MLB The Show 21 review for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One

Platform: PS5
Also on: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

Pretty much every year, I go through the same few steps with MLB The Show. I start off little cool on it, then I get hooked, and next thing I know I?m a decade into my Road to the Show career. That?s certainly what happened last year, when I didn?t care for that game all that much…right up until the pandemic hit, and I wound up sinking more than a hundred hours into the game.

So keep that in mind when I say the following two things:

  1. MLB The Show 21 is, by any objective standard, a very well-made game.
  2. The more I saw of it, the more I disliked of it.

I?ll take those two points in order.

First, this is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. I?ve played terrible baseball games, and this isn?t one of them. Like every year before it, MLB The Show 21 captures the on-the-field aspect of baseball pretty perfectly. I may have lots of issues with the game — which I?ll get to in a moment — but I can?t deny this is, once again, the only choice if you want to play baseball on a console.

What?s more, if you?re picking up MLB The Show 21 on XBox, after years of your baseball options being RBI Baseball or nothing, this game will seem like a revelation. It almost seems unfair to compare the two series, because — this year especially — the gap is so enormous that it barely seems like they?re portraying the same game.

And yet, no matter how much I tried to remind myself of those things, I can?t say I was all that fond of MLB The Show 21.

I suspect that a big part of my issues with the game probably stem from the terrible changes to Road to the Show. I know that Sony had said before that previous RTTS saves wouldn?t carry over, but that didn?t make it any easier to swallow that I?d lost the 12-year career I?d made in MLB The Show 20. Granted, there are definitely changes to the mode that would?ve made the transition difficult, but that doesn?t make it any less annoying.

It doesn?t help that those RTTS changes don?t seem to add anything. For one thing, it?s shockingly counter-intuitive to start a career as a personalized created player — you have to go into the creation function outside of RTTS, then save your player somewhere, then import them into RTTS. On top of that, once you start the game, you?re immediately greeted with loud, shrill sportscasters screaming about your career (at least in the next-gen versions). I get that Sony was looking for some way to counter the more interesting career modes in every other major sports game, but it?s just so obnoxious, it feels like the wrong way to go.

Moreover, making your player improve and advance is much grindier than in years past. You only earn XP if you play with the game?s preset sliders (though, admittedly, this goes a long way towards preventing the mockery of the game I?ve made with my last few RTTS careers, where I was smashing records left and right). MLB The Show 21 also features ?loadouts” for your created players, because if there?s one thing a baseball game needs, it?s a feature that?s borrowed from games like Call of Duty.

It?s pretty clear that the bulk of the developers? attention here went to Diamond Dynasty. That, after all, is where you can build your teams, play historic moments — and, most importantly from Sony?s perspective, buy packs of baseball cards to improve your teams and players. As someone who?s never cared about that feature before, I can?t say that there?s anything this year to draw me in.

The same could be said for this year?s Franchise mode, which continues to feel underwhelming. Most of it is carried over from last year, and there?s nothing really special about it. Perhaps the most annoying part of Franchise mode is that, despite the fact that you can now create stadiums — even with dinosaurs replacing fans in the stands! — the game still couldn?t include an expansion mode. Given that you can basically do that in Diamond Dynasty, it seems like a weird oversight for Franchises.

I?ll also add that March to October is still here. While it?s mostly unchanged, you can now tinker with rosters a little more, which, as far as I?m concerned, makes it far preferable to Franchise mode.

Also, notwithstanding my praise for the game?s portrayal of on-the-field action, I will add that the commentators here are basically the same as they?ve been for the past several years. While Matt Vasgersian, Mark DeRosa, Dan Plesac, and Heidi Watney are all perfectly fine announcers/reporters, I have to say I?m pretty sick of hearing the same dialogue from them as we heard last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. In fact, it feels like we?ve had Vasgersian as the MLB The Show announcer for years without changes, and it would be really nice if the game could mix things up a little.

As I said up top, despite all my complaints, I?m not going to deny that MLB The Show 21 is a solid, well-made baseball game. If you haven?t played the series in years, or if you?re coming to it on Xbox, then it?s probably a must-play. But if you?ve been sinking years into it already, there?s not much here that will make it worth playing.

Sony Interactive Entertainment provided us with an MLB The Show 21 PS5 code for review purposes.

Grade: B-