This year’s version of MLB The Show is all about choice, which is fitting considering this is the first time San Diego Studio’s hit baseball sim is coming to Xbox. Even before you load the game up, you have a choice to make. Many MLB fans likely picked up a PS5 because they knew The Show 21 would be on the console, but now, you can grab it with Xbox Game Pass if you so choose. From the jump, this game wants to give you the exact baseball experience you want, where you want it.
When you first boot up the game, you’ll be met with a decision between three different gameplay styles. If you want a true skill gap, you’ll select competitive mode, the default online head-to-head style. However, if you just want to crush homers and flip your bat down your opponent’s throat (metaphorically, of course), the team has added a new casual gameplay style. This is for players learning the game or those just looking to unwind with some easy ball. Of course, simulation mode sits right in the middle of these two options.
Here's The Pitch
Taking it one step further, San Diego Studio also has a plethora of options for both hitting and pitching. Most notably is the new feature called Pinpoint Pitching that San Diego added. This is, by far, the most challenging way to pitch in The Show 21, but is incredibly rewarding if you get it down.
Essentially, each pitch has its own left stick gesture you’ll need to perform with accuracy and timing. If you nail everything, this style of pitching is ridiculously accurate. Of course, if you’re looking for simpler mechanics, The Show has several other options available.
Welcome To The Big Leagues
This level of choice extends into the game modes as well. Take, for instance, the ever-popular Road to the Show mode. For the first time ever, you’re able to play as a two-way player.
That means you can choose to take the mound as a starting pitcher one day and then grab some playtime in the outfield the next. Of course, if you want to just pick one or the other and be done with it, you can absolutely do that. However, it certainly seems like much of the RTTS story is built around being a two-way ballplayer.
Speaking of that story, it’s almost exclusively told through various real-life MLB talking heads. You’ll see pro analysts and former players like Cliff Floyd and Jennie Finch pop in to give their takes.
They’ve obviously recorded a ton of these video podcasts, but this is not something like The Journey in FIFA. It’s a decent ride along with your career, but they aren’t winning any “best narrative” awards, but it's still better than Madden 21.
Part and parcel with the two-way player addition are the new loadout options. Much like NBA 2K's player builds, these allow you to set up different options for your ballplayer and switch them out depending on where they’re playing. It’s a nifty way to get around some of the skill point oddities that might’ve arisen without them.
Diamonds Are Forever
You can also take your ballplayer into Diamond Dynasty (San Diego’s answer to Ultimate Team). He can then progress in either mode, giving you ample opportunity to turn him into a superstar. And, to be honest, the interconnectivity between most of the modes is extraordinary to see in a sports game.
You can score points for new Diamond Dynasty packs by playing through the March to October mode and pick up new gear for your RTTS career by banging out challenges in DD. The way they all mix together is such a breath of fresh air after the last few months of playing FIFA and NBA 2K21 constantly.
Personally, I prefer March to October to everything else. It gives you that feeling of playing out a full franchise mode without investing dozens of hours. You can clear an entire season in a day if you wanted to. However, every mode feels fleshed out. Diamond Dynasty players have tons to grind and franchise heads have better trade logic and other fixes to get behind.
Truth be told, that feeling of tiny steps in the right direction sums up MLB The Show 21 very well. This is a solid offering from the team at San Diego Studios. They haven’t tried to do too much, and everything they have done mostly works.
Sure, I ran into a few weird animation glitches and the new stadium editor doesn’t do anything for me personally. That said, those issues are few and far between. And you just know a dedicated community is going to rise up around the robust stadium creator options. So, while I’m not interested, it’s great to see fans have that available.
MLB The Show 21 doesn’t quite knock this one out of the park. Instead, it’s one of the most well-hit doubles I’ve ever seen. The foundation San Diego Studios has cultivated over the years has allowed them to almost seamlessly transfer over to the next-gen and has me excited to see where the series goes from here.
Reviewed on PS5