MLB The Show 20 59.99
4

Step Up To The Show

Reviewing Sports titles is typically harder than reviewing most games. Who exactly are these reviews supposed to be for? Are they supposed to be for new fans who know nothing about how the game plays? Or are they supposed to be for die-hards, to tell them if the game has improved and how much time should be spent with any specific part. This task is especially hard in a year where major sports might be canceled due to a global pandemic. That’s ironic considering that the 15th anniversary of Sony San Diego’s MLB the Show franchise is probably it’s best to date in terms of actual mechanics. The issue lies in the fact that this game, like so many others, has become a live service. It’s a live service that in particular depends on actual baseball to happen. 

If you need a quick one paragraph answer to “should I get this game” the answer is if you like baseball, yes. This is because that is the core of what you will be doing for thousands of hours. Looking at a strike zone and swinging a bat or throwing a pitch. So if you can manage that then the Show is for you. If you need an experience that feels constantly new you might be left wanting for something that just might not be there this particular year.

It might be slightly reductive to say this but buying a modern sports game is a bit like buying an MMO expansion. You are buying the game because you support the platform and not necessarily because what you have is the best version. Part of this is the fact that these games are built on an 8 month dev cycle, which can take its toll. At least at the time of writing this I’ve seen a couple instances of players getting locked into animations, or even balls that bounce up against walls being called ground-rule Doubles, and while the core of MLB The Show is more solid than I think most games on the market it’s clear that the edges needed a little bit more work. Who knows if they are getting that time post release.

One of the reasons I’ve always been drawn up to MLB the show is its increased focus on accessibility. Not just an options menu – that’s been a staple of the SportsCenter for years – but also in controls. MLB the show lets you play almost the entire game with just a single analog stick if you want to.There’s a dynamic difficulty slider that will let the game decide to move you up or down in difficulty based on how well you are performing. There can be arguments made about what is the best lesson for playing each side of the ball, but the team clearly makes it a focus. You’re in and you’re out to make sure that all of them feel playable and responsive in the same way. Ultimately it’s about making players the most comfortable so they can focus on decision-making. Don’t like the default speed of the throwing? Well there’s an option for that. They’ll let you use a simple button press and base success on a fielder’s stats. Like the pitching meter but find yourself mistiming that second button press? Switch to analog to use a pinball plunger like motion where you pull the pitch back and fling it up to the part of the plate you would like the ball to go. It all feels incredibly equal and yet deeply personal in a way that feels meaningful when you are  the sort of person who will dedicate 1000 hours to this game this year.

So remember, when I talk about this game as a platform, this is the year the people who control the platform decided to focus mostly on tiny little game gameplay improvements. 

Things like catcher blocking, better tagging for fielders, hitting feedback that has made me personally make huge strides in a very short amount of time, and some key upgrades to the game’s major modes makes this feel like the best realized version of everything the game wants to be. Licensed minor league rosters add a layer of authenticity to Road to the Show, the game’s create a player mode. These newly minted official players will let you form relationships with them that will either give boosts to you and your teammates or take away key stats from your rivals. March to October enters its sophomore season with upgrades to player development and acquisition as you try to forge a one-season campaign to win the World Series. It’s a great mode to jump into for beginners because you always play the season in Franchise mode anyway, and if you like your team in the end you can transfer your save to that mode. Sadly, given the number of on the field improvements this year, traditional franchise feels like it’s lagging behind its fresher sibling.

When you finish a March To October you’ll be rewarded with Team Affinity points. These are used in an event in Diamond Dynasty. Diamond Dynasty is the game’s card collecting mode, which have been proliferating among sports games in the last 10 years. Unlike most sports games baseball cards have an actual history and are digital versions of actual collectors items. The mode can be a gratifying collecting experience for that aspect alone. If you find yourself wanting to avoid spending money on cards you probably won’t have to. With the game’s XP path system – which regularly gives out both currency and exclusive cards – just playing the game nets you plenty. If core design idea number one is that this game is for everyone, core design idea number two is that all levels of play are valuable. That includes all levels of the real life players. One of the more unique aspects of Diamond Dynasty is the weight ratings are handled typically in a sports game. Typically the overall rating is meant to reflect a player’s ability in every single situation, and the closer to 100 the more perfect that player is. Like baseball, Diamond Dynasty doesn’t often use that metric, instead opting for a system in which all you need to do is be good at one thing. For longtime fans of these types of modes it can feel a little bit jarring to want to use a player that’s only 68 overall, but their skillset might make them the perfect match for the right hander you’re about to face at the plate. This approach makes it so that when you find a 74 rated picture you’re not disappointed because he happens to actually have a 89 Stanley rating which in most online environments means he’s going to give your Bullpen a night off. That’s important, because this year’s Diamond Dynasty mode features an energy system that works like a real world pitching rotation. 

In past years you would field a lineup of pitchers and the game would randomly pick one to start for you. This meant you could spend four or five games with the same pitcher because every game was treated like an exhibition. This year feels more like a real baseball season, with an added layer of depth from that energy system. While it is admittedly intimidating, it pays off in the long run especially as you become more comfortable actually working with each pitcher as a player.

If you feel the need to test drive some of these cards before you invest your heart and currency them you can try out the new Showdown mode. This mode allows you to use these cards against the CPU in very specific (and sometimes frustrating) challenges. While these challenges may not be too problematic for veteran players, for me the game starts to get a bit tiring when it asks you to do very specific tasks. Failing a challenge simply because I have one batter to get one strikeout but the batter only got a dribbler that barely made it past the catcher can feel very frustrating. These challenges are at least balanced by the rewards, which are genuinely worth the hardship. Runs of Showdown can quickly turn into a frantic search to fill up the worst spots in your roster before facing off against a final boss in a home run derby style up elimination. This high-stakes style of gameplay can be frustrating to players who struggle with losing the time and energy spent on the mode, even if the rewards for winning are worth it.

Perhaps it is poetic that the 15th anniversary of one of Sony’s most consistent franchises is also the end of its exclusivity. A few months ago MLB announced that in 2021 the show will be allowed on other platforms, making it a game developed by a Sony first-party studio that will theoretically be on Xbox and PC. Perhaps it’s poetic this is the last year with the PS4 as Sony’s primary console. Perhaps it’s poetic that there may be no 2020 season at all, and that we just remember what we want baseball to be. Because nothing can match that first time you see the camera focusing on only the player as he looks up and acknowledges that he whacked a homerun 440 ft. Perhaps there is no better feeling than throwing a lingering curveball that drops to the knees, the pitcher pumping his fists as he walks off the mound to finish a complete game. Perhaps there is nothing better than whatever you decide to make it.

Current events aside, this stands as the celebration the Show deserved at a time when it could see a larger audience than years past. If you don’t feel the need to slay demons or manage a virtual island perhaps you can step into the batter’s box and take a swing at something new, or return to the pitcher’s mound just one more time. MLB The Show 20 is a damn good video game.

Pros

  • High degree of customization and accessibility that everyone should model.
  • Better blocking animations lower the number of wild pitches, making sure games keep pace.
  • New sound effects for a ‘perfect’ hit provides satisfaction in a sport where you are meant to fail 7/10 times.
  • March to October gets the bulk of the upgrades.. now giving rewards throughout a season.

Cons

  • Fielders get locked into animations sooner than ever, leading to situations where plays are missed for no reason.
  • Breaking balls tend to magnetize to the middle of the plate and get smacked around the yard a little too much.
  • A suspended season means that ‘live series’ players don’t gain or lose stats making daily play less dynamic.

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