Welcome to the Show
The Xbox has finally made it to the Show… MLB The Show 21 to be precise. After an eternity of baseball offerings ranging from the laughable early releases of the reimagined RBI series to the more cartoonish-looking sim powerhouse Super Mega Baseball. Each offers unique aspects but neither ever capturing the true essence of the baseball experience. Thanks to “exclusivity deals and greed a generation of kids without access to a Sony console have received the short end of the stick. Thanks to some clever back alley negotiating Microsoft has forced the once Sony exclusive to release on the Xbox family of consoles. With a pedigree dating back to the PS1 and annual releases across 4 generations of home and portable consoles is MLB the Show 21 more Ohtani or is it Kevin Maas in disguise?
The sports gaming landscape has certainly changed since the last fully licensed simulation baseball game was released on an Xbox console. The exclusivity wars can be argued that they did more harm than good for consumers. Competition breeds creativity and you have to look no further than EA’s Madden series to see what happens when you are not challenged and allowed to rest on your laurels. Somehow Sony missed that memo and the result is one of the most beloved and innovative series on any console. America’s pastime has been mocked for being “past its time” but has been an integral part of the American fabric for well over 100 years. While not franticly paced or overloaded with charismatic personalities like its competition, baseball has never the less endured and even thrived at times.
Fast forward to 2021 and Baseball is back. The crowds have slowly returned as the world attempts to awaken from the great reset. If Terrence Mann (James Earle Jones) has taught us anything its simply this:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” (Field of Dreams 1989)
Baseball has always been there for America and when it’s needed the most it always steps up to the plate. War-ravaged lands were cleansed by the pursuit of greatness. The 1994 players’ strike threatened to ruin the game, but the might Home Run race during the summer of 98 erased all those fears and welcomed back disheartened fans and new ones alike. Here we sit on the precipice of a “New World” and Baseball has yet again returned to remind us how to be whole again.
Visually, what’s not love?
Running on the Series X, MLB is a delight for the eyes – even the same can be said about the Series S. People that walk into a room would be hard-pressed not to think they were watching a live event due to the top-notch visual presentation. Cliche? Perhaps, but if the cleats fit, wear them. Boasting over 100 new animations, everything flows with a smoothness and grace that near perfectly replicates the between the lines action. Outside of the lines, MLB is no 9 hole hitter either. Great care was given to rendering a crowd that is arguably one of the best in sports gaming. Gone are the days of the flat 2D crowds or the 4 or 5 original fan models. Instead, we are given a crowd that looks and feels alive and dynamic. The stadiums themselves deserve some love as well. Beautifully rendered cathedrals of the game inhabit this title. Each park has been painstakingly recreated and proves a much cheaper alternative to visiting each park than haggling with scalpers on a cross country bucket list tour.
Sentimentally, the audio is “Out of the Park”
The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, this is Baseball. Sony has done a miraculous job encapsulating what a Major League Baseball game sounds like. The play-by-play is handled by the returning 3 man booth which can at times sound repetitive for returning players. Anyone new to the series will immediately be immersed by the smooth back and forth between the commentators.
Control-wise, MLB does not skimp on the accessibility options. Years of sub-par offerings from other developers have relegated MLB to feeling a bit complicated for first-timers. Rest assured between the multiple play options control-wise all players are assured to find a control scheme that fits their liking. New this year is the addition of pinpoint pitching. Anyone that has played 2K MLB series, from back in the 360 days, will feel the similarities. Each pitch has its own gesture to be mimicked with the analogue stick. The big differentiator here and one that will take practice is timing. Each pitcher has their own timing whether in the full windup or pounding the corners from the stretch. This means, learning your staff matters. Mastering this style rewards the player with the ability to have much more control over where their pitches truly go.
Value is the least of your concerns here
At a full premium $59.99/£49.99 up to $84.99/£89.99 (for the Jackie Robinson addition). The sheer amount of modes, collectables, etc will keep most everyone busy until next spring. Between the returning modes like: Road to the Show, Franchise and Diamond Dynasty the offline play alone is worthy of a premium price point. The online suite is just as deep and will certainly create new rivalries around the country and world.
While available on PS4 and Xbox One the title is available (separately or in combo purchase with Dual Entitlement) on the new generation of consoles. Yes, it looks a bit better, feels a tad smoother but all in all remains not much different than the last-gen offerings. The main addition for the next generation consoles is the much begged for Stadium creator. Finally, players have been given the tools to design, build and play in the stadium of their dreams. Thankfully, Sony has put restrictions on stadiums that can be used online saving everyone from that inevitable game against someone who has designed the next Polo Grounds but with the lines being at 450 feet with 70-foot wall. Much like any new creative package, there is a learning curve but one that is worth it. MVP baseball from EA had a decent editor back in the OG Xbox days but nothing that rivals The Show’s offering.
MLB The Show 21 is hands down the best baseball game available on any platform. Returning players may feel the small incremental improvements haven’t pushed the series far enough, the opposite is true for Xbox owners playing for the first time. Entering a series for the first time you are free of bias and able to enjoy games for what they are. Sony continues to rake when it comes to producing a product that is fun, engaging, and accurately replicates the national pastime.
Review code provided
Platform: PlayStation, Xbox
Release Date: 20/04/2021
No. of Players: 1-8
Developer: San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Download link: Microsoft Store