MLB The Show 23 review for PlayStation, Xbox

Platform: PS5
Also on: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Sony
Developer: San Diego Studio
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cartridge
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes

I?m trying really, really hard not to be cynical about MLB The Show 23. But it?s tough.

In nearly every respect, this year?s edition is identical to MLB The Show 22. This is kind of obvious if you read through the list of improvements the developers are touting. While I?m sure that plenty of work went into features like improving the throwing accuracy metre, enhancing swing feedback, and adding in more player animations, in practice the changes to the finished product seem negligible. There are more baseball legends and a few more classic stadiums, which play into the one big change in MLB The Show 23 ? that I?ll get to in a little bit ? but for the most part, what you see here is what you would?ve seen in MLB The Show 22.

It?s even more obvious, though, when you look at what?s on offer here.

March to October? The same. You pick a team, play through their key moments, and try to guide them to a World Series victory. It?s a fun way to play an entire season, but there?s nothing here we haven?t seen before.

Franchise mode? Largely the same. There?s a little more depth when it comes to the annual MLB draft, but for the most part this just rehashes previous games. That means, of course, that there?s still no option to add expansion teams, nor has the option for online franchises returned. But there?s updated CBA and on-field rules, so if you?re a fan of that runner on 2nd starting in the 11th inning, a) you?re a monster, and b) you?ll be happy to know that?s an option here.

Road to the Show? Completely the same, though this year they?ve brought back training exercises rather than making them weird minigames. While that?s a good thing, I guess, as someone who has sunk hundreds ? if not thousands ? of hours into RTTS over the past decade, the whole mode feels pretty stale at this point. Compared to how every other sports game has found a way to make single-player careers feel dynamic and interesting, it?s deeply disappointing that we basically get the same thing year in and year out here. Just having your player answer the odd text message while a guy who sounds vaguely like Sam Elliott narrates a brief snippet of explanation really doesn?t cut it anymore. On top of that, the fact that you once again can?t carry over your created player from previous versions of the game makes it harder to feel like it?s worth investing time into this year?s version.

Diamond Dynasty? Mostly the same, with the caveat I?ve never been all that interested in the mode. There are more ways to earn new players and perks, including through situations from this year?s World Baseball Classic, but again, to someone who?s never been a huge fan of the mode, it feels pretty tired overall.

And while they don?t count as a game mode unto themselves, it?s worth noting that Jon ?Boog? Sciambi and Chris Singleton return for a second year as the voices of MLB The Show. And, for the second year in a row, I can?t stand them. While I can?t say I?m clamouring for the return of Matt Vasgersian, at the very least the game didn?t have him interjecting the same boring anecdotes every single time a player came up to bat. It?s so bad that if you play the game in franchise mode, you?ll be lucky if you can make it to the second game in a three-game series before they start repeating themselves. The one new quirk of their dialogue this year is that they seem obsessed with telling you how big each player is, and there are only so many times you can hear someone tell you that Player X is so many feet tall and so many pounds.

There?s only one part of MLB The Show 23 that doesn?t feel like a tired retread ? and it?s also why I?m feeling a little cynical about the game.

This year, for the first time ever, MLB The Show has added a Storylines mode, and they?re introducing it by using it to tell the story of the Negro Leagues. Or, at least, certain players from the Negro Leagues. The game offers you a chance to play moments in the careers of players like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Hilton Smith, and five other Negro League players (no Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell, mind you), and also has Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick offer little insights into their lives. It?s a timely addition, coming a few years after Major League Baseball decided to recognize the Negro Leagues as a major league, and it gives players a glimpse into a part of baseball history that they may not be aware of.

The thing is?it?s not really all that different from the rest of the game, apart from the Kendrick interludes. In fact, in some ways it?s even less fleshed out. If you play as any of the pitchers, for example, the opposing batters only get announced by the last name. The stadiums, too, feel kind of lifeless and lacking in personality, and most of the moments are short and inconsequential. While the inclusion of these new players gives Sciambi and Singleton more opportunities for anecdotes, much like the rest of the game, you?ll probably get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again pretty quickly.

In other words: it?s great that MLB The Show 23 has added Storylines, and it?s hard to think of a better way to have launched the mode than with the Negro Leagues ? but it?s also hard not to think that their inclusion is a way of papering over how much it feels like the franchise is treading water at this point.

To be fair, part of the reason it feels like MLB The Show 23 is treading water is that, for so many years, it was far and away the best sports game available. When you nail a sport so accurately, all that?s left is the sort of tinkering around the edges that MLB The Show 23 does here. But unless you have a burning need to play as Satchel Paige ? and who could blame you if you do? ? it makes it really difficult to see why you?d want to pick it up rather than just sticking with MLB The Show 22.

Sony provided us with an MLB The Show 23 PS4/5 code for review purposes.

Grade: B-