Very much like its cover athlete Jackie Robinson, MLB The Show 21 breaks down barriers as it features a PlayStation franchise appearing on Xbox consoles. This isn’t just a one-and-done […]
Very much like its cover athlete Jackie Robinson, MLB The Show 21 breaks down barriers as it features a PlayStation franchise appearing on Xbox consoles. This isn’t just a one-and-done franchise either, but the greatest modern sports series going on today. From 2006 to 2020 MLB The Show was the most consistent sport’s title and a sure thing for Sony. Now that the game is officially multiplatform, I feared that something would get lost in translation from PlayStation to Xbox, and unfortunately, with this year’s iteration of The Show it seemingly has. As with last year’s review of MLB 20, Graydon and I will be tackling this massive game and giving our respective thoughts on it.
Like previous editions of The Show, the “let’s see if you can recreate this MLB event” mode aptly titled Moments returns. I’m not sure why but this mode really grabbed me on launch day. It could be my OCD but the goal/quest to complete each set was quite fun and I enjoyed getting the stubs as a reward rather than microtransactions. The thing that really pulled me in was the ability to benefit from every moment and by that I mean you can get stubs even if you fail the attempted moment and think to yourself, “ah I’ll try it at a later date”. Not just that but every chance that you have to earn experience points and stubs in MLB 21 pays out. With each new moment comes a different set of challenges and is an easy way to earn stubs if you want to avoid microtransactions.
March to October
In last year’s co-op review of MLB 20: The Show, I praised March to October. This time around I will continue to praise the game mode that makes it possible to do franchise mode in less than 162 games. There haven’t been a large number of changes to it other than that of a visual revamp. Last year I tried to do the impossible and bring a World Series trophy to the team that deserves it most, the
Houston Astros Cleveland Indians who have not won the fall classic in some 70 plus years. This year I decided to go with a WS repeat for the Los Angeles Dodgers appropriately against the Cleveland Indians. While I was able to win the World Series I also was able to win 120+ games breaking the all-time record. Edwin Rios broke out and became the next big thing, Trevor Story was a nice rental, and Mookie Betts continues to be the best athlete going today. As always with March to October, once you finish the postseason you are asked if you would like to continue the team’s progress in a separate franchise mode save file. Speaking of…
As always, I hold my expectations for the changes I want to see in franchise close but there are again, no big changes. In fact, things have gotten worse. The AI will still make changes even if you toggle off the option to have it interfere, prospects will still get DFA’d (Designated For Assignment), your carefully crafted bullpen and lineup will be changed, and more. The trade logic which is something that determines exactly that, the logic of a team trading a player has gotten worse. I was able to get multiple A prospects for a single B prospect and two D tiered players. What is going on here?! The only real improvement to franchise mode I can honestly say/think of is the visual change of team budget going from a weekly representation in the previous MLB The Show games to a yearly one which is a much better gauge to see what you can and cannot afford both in the offseason and during the season.
There has been a major retooling to how the animations worked in previous MLB games. Things feel more realistic, which is the ultimate goal with this series as a whole. The gameplay is largely the same on PS5 and Series X as well as the last-gen consoles. The big difference this year is how you feel the game. With the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller you will feel each towering home run, each power strikeout, and generally every throw with a ton of strength behind it. Hitting a home run with Yoan Moncada will make you feel the force that the ball was hit with. The sound of the perfect/perfect hitting remains and sounds better than it did last year. Back in the early 2000s, MLB 2k was still a somewhat decent series when you would get the equivalent of a perfect/perfect swing the sound effect used was akin to that of a gun being fired. When getting a perfect/perfect swing in MLB 21 you hear a harder *thwack* sound. It filled me with fear when pitching as well when in a tight game. The all-new Stadium Creator mode is locked behind current-gen and while Graydon will be focusing on that mode in his share of the review, all I will say is that they did it. They actually remade Riverfront Stadium, Olympic Stadium, and even the majestic Ebbett’s Field.
Road to the Show
It’s hard to put into words how disappointing Road to the Show has become. When I first started playing MLB The Show regularly – oh, three years ago, or so? – I thought this story mode was incredible. Creating my own athlete and watching him rise through the ranks of the MLB felt like such a fun concept, and I thoroughly enjoyed picking out his perks and improving his skill tree to make the best baseball player in the league. But over the years, I have watched this mode remain stagnant, providing nearly the exact same experience with each installment. Looking at MLB 21, not much has improved at all. With the exception of some updated menus in terms of customization – and the welcome inclusion of “Webb” as a voiceover option – I truly feel as though I’m picking up last year’s Road to the Show and continuing on. What makes that even sadder is the fact that I had to start over entirely, as bringing my old character from last-gen was impossible. So, my new athlete, Fatty Webb, started with the Portland Sea Dogs once again and proceeded to slog through the exact same dialogue options as last year, and the same boring minigames on off days. All in all, Road to the Show is just a letdown these days, as the player interaction is disappointing, and the gameplay feels redundant over time. I almost forgot to mention the new addition of FMV commentary between games, hosted by big names in the MLB community. These sound enjoyable on paper, but after the fifth interruption in which the same people talk about how they can’t believe you really want to be a pitcher and a position player, it starts to get super irritating. Yes, guys, Fatty Webb’s a real renaissance man on the diamond. Please pick your jaws off the ground, it’s embarrassing.
Diamond Dynasty (Conquest Mode)
In previous years, I didn’t give Diamond Dynasty much of a chance. Having tried out the Moments feature last year, and the new Showdown mode, I essentially noted how these features added to the experience, but they weren’t really for me. Fortunately, after being let down by Road to the Show in MLB 21, I have found a new game mode that’s held my attention and keeps me coming back for more. First, let me say that once I got the hang of it, I found myself falling in love with Diamond Dynasty’s team-building system. Opening packs, receiving new players, and adding them to my roster to build the best team of heroes old and new is exhilarating. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered Conquest mode: a virtual board game that puts your roster of greats against current-day MLB teams. Conquest is all about dominating the board by gaining fans and spreading your influence. This is done in phases, with turns ranging from attacking the CPU to reinforcing your own bases. Movement is determined by the number of fans you have accrued, and once you bump into another team, you can challenge them to a three-inning game. If you have more fans than they do, you can choose easier difficulties to ensure an easier win, which will gain you more influence on the map. Reinforcing your base will strengthen your simulated challenges, at the cost of losing overall fans to do so. Conquest mode requires not only a solid team of great athletes, and a certain skill to properly conquer the playing field. With multiple boards to choose from and plenty of rewards to reap, I can see Conquest reeling me back in again and again in the coming year.
Some may say I am not the right person to ask about MLB’s new Stadium Creator. Typically, I am the biggest hater of level editors in gaming, seeing it as both a waste of time in general, and a stark reminder of my lack of creativity. However, when I was first introduced to the stadium creation tools of MLB 21, I was quite taken aback by how easy it is to pick up and experiment with. It must be noted that the “coach” who takes you through the tutorial is so cartoonishly terrible that it’s simply not worth learning how to do it from a “professional.” Instead, I opted to just jump right in, and what I found was a vast array of templates and props to make a really unique baseball diamond… if I had the time to do so. For those looking for a fun experience in level editing, this Stadium Creator delivers in all aspects. Two difficulty levels make for varied building styles, with easy mode offering a few of each prop and basic options, while pro mode offers the ability to dive in and change things like wall height and the overall structure of the stadium. Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, the new stadium can be named and added to the list of stadiums on offer in Exhibition matches. While I may not have cared if a level editor came to MLB The Show or not, I can absolutely respect the love they put into this Stadium Creator, and I’m sure it will satisfy many baseball fans – and carpenters alike – this year.
Graydon’s Final Thoughts
You’ve already read Allan’s thoughts on things like gameplay and the new improvements on offer in MLB The Show 21, but I wanted to add just a few of my thoughts to round out our review. This year’s installment in the popular baseball franchise perfectly represents the curse of annual sports game releases. This may be the most disappointing MLB game in years, thanks to its lack of new features and upgrades. Overall, the gameplay looks as it did last year, with only the addition of new audio lines to really make it stand out. The completely missed opportunity of making Road to the Show better leaves the game feeling empty, and the abhorrent mess that is the game’s online service leaves one of its greatest aspects unplayable weeks after launch. In fact, looking at the game as a whole, my favorite parts were features that already existed, and I’d simply overlooked in previous years. It’s as if these MLB titles are so jam packed with game modes that they can’t decide on which ones they should improve with each installment. So much time was put into making MLB 21 cross-platform that it seems Sony San Diego barely put any thought into much else. This isn’t to say MLB 21 is a bad game; for newcomers to the series, this is a great jumping on point. It’s just sad that for fans who look forward to new installments every year, they’ve kind of been given the same game for three years in a row now. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and focus on what makes MLB The Show really special… or the franchise may start collecting dust.
In summary, MLB The Show 21 is a few steps backward from where they were last year. Great visuals and enhanced feedback with the game on PlayStation 5 are most welcome but its numerous issues set it back from being a worthy successor to last year’s title.