This year is a season of change for the vaunted MLB The Show franchise. The latest entry has made its way to a new console generation, as well as a new platform. For the first time ever, the Sony-developed franchise is now playable on Xbox — with cross-play and cross-progression to boot. All of this bodes well for fans, as these changes will significantly expand the player base. Sony’s San Diego Studio did not disappoint gamers from either console ecosystem, as MLB The Show 21 is still the vanguard for all sports video games — no matter the sport, and no matter the console.
MLB The Show 21 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel this year, even with so much change happening all around it. The core game is still pretty much intact, and the visual fidelity is still as good as it can be. The big difference on the new consoles comes from the lightning-fast load times thanks to the PS5 and Xbox Series’ SSDs, paving the way for a near-seamless baseball experience no matter what game mode you are playing. For those playing on PlayStation 5, the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback is used to full effect when batting, pitching, and even running, which really helps suck the player into the game like never before.
Everything feels new and refreshed, from game mode tweaks to cleaner menus, to the on-screen presentation during games. San Diego Studio packs the core baseball experience with so much information that playing a game often feels like a masterclass in stat analysis. But then again, that’s baseball. When batting, you can see where your swing crossed the plate, the speed of your swing, as well as the speed and location of the pitch. Better yet, your swing is rated each time you take a swipe, all in helping you learn to adjust to the pitcher’s arsenal.
When pitching, a handful of on-screen metrics, including a new pinpoint pitching meter, gives you the same level of information so you can send guys like Mike Trout back to the bench, shaking their heads. In terms of sports simulation, MLB The Show 21 has no peer. New player animations and field mechanics round out the gameplay changes, all for the better.
You’ll start the MLB The Show 21 experience by creating a ballplayer that serves as your avatar across various game modes, including Road to the Show and even Diamond Dynasty. As your player grows in skill, his ratings go up across the board, as does his value to the team you’re controlling. The developers began tinkering with merging experiences across all game modes last year, as XP earned in one mode carries over to every mode, and the ballplayer avatar is the natural progression of those changes.
MLB The Show 21 is once again stacked with game modes, including fan favorites Road to the Show (RTTS), Diamond Dynasty, Custom Franchise, and Moments. RTTS gets the biggest overhaul in years, abandoning the Sam Elliot-like narrator in favor of MLB Network analysts and personalities who debate your career progression in real video clips. You can also opt to be a Shohei Ohtani-like two-way player, and both pitch and play a position.
I gave this a shot in my RTTS career but found that I didn’t care for breaking up my hitting career by pitching a full seven- to eight-inning game, and I opted to go back to position player only. Being given the opportunity to make this sort of change is a bonus, as you can constantly tweak your player and his career as you go on. You can even set up various gear/skill loadouts that you can assign before each game.
Don’t be fooled though — this is about more than just picking a pitching loadout vs. position player gear. You can tailor it to individual pitchers you might be facing, adding bigger and better bats and cleats for speed for facing knuckleballers, and the best gear you can find to face the Clayton Kershaws of the world. I’m still playing with the loadouts, but so far I find it uniquely fascinating.
Diamond Dynasty remains the place to go for competitive online play and various modes like Moments, Conquest, and more. Players create teams from packs of cards and put them to the test across a variety of modes. This is possibly the most addictive thing about MLB The Show 21, as earning new packs leads to the possibility of pulling a verified diamond-rated superstar that can take your team to new heights.
Moments mode is back and is integrated more into the DD experience. It doesn’t feel so much like a different game, but more of an extension of the existing DD gameplay. And with faster load times, getting into a Moment is almost as fast as a Trevor Bauer fastball. Daily Moments give you a mission to complete each day, like getting two extra-base hits in one game with Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis or pitching a 1-2-3 inning with Pedro Martinez back in ’97. It’s a dream for baseball fans to take part in these moments from a star’s career.
The last big change in MLB The Show 21 is the Stadium Creator, which is only available on the new generation of consoles. Players can create custom stadiums with over a thousand cosmetic options and then opt to make it your home stadium, or share it online for others to download and use. It didn’t take long for the community’s creativity to shine through, and needless to say, there are some very creative people putting in the effort — some of these stadiums are veritable palaces to all things baseball. It’s a nice addition to an already-stacked game, and it’s something that will only get better in subsequent games going forward.
MLB The Show 21 has taken the challenge of jumping to a new console generation — and a new console platform — to heart, creating what feels so much like a whole new baseball game experience. Sports games tend, by nature, to get stale after a few years, and The Show 21 flexes its muscles by proving that widespread change can be a very good thing. While a lot of the game looks and feels new, at its core, it’s still baseball. It’s still a series of classic confrontations, and it’s still a man with a stick trying to punish a leather-covered ball by sending it to the mantle of a fan in the stands. MLB The Show 21 presents the sport to gamers in the best way possible, and now, it doesn’t matter what console you are playing on.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
MLB The Show 21 makes the leap to a new console generation and ushers in a game-wide refresh that has the storied franchise feeling new.