for what kind of player you'd like to be, and after playing in the exhibitions (and hopefully doing well), you'd eventually get drafted and dropped into the minors to work toward your call-up to the majors.

This year, RTTS starts with draft night, with actual MLB Network reporters and podcasters chiming in about your player's status, with the general thinking being that you're loaded with potential and that this may or may not work. You also have more control into which team will actually draft you, as small text conversations during this process feature questions along the lines of, "What teams have you heard from?" You can be as specific as you like, or you can essentially play the I'm-just-happy-to-be-drafted card and let fate choose your team for you.

Perhaps my favorite part of RTTS this year is how your team is willing to explore your options as a two-way player, meaning you can both pitch and play in the field from game to game. This is no doubt influenced by the impact of two-way player Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, who has found success on both the mound and the field. It's an awesome way to build more of your player's attributes while also breaking up the game-to-game monotony of what could be a long season. If this sounds like this is forced on you, it can only last a few games before another conversation with your coach leads to questions that lead you to say that you'd like to focus on pitching or playing a position.

Either way, I enjoyed some of the new gameplay options that already pile on to the arsenal of pitching and interfaces from past iterations. One that jumped out is the new "pinpoint pitching" interface, which asks players to perform certain timed motions with the right analog stick, depending on whatever pitch they want to throw and where they want to throw it. For instance, a fastball is basically straight up and down, while breaking pitches feature a mix of half-circle and straight motions. Personally, I would have made the heavy fastball the same motion as a hadouken, but that's why I'm sitting here and not making games.

This was the most difficult of the pitching interfaces, as a lack of precision and timing in your movements lead to a poor pitch and, in many cases, a chance for opposing batters to send your ball into the stands. If you're a veteran of the series, you might want to try it out for a bit and then revert to whatever's been working for you — or it could be the interface you've always wanted. NBA 2K players who have grown up with the right stick as the key to unlock all of the on-court greatness of their created player might have a chance to excel at it.

As far as offense goes, the newest stuff comes in the form of giving your players "loadouts," where you can outfit your player with a combination of archetype-based perks (pitch velocity, speeds, hitting power, etc.) before you head out into the field. This adds a little more flexibility to your player, especially if you pursue the two-way path. For pitchers, it allows you to try out some new stuff each game or have different loadouts, depending on the lineup you're facing. That applies to field play as well, depending on which pitcher/team you're encountering in a series. This is one of the things that added to my play time, as I occasionally fell down the rabbit hole of fidgeting with loadouts almost every day.

It helps that the game looks great, which I expected on next-gen. Roughly 100 new animations were added, and I could tell they had more to do with general game flow and smoothness. It's not like I can point to one and say, "There it is," but every game felt like a solid display of some of the PS5's power. The presentation is almost airtight, and I still marvel at the player models with every facial tick, grimace and smirk on the mound and batter's box captured. Even the uniforms wrinkle appropriately when the pitcher starts his windup. The stadiums also carry their own bit of visual glory, thanks to some stellar lighting during all parts of the (simulated) day.

Speaking of stadiums, there is an actual stadium creation feature this year. That didn't personally appeal to me that much, but it's a huge addition that probably should have been part of The Show a while ago and has serious rabbit-hole potential for anyone with those "Field of Dreams" if-you-build-it-they-will-come visions. It's also kind of fantastic for the creators among the baseball gaming community. Like other aspects of The Show, you can invest as much as you want and still find joy. If you want to take an existing style of stadium and give it some "The Home Edit"-style love, you can do that. For the hardcore builders, there's the "blank canvas" stadium base where you have a hand in designing everything. There are "easy" and "pro" editing modes, along with the ability to simply see and download other stadiums that people have built.

I didn't experience a ton of new items when I dabbled online, but the experience still remains smooth. Diamond Dynasty has been a series fixture, and it carries the appeal of building a team from collected and purchased packs. The one difference this season is that you can bounce your personal ballplayer over into your squad, and his attributes will still build up across game modes.

The Show has been one of the more consistently excellent and complete sports series for years, and MLB The Show 21 maintains that excellence as it steps into the next-gen batter's box. The cover athlete choice of the aforementioned Fernando Tatis, Jr., is no coincidence, as the young star is being seen as one of baseball's next big things, ushering in a possible new era of personality and Q-rating power that the game could sorely use. He can also do everything, and everything is what this series has offered to fans for years at a high level. Time will tell if there is yet another level to reach.

Score: 8.8/10

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