MLB The Show 21 is still loads of fun to play
Sports games, for all the ire they attract, subscribe to some of the most brutal development cycles in the industry. Spare a thought, then, for Sony San Diego, which has not only transitioned from one platform to four with its annual baseball simulation MLB The Show 21 – but it’s also done it during a global pandemic.
It's not only the push for equality which has made for a 12-month period like no other. During that time fan attendance at sports events has been either limited or banned completely, yet MLB The Show 21 doesn’t contend with this new normal. Other pro sports games failed there too, like NBA 2K21’s inability to reconcile the league’s prominent statements against police violence, but its commentary at least mentions COVID and the unusual season. Nothing in The Show 21 does, and every stadium is stuffed with fans, akin to the controversial Texas Rangers’ opening day sellout with 40,000+ people in attendance. That’s a lot of skirting reality for a series applauded for authenticity.
This year’s addition of three distinct difficulty modes and in-depth tutorial cards makes a lot of sense for helping new players break into its complex game modes.
It also has an enticing new custom Stadium Creator, and the ability to export your Road to the Show player across modes, which fans have been asking for for years. That said, moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t meaningfully different from the most recent iterations, and it doesn’t look like a generational leap forward, so it’s not quite a home run for series veterans – especially if you aren’t playing on a DualSense controller.
The calling card for the MLB The Show series has long been its gameplay. That hasn’t changed. If you want to sit down and play a realistic and fun version of the game with a controller in hand, you won’t find a better virtual representation of the sport.
New additions like Pin-Point Pitching offer a little more of a challenge to those interested, but as has been the case in the past with the series, Sony San Diego Studios isn’t forcing the changes on you. If you’re a meter pitcher, you can still use that and any other pitching and hitting mechanics present in the last game.
What’s odd is that way in which MLB The Show 21 wrestles with the sport it purports to represent. The league employed additional runners in extra innings and tested pitch clocks to speed up play. For The Show, much of the focus is expediency, on how to slice through the dead air that permeates the game’s natural tension.
MLB The Show 21 can also lay claim to the cleanest main menu screen in the series’ recent memory. Where previous years’ modes were unintuitively jumbled together, this time I could easily figure out exactly where I wanted to go for the experience I wanted to have, and all of the most feature-rich modes are right at the top. It really ties everything together.
MLB The Show 21 swings-and-misses in a few areas, with the well-intentioned Ballplayer system diminishing Road to the Show.
Despite being stingier, though, Diamond Dynasty is still the best card collecting mode available, and the series’ tried and trusted gameplay has been further enhanced with the addition of Pinpoint Pitching and new fielding animations. Sony San Diego hasn’t quite hit a home run this year, but this is a strong lead-off double for baseball on PS5.
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