I usually open my annual MLB The Show review talking about coming out of a long, cold winter and how great the weather here is in Arizona as MLB teams gear up for Spring Training, but this year is markedly and historically different. The coronavirus pandemic has suspended all organized sports, including NBA, NHL, and MLB, and suddenly, instead of getting ready for the 2020 season, baseball fans and players alike have been left in the dust, hunkered down in their homes. While baseball might be on hold for the foreseeable future — last estimates had the season starting sometime in May — Sony’s San Diego Studio is looking to fill the void with MLB The Show 20, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Real baseball might be on pause, but for PlayStation 4 players, the game is just getting started. MLB The Show 20 is a welcome sight, as many of us are in self-isolation in our homes. We might not be able to smell the fresh-cut grass and the hot dogs, nor can we relish in the sounds of a ball getting knocked out of a park, but there is baseball to be played, and this annual sports sim delivers in every way to give fans the true baseball experience.
MLB The Show 20 brings much more than a roster upgrade and a few graphical polishes. San Diego Studio has added new game modes, tweaked existing favorites, and they’ve revamped some of the sport’s core mechanics to create the most realistic baseball experience to date.
Fielding and player animations have been fleshed out, and the difference is noticeable the first time you play. Precision matters in both how you play the ball and even how you throw it to a base. The precision meter is much more in line with the actual player’s real-life skill, so the “sweet spot” could be bigger or smaller depending on which player you are controlling. The game is unforgiving if you slightly miss the sweet spot on the meter, leading to errant throws and errors. I play hundreds of hours of The Show every summer, and it took me a few games to readjust myself to these new mechanics.
Once I fell into a rhythm, I began to appreciate the new defensive mechanics, as I can tell the difference between a Jose Altuve at second base and, say, a Kolten Wong from the St. Louis Cardinals, as I should. And it’s not just the fielding throws that got revamped this year. Fielding pop-ups and line drives are much faster and precise with the extreme catch indicator. It was shocking how fast the defensive game is now, and how quick my reflexes, and the reflexes of my players, have to be to get even the simplest of outs.
These changes in MLB The Show 20 add a new level of play, and separate the good players from the great on defense, and not just in the batter’s box. I’m very glad to see the defensive side of the game get some love this season.
In addition to the new fielding mechanics, a new hitting tier, Perfect-Perfect, makes for exciting at-bats. The batter’s plate coverage indicator now includes three little dots, and by moving the indicator on a pitch and nailing the ball on one of these dots, you pull off a Perfect-Perfect hit. Each dot represents a type of hit — Perfect Flyball, Perfect Grounder, and Perfect Liner — and it gives the player more control in situational hitting. If you are down by three runs in the ninth with bases loaded and two outs, hitting the ball on a Perfect Flyball dot could change the game and salvage a win from the jaws of defeat.
The real meat of the changes in MLB The Show 20 come in the form of new game modes, like Showdown and Custom Leagues. Showdown takes the spirit of the amazing Moments mode from last year and focuses it into a mini-game-like tournament that rewards players for completing tasks and beating “bosses” in final showdowns.
Players draft a team and are tasked with completing objectives that get progressively harder. Success rewards new players and perks for your drafted team, and boss battle wins, like scoring X number of runs on some of MLB’s most elite pitchers within a set number of outs, rewards stubs and game packs for use elsewhere in The Show 20.
Showdown was one of the modes I was most excited to play, and it hasn’t disappointed. My only gripe is that, like the Battle Royale mode, it costs stubs to enter certain showdowns. Sony has promised that some will be free to play, but at launch, only the very simple six-challenge “Starter” showdown is free. Hopefully this will change as the season progresses.
Custom Leagues allows players to create online leagues to play with friends and strangers. The amount of customization on display is staggering, and creating or joining a league that fits your play style is simple. You can play relaxed or competitive, and you also have to option to use live MLB rosters or Diamond Dynasty teams (it’s amazing how many custom leagues have some form of “corona” in their titles right now). Custom Leagues might be the only competitive baseball we have for a while, and it’s a welcome addition to MLB The Show 20.
March to October, which was a groundbreaking game mode from last year’s title, makes a return, and the player is given much more control in how the season plays out. Last year, the tasks were rather simple — come back from two down in the ninth to fire up the team, for example. This year, the are more options and tasks that offer more risk and reward. You can even call up new players and trade for players to shore up team weaknesses. It’s less a curated sim this season, and more of a mini-franchise mode, which I really enjoy.
Road to the Show builds on the relationships from last year’s entry. RTTS players can forge better bonds with teammates in a more fluid atmosphere. Making a great play on defense will warm you up to your pitcher very fast, and depending on the personality you chose at the start, this could make all the difference in how you interact with your team as a whole. There are little meters above everyone’s heads that show when you do something good or bad in-game, so you can see in real-time how your on-field play is affecting the team.
There are more options and variety for challenges to help your characters grow. Off-day challenges, for instance, have been slightly revamped to offer more variety to better build your character. Multiple levels of friendships and rivalries also work to create a more enriching and rewarding journey through the various levels of your baseball career.
San Diego Studio has always been good at introducing new features in one game and then tweaking them in subsequent entries. These changes to RTTS make for a more immersive RPG experience — personally, I feel much more a part of a team this season, and not just a guy trying to make The Show and eventually the Hall of Fame. Other favorite modes return in The Show 20, including Franchise, Conquest, Moments, and Challenge of the Week, among many others, giving baseball fans plenty to do.
The development team has filled MLB The Show 20 with so much baseball goodness, that it helps to distract from the real-world issues that are plaguing us all. I’ve been playing the game for a couple of weeks now, and each session I find something new and exciting to try out and enjoy. The one downside right is that without real baseball being played, Live Series players in Diamond Dynasty are stuck with their preseason attributes, which are laughably low in some cases.
In the past, I’ve started each new The Show game by collecting players that I thought would have break-out years and then reap those rewards in various Diamond Dynasty modes later in the season. I’m sure at some point, baseball will be back and my strategy can be used, but for now, my team is very pedestrian and it’s taking some of the fun out of it. It’s a small gripe and doesn’t detract from what is a stellar baseball experience as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, MLB The Show 20 is still the best sports simulation on the market, and it’s one that’s needed now more than ever.
Remember when the sign-stealing scandal was all we had to worry about? My my, how a few weeks have changed everything. Here’s hoping that the world will soon be healed and baseball — and normalcy — will return for all of us. For now, if you are longing for some baseball, San Diego Studio has you covered with MLB The Show 20.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
MLB The Show 20 is back with new modes and some substantial tweaks to create a stellar baseball experience that's sure to help pass the time until America's pastime returns in full force.
MLB The Show 20 Review