Published on April 24th, 2021 | by Paul Stuart
MLB The Show 21: PS5 Review
Summary: Faster, a bit prettier, but much of the same, MLB The Show 21 on the PS5 won't raise the bar further...but still clears it nicely.
The good news? MLB The Show is no longer a Sony console exclusive. The bad news? There’s very little ‘next’ generation in its 21 iteration.
On the former, developer Santa Monica Studios went all in for MLB The Show 21 (‘Show 21’), allowing cross-play between should-be arch nemeses Xbox Series X|S and PS5 owners. On the latter, improvements are a niche Stadium Editor, videos in Road to the Show mode, and much faster load times and better framerates.
If you’re a Show veteran, next generation is clearly the way to go. Even with minimal upgrades, there’s no denying Show 21 on PS5 plays a very good game of baseball…and its best on a Sony console to date. Formerly irritating long times are going, going…gone(!) thanks to SSD. Also, 60fps framerates make fielding reaction times significantly better, now with much smoother ball tracking and throwing experiences. Gone are players auto running in wrong directions and/or staccato attacks to fly or ground balls. Throwing timing meters also get a big leg up in being more responsive.
Sadly – and much like Madden 21, NBA 2K21 and FIFA 21 – there is sparse visual/sound difference between last and current generation. Player models, stadiums and game menus look almost identical, and there no noticeable audio upgrades across tiers. Commentary remains average, also fan models and crowd noise. Yes, HDR and 4K is alive and well. But The Show was arguably the best looking title on the PS4, thus the leap to PS5 akin to a hop. Oodles of videos and screenshots confirm the thinnest line margins between them.
Player models (facial nuances aside) remain strong on the PS5, as do batting and pitching stances. Even the most critical of baseball fans will instantly recognize their favorite current and legendary players by both physical appearance and play style. Last – and while minimal – videos in next-gen Road to the Show mode does add some welcome NPC personality, however. (More on this mode below.)
Another cool new feature in Show 21 for the PS5 is the chance to test out every batting, pitching and fielding mode in an actual game circumstance…outside of a game. This is the first sport game to offer this opportunity, and it goes a long way in finding a preferred play style also demystifying controls.
There’s a new pitching mechanic in Show 21 – ‘pinpoint pitching’ – one that mirrors 2K21’s shot stick in carefully manipulating an analog stick to execute trajectory and location. While this may appeal to purists and/or online players looking for that final 1 percent perfection, all others will probably find it cumbersome also time consuming to execute over a full nine innings. On the topic of time, hooray for quick counts! They are noticeably more realistic based on batter: pitcher matchup. Meaning the pitch count at time of at-bat is more logically tied to a specific circumstance. There’s also a very noticeable improvement to working pitch counts in Show 21, resulting in a very welcome increase in drawing walks, extending at bats and/or pitcher fatigue.
Baserunning, however, remains hair pulling. Baserunning control schemes persist as confusing and occasionally non-responsive, resulting in too many unwanted steal attempts or overrun bases. Also, why not pop-up reminders for slide type? Even auto baserunning doesn’t completely remedy, as players are far too conservative in steal attempts. Similarly – and even with improved on-screen visuals for PS5 Show 21 – the pitching menu desperately needs intelligent/omni-present reminders of critical options (eg pickoffs, recall of requested pitch selection, etc.). In all fairness, every single baseball game on the market suffers from these specific weaknesses.
Digging into Show 21’s PS5 modes, a new Stadium Creator offers the opportunity to build the quirkiest stadium one can contrive. Sure, it was mildly entertaining to build a dinosaur themed Field of Dreams. But – akin to custom logo/CAP designers – this feature caters to a smallest market…especially for console (versus PC players).
Road to the Show (RTTS) returns with an option to play as a two-way (pitcher and regular fielder/hitter) player. This introduction would’ve made a lot more sense in 2018, when Shohei Ohtani was debuting with fanfare via the Los Angeles Angels. I applaud Show 21 for trying something different, albeit years too late…and a bit clumsy in storytelling. RTTS created player development is slightly tweaked for Show 21 in a good way via immediate, in-game skill boosts which ultimately produce tangible perks. This makes literally every play count toward something, and less grind between player appearances.
Franchise mode returns just as strong, as do The Show’s other competitive online and offline modes. Diamond Dynasty remains the core mode to Show 21…if card based team building via digital currency packs are your thing. Again recalling 2K21, Show 21 does a stellar job in its card mode via gorgeous visuals, a truly engaging interface, and a multitude of play options. A committed Diamond Dynasty player can literally get hundreds of hours of play from this mode alone. Note: if you’re going to go all in on Diamond Dynasty, consider a higher end version of Show 21 packed with default/ongoing digital currency. Otherwise, they can add up fa$$$t.
Other Show 21 gameplay modes are a mixed bag. Topps Now gets a free pass as the season still new and not enough key moments to replicate. Moments, however, is just odd. Placing classic players in historic moments…against current players and stadiums…just doesn’t work. This is likely a by-product of The Show licensing current players and Hall of Famers versus robust alumni rosters. If you’re going to play legendary players in Show 21, Diamond Dynasty cards and/or exhibition matches featuring Hall of Famers (and classic stadiums) are where it’s at. Finally, Ken Griffey Jr. hosted ‘Retro’ mode is just silly. No one picks up The Show to play RBI Baseball.
Reviewing MLB The Show 21 – even on a next generation console – is déjà vu. The game gets marginally better each year, but it still feels and looks so much the same. As a 2020/2021 next generation offering, I give it the same free pass for Madden, 2K21 and FIFA 21 with limited development time to truly maximize the updated technology. The one criticism I cannot get past, however, is the omnipresent feel of the game being, well, disjointed. Show 21’s variety of modes – while fun in isolation – don’t interact with each other in a meaningful way. Also – and even with beautiful visuals and the terrific haptic interface of the PS5 DualSense – MLB The Show 21 plays forced. Every pitch and play feels separated from the bigger game within which it housed. In contrast, Professional Baseball Yakyuu Spirits 2019 flows…albeit with a much lesser presentation. The same can be said about Super Mega Baseball 3 that embraces fluidity yet in a cartoon package. This is the same sheet of music for Live versus 2K.
MLB The Show 21 on the PS5 doesn’t break what works…and with a new mode, pitching interface, cross-play, also improved load times and framerates. While it doesn’t specifically highlight the new console, it again plays a strong game of baseball.