Platform: PS4, PC, Xbox One, Switch
This year RBI Baseball 21 finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Whereas in previous years it was basically the only choice if were a baseball fan who didn?t own a Sony console and wanted your annual fix of licensed teams, 2021 is the first year that Sony?s MLB The Show franchise will be appearing on platforms other than PlayStation. So, the big question facing RBI Baseball 21 was: how would it respond? Would it rise to the occasion with its best outing yet?
Short answer: nope. Not even close.
This is hugely disappointing for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, MLB The Show has been feeling pretty stale for years now, and I can?t help but feel that some competition would do it good. While the RBI Baseball franchise has definitely struggled since its return in 2014, the last year or two have seen the games approach something near competency (particularly in 2019). I?d have hoped that RBI Baseball 21 might have seen competition as a challenge to meet, but this time out is as bad as I can recall the series ever being.
But even outside of the competitive — and comparative — aspects of RBI Baseball 21, I just wanted to see a good baseball game, and this most certainly isn?t it. All the series? old bad habits are here in full force, from wonky physics to bizarre animations to ugly graphics. On every level, this game is a failure, whether we?re talking about things the game has been doing for years, or features newly-added in 2021.
Let?s start with the new features. The game proudly talks about having announcers, except very little of what they say is connected to the action. The game?s defining moment, for me, was when an opposing hitter fouled the ball back into the screen on the third base side, and the announcer described it as being just foul down the first base line — even as the players on the screen ran towards the other side of the field.
Likewise, this year?s edition of RBI Baseball includes the option of creating a player. While this is a welcome addition, the way it?s implemented leaves a lot to be desired. The facial expressions are all hideous, you only have a handful of hairstyles to choose from, and you can ratchet your player?s attributes to the max right off the bat (pardon the pun). This last one isn?t inherently terrible, I suppose, but at the same time, after years of playing MLB The Show?s career mode and seeing how my created players have gradually improved, just maxing a player out immediately felt like a wasted opportunity.
Beyond those two additions — both of which stretch the meaning of the word ?addition” — everything else in RBI Baseball 21 is like a compilation of all the bad, terrible, no-good flaws the game has featured over the years. The player motions still look bizarre, particularly whenever you?re throwing a ball: regardless of what a player is doing or what direction they?re going in, they still pivot to make weird, cross-the-body throwing motions, like a shortstop going deep into the hole to throw to first. While that makes sense when the player is, in fact, a shortstop, no one else has that excuse.
Despite the awkward motions, however, seemingly everyone in the game can throw the ball whatever distance is required, often with no bounce. One moment that stood out in particular for me was when my left-fielder caught a ball deep against the left field fence, and was able to fire a one-hop strike to first base. Again, it looks cool, but seeing as the game has consistently tried to feel kind of real, it?s moments like that that remind you of how far this is from the real thing.
You?ll also get that feeling any time base-stealing is involved. The game?s AI — stupid at the best of times (and I?ll get more into that shortly) — breaks down whenever the running game starts up. If you send a player to steal second when you have runners on first and third, the catcher will automatically throw to third (at which point the announcer will scream ?Man on third caught in a rundown!”, even when he?s still on the base), usually allowing your other runner to waddle easily over to second. It?s not all good for human players, mind you: I regularly had players caught stealing because I would tell them to send, they?d start running as soon as the pitcher lifted his leg…and then when the game cut to the overhead camera, the baserunner wouldn?t have even started running.
That disconnect between camera cuts is actually pretty common, too. You quickly learn that no matter what you see from hitting view has any connection to what?s happening on the field: balls that look like line drives over the pitcher off the bat can quickly turn into weak dribblers towards the first base side when the game switches angles. Minor pop-ups with no oomph behind them turn into towering homers. Players will look like they start moving towards batted balls on one screen, only for them to be stationary when the camera cuts. This happens all the time.
The absolute worst part of RBI Baseball 21, though, has to be the fielding — and the stationary fielders aren?t anywhere close to the nadir of what this game offers. No, that would probably be the total disconnect between where a player is and whether they catch the ball. Outfielders routinely catch balls that look like they?ve landed twenty feet away — and when they do, the game will often have them diving in the opposite direction as the announcer screams about what a great diving catch was just made. Conversely, weak ground balls often confound everyone, and it?s not uncommon to see the AI players stand there baffled if they have to go more than a step or two in any direction.
I will admit that, somehow, this game actually improves in one area: it got rid of last year?s absurdly awkward power swing system that required absurdly precise timing, and replaced it with a simple three button system — one for regular, one for contact, and one for power. Mind you, there?s no difference in what they do, but at least the game made the effort in that one small area, right?
That?s the only evidence of effort anywhere in RBI Baseball 21, though. Everything else here is bad. Literally all of it. There?s nothing good to be said about this game, and as much as I?d hoped that MLB The Show?s expansion to other consoles would push this series to be better, it?s very clear that?s not the case. This has to be the low point in a series of low points for the revived RBI Baseball franchise — and given how bad it?s generally been to date, that should tell you something.
MLB provided us with a R.B.I. Baseball 21 Xbox Series X code for review purposes.