Review – MLB: The Show ’20
I’ll be upfront with you immediately and tell you I am not a baseball fan nor have I ever played a MLB: The Show. However, I wanted to test out one of the highest rated sports titles around to see what the fuss was about. I went in with an open mind, learned a ton about the sport, and ended up enjoying what I played. This review will be coming from a complete newbie, which I hope appeals to some readers who are in a similar situation as myself and want to hear from a “non fan”.
My knowledge of the sport is pretty limited outside of the basic rules of strikes, balls, runs, and outs. I will say though, if you want to learn about a new sport, a video game may be the best way to break into it in your own pace. This is one thing I absolutely give MLB: The Show ’20 props for, is having plenty of options for first timers and veterans alike. When you first start up the game you will get to decide the level of difficulty and gameplay style. During this you get to try out each option in a tutorial and pick the one that fits you best. I of course went with beginner rules and set my batting and pitching to simpler methods until I cut my teeth on the mechanics.
I started with the Road to the Show mode, since this is more of the story focused mode where you create a character and advance them. The level of options you have to customize a character is extremely in depth and I was able to create someone fairly close to the way I look. I do wish it had some options to give a brief description of player’s positions and their roles because I am not familiar with the abbreviations. Instead I looked up what was the most engaging position to play in The Show and I went with the Starting Pitcher (SP).
There is quite a bit of depth in this mode, since you can even go through the minor leagues and work your way up and get drafted into the majors. Similar to NBA 2K, you’re evaluated per play you make and it will positively or negatively effect your stats depending on performance. This keeps you engaged in each play and constantly striving to not make mistakes. You’ll be able to train, unlock perks, and level up personality traits by bonding with teammates or creating rivalries.
There is a lot here that keeps you absorbed in the gameplay and character growth. Unfortunately, these systems come off a bit rushed and dry. There isn’t a whole lot of flash or presentation to the menus, or even when you’re bonding with teammates. It usually comes down to a quick chat that is done through text bubbles and it’s over. A little bit more focus on making these interactions feel more natural would go a long way to locking you into that character in a more immersive way.
Outside of the Road to the Show are a slew of other modes, like the more sim focused Franchise, where you play as the manager and get your team to the world series. For more quick fun there is the Home Run Derbies, and a more smaller focused season called March to October. This mode smacks you down with your favorite team towards the end of the season and focuses on key games and plays, as well as more arcade type options. This is great for players who are newer or who don’t want to sit through a hundred and sixty-two games a season.
There is also the Diamond Dynasty mode which is essentially MLB: The Show ’20s MUT or FUT. You collect cards based on characters and create a dream team. You gain cards through all of the modes you play as well as when you level up, but of course there is the option to pay for packs. While you do earn cards and currency in which you’ll use to buy packs through normal play; the currency seems fairly slow to build up to buy any pack that is worthwhile. It does feel like they priced them just high enough for you to drop a couple dollars here and there, but not enough to where it feels predatory. Still, I would like to see that option completely removed and I absolutely ream EA’s Madden for the same things.
Luckily, as I mentioned before, there is such a massive amount of other content to play through that if you never touched the Diamond Dynasty card packs, you won’t miss out. However, you may want to still try out it because it does have a pretty cool mode within Diamond Dynasty. It’s the Diamond Dynasty Showdown and this takes you through a similar experience, but it is more beginner friendly. It also offers more arcade type modes where you complete challenges and even play “boss” fights of sorts against legendary players.
Since I’m not the biggest baseball fan, I did end up trying to simulate some of the games or play on shorter modes because playing a full nine innings got fairly boring. As I mentioned before with the Road to the Show presentation, games come off dry and boring. There isn’t that much excitement in the game, nor are there neat overlays that pop up or even enthusiastic announcers. Even home runs seems to be a mellow affair and that is one of the more exciting hits of the game.
There are a bunch of options to sim or only play certain roles so the games go faster. Unfortunately, I found that simming seemed to always work against me. Anytime I would sim, I would lose by a lot. On the flip side, if I played a full nine innings myself, we would almost always win by a lot or even complete shutouts. A lot has to do with the team stats I’m sure, because the sim is only going stats vs. stats, but once I play I can strike out most at bats. This made me feel like I had to play every game and I just don’t have the energy to play one hundred and sixty-two games at forty-five minutes a piece.
I will admit that even if I do find the long drawn out mellow matches a bit drab, the actual physics and gameplay are very well done. Players feel natural to move around and it helps that their animations are fluid. None of it feels awkward or counter intuitive, but it being baseball means some things are more automated. For the most part, many actions are done automatically or at least started for you until the camera can pan to a place that makes sense. It feels natural, but at times it can feel like the game is playing itself and you’re only helping out a bit.
Visually MLB: The Show ’20 is striking with fantastic character models and stadium recreations. The way the outfits crease and move on the player for various animations is very impressive. It also has natural lighting that is made better by the HDR implementation. There are a few details closer up that of course need to take a visual hit, as well as poorly rendered people in the stadiums, but that’s typical. There was a lady behind home plate that was eating a pretzel and she put it down like a drink and it was just floating there. While fans aren’t usually that noticeable in other sports games, baseball focuses on them right behind the batter. Also, a bit of a nit pick here is that when it rains, the droplets do not create wet marks on the jerseys. I’m sure these are details that need to be cut for performance.
Speaking of performance, MLB: The Show ’20 can slow down quite a bit. There is a massive slow down every time it zooms in closer to focus on a character. It also happens when there is a lot going on during a play. I am playing on the PS4 Pro, so I switched to the performance mode which helped, but there were still stability issues. I didn’t notice any slow downs during pitching or hitting where it actually matters, but the game is begging for some next gen love.
The audio isn’t exactly the strong suit here since the most you’re getting are the announcers during matches. There really isn’t any music playing outside of the main menus and the soundtrack is your typical sports game playlist with various genres. None of it caught my attention. The various sound effects of hitting the ball off different areas of the bat is nice, as well as other little sounds like catching the ball in the gloves. All these smaller sound effects add up to an authentic sounding baseball game experience. The announcers do a pretty good job of staying on track with the action on the field. Sometimes they can lag behind current plays, but there were a few times where they had some decent insight depending on the batter or pitchers stats vs. their opponent.
I now see why MLB: The Show is praised among baseball fans for being the best, because it is an extremely solid title. It offers a ton of content that ranges from more arcade modes to full on sims, and it has a decent way of bringing in newcomers. There definitely could be some more options for newbies, as well as better flash and presentation. However, outside of the technical hiccups there is an impressive video game here that should keep any baseball gamer happy as well as teach a newbie the ropes.
The recreation of the player models is fantastic and the stadiums are well done. The crowd and some other smaller details are not as good.
The various aspects of baseball are well crafted with a nice balance of automation and player participation. Plenty of gameplay options that favor newbies and veterans.
The soundtrack is your basic sports game playlist of various genres. The announcers are for the most part very well done, even if they aren’t always accurate.
There are a ton of modes that range from full sim to fun arcade, which was nice for a first timer like myself. Presentation for games seem lackluster and the overall feel of everything lacks excitement.
Final Verdict: 8.5
MLB: The Show ’20 is available now on PlayStation 4.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.
A copy of MLB: The Show ’20 was provided by the publisher.