Review – MLB The Show 21
Upon booting MLB The Show 21 on my Xbox, I was greeted with the most bizarre thing ever. Watching that brand new Marvel-esque video from PlayStation Studios on an Xbox console is something I will never be able to get used to. Playing a Sony game on a rival console is a novel concept, that’s for sure, but it won’t make any impact whatsoever if the game ends up sucking. Thankfully, despite being based on one of the most mundane sports out there, MLB The Show 21 is actually pretty fun. A lot more fun than watching real baseball, that’s for certain.
Baseball games can be quite daunting for the uninitiated, given the tons of different playstyles and functions to perform during a match. This is where MLB The Show 21 shines the brightest. I was shocked with how customizable its gameplay is. You can tinker with the level of realism in each game, the controls, and the amount of actions you want to perform.
Do you hate pitching and just want to bat? You can do that. Do you want to completely ignore trying to be defensive, letting the AI do the fielding for you? You can also do that. Finally, do you want to simplify your pitching controls, turning them into what you would expect from a golfing game? Go for it, it’s your game. I don’t think I have ever seen such a player-friendly approach in any sports game ever, and that makes MLB The Show 21 accessible even to those with little knowledge about the sport, such as myself.
If you’re a noob like me, then the game’s stupidly deep tutorials will teach everything about the sport in an easy to understand and intuitive way. In just a few minutes, you’ll learn about each position, every role, and all the rules of the sport. Once you’re done with the training, set the difficulty curve to automatically increase or decrease, depending on how well you play, and go have some fun.
MLB The Show 21, just like its predecessors, features all teams from the major and minor leagues, with the updated rosters and highly detailed MLB-approved stadia you would expect. Like most high-budget sports games on the market, it features a wide selection of licensed songs you can hear outside of matches. There’s reggaeton, indie rock, and even AC/DC’s brand new (and very underwhelming) hit song “Shot in the Dark“. There’s even a lot of commentary from real-life baseball narrators during matches. All in all, nothing to complain in this regard. It gets the job done, even if the sport itself isn’t exciting enough to make the commentators go nuts after a home run.
Its FIFA Ultimate Team-inspired “fantasy baseball” mode is as crappy as its source of inspiration, hell-bent on making you want to spend some extra cash on booster packs to improve your squad. Thankfully, you can (and should) ignore this mode altogether, and focus on what I thought to be MLB The Show 21‘s main highlight: the Road to the Show mode. This is your typical “Be a Pro” mode, covering your journey as a young prospect from the minor leagues to World Series glory, but I was impressed with the amount of detail put into this mode.
From the stupidly intricate physical appearance editor to the training minigames, there’s a lot to do in Road to the Show, besides the obvious matches of course. You can tell your coach if you prefer to bat or pitch, you can suggest your favorite positions, and so on. Furthermore, you can equip your character with tons of baseball-specific items, such as a particular bat, glove, and cleats, in order to improve your stats. This adds an unexpected layer of RPG mechanics to MLB The Show 21. Finally, there is a stadium creator mode in here, but it pales in comparison to editing modes in other sports games, such as AO Tennis 2.
Despite being released on next-gen consoles (and I still cannot believe I played this on an Xbox), don’t treat MLB The Show 21 as a proper showcase of how the franchise should look like for the next few years. This is a transition period title, which looks and feels like a PS4 game in terms of visuals and loading times, despite running incredibly well and at a stupidly high resolution. Players look a bit off-putting and their animations can still be improved upon. I fully expect for next year’s MLB game to impress me a lot more with its visuals, but this 2021 iteration still gets the job done.
MLB The Show 21 isn’t just worth playing on the Xbox Series S and X out of novelty. It is a pretty good baseball game that’s shockingly accessible to people who know absolutely nothing about the sport, while being exactly what veterans and fans would expect from a yearly update of a sports franchise. It’s not exactly what I’m expecting from a next-gen sports game, but it’s a step in the right direction. And I cannot believe I’ll now look forward to a brand new baseball video game every year.
Still not quite what you would expect from a next-gen sports game, but it looks fine enough and it does run at 60fps at all times.
The way you can customize the gameplay is absolutely incredible. You can tinker the game to suit to your preferences, like whether you want to solely pitch or bat.
A ton of commentary and some licensed music when you’re in a menu. You don’t exactly need a lot more than that, even if the music selection, while good, feels a bit all over the place.
Fun Factor: 7.5
Its FIFA Ultimate Team-inspired mode sucks, but MLB The Show 21 features a lot of content and tons of customization options. This makes it an interesting sports title, even for those who think baseball is downright boring in real life.
Final Verdict: 7.5
MLB The Show 21 is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.