Review: MLB The Show 21 looks like a speed demon on the basepaths, despite a few flaws

For almost 20 years, MLB The Show has been exclusive to PlayStation platforms. San Diego Studios’ simulation baseball game is often looked at as a revolutionary entry in the sports game world, and its allure grew even more when Take-Two ceased development of MLB-licensed games in 2013. But because of The Show’s exclusivity, its potential and sales figures have been limited.

That’s poised to change in 2021, when for the first time ever, MLB The Show headed to the Xbox family of consoles. MLB The Show 21 also marked the first next-gen edition of the game, marking a critically important moment for Sony to make an impact on what has been a pretty underwhelming start for sports games on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. 

Did Sony take advantage and hit The Show 21 out of the park? Let’s just say that I came away pretty impressed with The Show’s first foray into the world of Xbox.

Slide into second

Image via Sony San Diego

Arguably one of the biggest questions surrounding MLB The Show 21 was how Sony would onboard Xbox players. For many Xbox One and Series X owners, this would be their first true experience with the simulation game. San Diego Studios did a solid job doing just that. 

MLB The Show 21 offers three types of playing experiences: casual, simulation, and competitive. Newcomers don’t need to feel pushed into one specific way of playing and can instead go at their own pace and learn the intricacies of The Show.

Another refreshing part of The Show’s gameplay is its plentitude of options. On the pitching side, Sony San Diego Studios offers three ways of pitching: meter, analog, and the new Pinpoint Pitching feature. Pinpoint Pitching offers the most precise way of dealing to opposing hitters, but also has the highest learning curve. 

Hitting also has similar newcomer-friendly aspects. Players can either use directional hitting, which automatically locates pitches, or the more precise PCI and locate those meatballs manually. This, to me, is one of the most vital parts of MLB The Show’s gameplay. The fact that there’s something for both newcomers and experienced players shows that Sony San Diego is willing to keep older features that make it easier to play, as well as accommodating those looking for a challenge. By giving something to everyone, it makes for an enjoyable experience across the board.

Old meets new

Screenshot from Arcadetemple

To no one’s surprise, MLB The Show 21’s signature card-collecting game, Diamond Dynasty, is back. However, playing Diamond Dynasty is like a palate-cleanser as compared to Football and Madden Ultimate Team. It does offer the option of buying Sony’s virtual currency, Stubs, but it’s much more of a free-to-play model, something that’s refreshing to see in this current age.

Players can grind for progress in Programs, which in turn leads to high-rated cards as rewards. Additionally, Diamond Dynasty’s offline quests, including Moments and Conquests, provide a challenge but, at the same time, offer a fulfilling experience. It would be nice if other developers followed Sony’s example, but that’s another story for another day.

A bumpy Road to the Show

Image via San Diego Studio

If one part of MLB The Show 21 is lacking, it’s Road to the Show. MLB The Show’s career mode has plenty of depth, with new features that will certainly make players feel like they’re a part of the team, including coach interactions, practices, and even special cutscenes in which former MLB players and media personalities talk about your journey to the Major Leagues.

The problem with Road to the Show, in its current state, is its incorporation within Diamond Dynasty. Thanks to MLB The Show’s new Ballplayer feature, users can bring their created player with them in Diamond Dynasty. This sounds great on paper, but the larger issue is that archetypes and perks of RTTS players, by and large, need to be acquired mostly through Diamond Dynasty.

Incorporating Road to the Show and its features into another mode is one thing. But essentially forcing players to go into the CCG mode to get new add-ons for created players is a bit much, especially given the fact that many sports game developers have pumped more and more resources into Ultimate Team, MyTeam, and other similar modes. It is important to point out that Sony San Diego has promised to address these issues in the future, but for right now, RTTS, in its current state, is a bit of a letdown.

The verdict

Image via Sony San Diego

MLB The Show 21’s rollout onto the next-generation and Xbox hasn’t been a smooth one at times. The launch has been marred by server issues, add-on code problems, and a Road to the Show mode that’s not all that enjoyable as of this writing. However, this game, by and large, is a lot of fun. It has its quirks, sure, but the fact that Sony has offered a relatively smooth gameplay engine, coupled with depth in features, makes this a near must-own for baseball fans. You just might want to wait a bit to get deep in it, thanks to some Road to the Show and online issues that need to be addressed.

Final score:

8 / 10

+By and large, gameplay feels smooth
+The March to October and Franchise modes offer solid depth
+Diamond Dynasty still remains a fun, and relatively free-to-play experience
Road to the Show is not what it used to be thanks to its incorporation within Diamond Dynasty
Server issues have reared their ugly head into The Show
Disclosure: Arcadetemple was provided with a game code for review purposes.

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