MLB The Show 20 continues Sony’s strong reputation when it comes to the baseball games coming out of their San Diego studio. Exclusive the PlayStation 4, here is our review.
With nearly every sports competition out there now at a virtual standstill, digital sports is where we can go to get our fix. The dominant baseball sim has been MLB The Show for a few years though, although in a case of poorly timed release dates this week also sees the release of R.B.I. Baseball 20. Sony’s own version is one of the few sports games that’s platform exclusive though, so at least there’s an option for those on other consoles as well.
Since I’m not a die-hard follower of Major League Baseball, I don’t dive into the new version of The Show every year one comes out. After an intense initial period I’m usually good with the odd game here and there, so it’s been about three years since I played a brand new release. On the plus side, that does help me appreciate the progress in the series, since the leap forward is much bigger this way.
Many of the changes in this year’s edition are subtle though, and include revised (or refined) mechanics for hitting the ball – arguably the key part of any baseball game, especially for casual players who get less joy out of fielding tactics. More so than in previous games, The Show 20 makes you feel like one batter isn’t the same as the next one, with some having more control while others exude a feeling of power when they step up to the plate.
A lot of the core gameplay remains familiar though, judging mostly from a playthrough of the career mode. When playing defensively, my player would sometimes fumble the ball despite being lined up perfectly for the catch – or a throw to third base would miss its mark despite being timed perfectly (from what I could see). I get these things in the context of the dramatic effects they can have on a career in progress, but they do feel like they break the flow a bit especially when their impact can be so great. They happen in ‘regular’ games as well (and intentionally so, as the developers wanted to make The Show 20 feel ‘less predictable’), but mistakes are much easier to correct there since you have more opportunities at bat and in the field that way.
If you play the game’s Diamond Dynasty mode, then Showdown is a new addition worth checking out. It first gives you 10 rounds to draft a roster to play with, after which you just keep slugging away to earn more rewards, players and boosts. These boosts aren’t new to anyone who’s played Road to the Show since it was introduced, but while that mode is an incredible timesink (where it takes multiple seasons to get your player up to a respectable level) this new Showdown mode is a great way to enjoy some of these dynamics in a less time-consuming way. Somewhat ironically, however, is that it’s also a mode that has so many possible rewards that you could still find yourself in a bit of a grind to get to some of the better ones.
Even though MLB The Show 20 still doesn’t have a proper online franchise mode, it does bring back last year’s “March to October” mode. I didn’t play the 2019 edition of the game, but it felt a bit like doing a career mode without some of the filler I would traditionally let the AI skip through anyway – emphasizing key moments instead. It all takes place in a single season, but you can take your team into a proper franchise game afterwards as well. Since you’re not having to build up your career from scratch (just coming off the bench for a while as well), this is a great mode for more casual players who want the excitement without all the dedication that precedes it. It’s not an arcade mode though, as you’re still looking after your team and roster.
Road the Show also returns, and it’s still a bit of a grind that requires you to put in a lot of time before you hit the big leagues. You can simulate games to get through parts of the season, but without exception I would always see my player’s performance dipping during those phases – as if the AI wasn’t looking at how I was doing when I was in control. There’s a bigger emphasis on player-to-player dynamics off the field this time, and you can slowly craft friendships that result in better on-the-field performances as well. It’s a good new touch, but ultimately this mode still depends on how much time you are willing to dedicate to it.
Lastly, skipping a few editions of the game really makes the audiovisual leap forward visible. While the game looks similar to games from five years ago in screenshots, the animations have been much improved, and the audio feels far more dynamic, with audiences seemingly changing their moods based on how the game is progressing for their team.
There’s little doubt that this is the best baseball game you can pick up, so PS4 owners can once again feel good about having an exclusive like this on their system. We’re very curious what the PS5 will bring to the franchise next year, so we might not wait as long to come back to the series next time….