MLB The Show 24 review for PS5, Xbox Series X

Platform: PS5
Also on: Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony San Diego Studio
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

It’s kind of crazy to think that, at one time, a new version of MLB The Show was guaranteed to be one of the highest-scoring Metacritic games of the year. Where in recent years the series has mostly been roster updates and “iteratively refin(ed) gameplay mechanics”, if you jump back in time a decade ago or so, MLB The Show was one of the key selling point for why you’d want to buy a PlayStation console over the competition – after all, if you were a baseball fan, buying an Xbox meant suffering through the oft-terrible MLB 2K series, whereas PS3 baseball fans got to play a game that was constantly innovative, year-in and year-out.

Today, by contrast, MLB The Show 24 is available not just on PS5, but also Xbox Series X and the Nintendo Switch. Its dominance over MLB 2K effectively that series, and it hasn’t really had any serious competition since then (with all apologies for the Super Mega Baseball and its intermittent release schedule). Perhaps not coincidentally, MLB The Show’s effective monopoly on console baseball means that, more often than not, you don’t get a tonne of difference between any of the games, unless things like player animations and base sizes are how you judge a game’s success. While none of this is inherently bad (MLB The Show 24’s on-field experience is still outstanding in terms of approximating the real thing), it makes it hard to get too excited for the new game.

You can see this focus on iterative improvements in this year’s version even in the way the game approaches last year’s big innovation, the inclusion of a storyline mode focusing on the Negro Leagues. Last year, being able to play key moments in the careers of Negro League legends like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson. This year…it’s more Negro League legends, like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. There are new objectives in the storylines, obviously, but it’s not hugely different.

But it would be a mistake to say it’s completely identical. My complaints last year were that the stadiums felt lifeless and the opposing teams felt anonymous. This time out, the stadiums feel a little more lively, and you get to face actual players, which helps with the historical immersion.

On top of that, MLB The Show 24’s storyline mode also dips its toes into the modern era, giving you a chance to play through the career of Yankees legend Derek Jeter. It’s a neat excuse to add history of a more recent vintage, and the game does a good job of taking you through his career, from his arrival in the majors as a former 1st-Round pick to the through to his iconic World Series moments.

Some of the other modes get some welcome tweaks, too. Road to the Show – which is always where I spend the bulk of my time with the game – now allows you to play as a female player, which means that there are all kinds of new cosmetic options. Not only that, if you choose to play a career as the first pro woman, you even get a bit of a storyline about you and your best friend both trying to make it to the majors. While having two young women send emoji-filled texts back and forth as they encourage each other to live out their dreams hardly counts as amazing storytelling, given that all you get if you play as a man is the same old routine, it’s a welcome addition.

Spending time in the minors during Road to the Show also means you get to experience another neat tweak: minor league games feature commentary not from Chris Singleton and Boog Sciambi, but from Ben Gellman-Chomsky. On the one hand, Gellman-Chomsky definitely sounds more like a minor league announcer than Singleton-Sciambi duo, coming off as a little drier. On the other hand, I can’t say I hated his more understated presence, given that I really can’t stand Sciambi and Singleton – plus, it adds to the realism of the minor league experience.

Interestingly, the one big tweak to Franchise mode effectively ruins March to October, the mode where you get to pick a team and play its big moments throughout the season. In Franchise mode you can now elect to play only certain moments and when certain conditions are met, both for the team and for individual players. That means if you only want to jump into a game when your team’s winning streak is on the line or when you want to preserve a pitcher’s no-hitter, you can – but at the same time, it basically eliminates the point of March to October, where you leave it up to the game to tell you when you can jump in.

Once again, though, I’ll complain that there’s no option in Franchise mode to create an expansion team. Sure, you can replace an existing team with a created one, but it’s not at all the same. When the NHL and Madden NFL series can allow you to create an expansion franchise from scratch, it remains deeply disappointing that we can’t have the same in MLB The Show. I want my Montreal team to return!

I wouldn’t call MLB The Show 24 a disappointment overall, though. However, I also wouldn’t call it an unqualified success. It’s certainly better this year than it has been the past few years thanks to a few fun tweaks, but the bottom line is more or less the same as it is every year: if you skipped a year or two it’s a good place to jump back in; if you played last year’s edition your mileage will vary depending on how important it is to you that you get a new season of storylines, plus the ability to create a female player. Nothing in MLB The Show 24 achieves the same comparative highs of the franchise during its glory years from a decade ago, but it’s undeniably a very outing.

Sony provided us with a MLB The Show 24 PS5 code for review purposes.

Score: 8