“Take me out to the ballgame!” Actually, no. You’re supposed to stay isolated. “Take me out to the crowd!” DEFINITELY not. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack…” Only if they’ve been properly handled. “I don’t care if I never get back!” You should REALLY get away from those crowds, as soon as possible. “Let me root, root, root for the home team…” Unless your team is in Seattle. “If they don’t win it’s a shame.” But it’s Seattle, were you really expecting them to win? “For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out…” Did you miss the clanging garbage can? “At the old ball game!”
A New Era
In the age of coronavirus, it’s been increasingly difficult to be a sports fan. Not only are all of the roundball activities in the United States postponed for the foreseeable future, but we honestly have no idea when they could potentially return. Hell, most of us are being told to become voluntary—or sometimes involuntary—invalids for what might end up being months. So, with all of this mess swirling round, what are dedicated meatheads supposed to do? Our one saving grace is sports games, which are trucking ahead as planned. Thank goodness for MLB The Show 20, because I’m pretty sure it’s the one thing that’s still keeping me sane at this point.
As you might expect at this stage in the console cycle, the MLB franchise has officially entered the “polishing” phase. Essentially all of the core wrinkles related to gameplay and core mechanics solidified long ago. The goal is to make it look and play even better than it already did last season. This is where the law of diminishing returns usually begins to take effect. It’s a prettier game, no doubt about it, but how much realism is there left to capture? Much to my surprise, the answer is quite a bit.
It appears that a key focus of this offseason was once again adding layers to the already nuanced fielding controls. The new throwing needle is easily my favorite new inclusion this season, as it introduces an interesting timing aspect to all plays. I came to think of it like the Gears of War “active reload” mechanic. Every player that comes in contact with the ball now has a split-second to land a moving needle in a hot-spot along a meter, which is very reminiscent of the legacy pitching meter. What used to be a simple button press to throw to a base has now become something that requires legitimate skill. Plus, if you can manage to turn a double play without screwing the pooch, my hat is off to you. All it takes is a momentary lapse in concentration and you’ve suddenly chucked a ball into the outfield or 10 rows up into the bleachers.
Prettier Than Ever
Luckily, regardless of the outcome of your defensive prowess, you’ll look visually stunning while doing so. Seriously. The game looks freakin’ gorgeous. Player models seem dramatically improved over last year’s startling mixed bag of facial renders. Where previously characters looked perpetually sweatier than a priest in a brothel, this time around facial condensation looks to be drastically reduced and skin textures just appear more natural than in prior iterations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for on-the-field reporter Heidi Watney, who appears to be just as horrendously rendered as last season. It looks as if they took a character model used for one of the randomly generated audience members, then for some god-forsaken reason, made her talk. I’m pretty sure my daughter could create a more realistic looking human being, and she would be using crayons. This is something that needs serious attention ASAP because when everything else looks so staggeringly beautiful, these segments are a jarring eyesore that immediately pulled me out of the experience.
Additional refinements to longstanding modes are more of the incremental variety, with one very notable exception: Online Franchise Mode… kinda. Yes, I can confirm that players possess the ability to play along with numerous of your closest friends. However, it’s far from a complete offering. For one, there’s no concept of a simulated team. This instead means that players only have 2 options when taking their squad to the cloud: Importing your Diamond Dynasty roster or using one of the current MLB squads. Essentially, this league is more akin to a continuous series of sandlot scrums, where you lose track of the entire concept of an MLB season. I mean, how many times can you play against the same seven teams before things get dull? While this is absolutely a step in a positive direction, being able to play a franchise mode where you interact with the entire MLB, made up of both real and CPU controlled teams, is REALLY what fans desire.
One last step closer to realism was the inclusion of fully licensed players and likenesses for Minor League rosters. As a Tigers fan, while I can’t really get too excited by the team that is taking the field in Comerica Park, it’s reassuring to know that I can explore the depths of our minor league teams to check out some of our stellar upcoming prospects. I’m looking at you, Casey Mise! Out with the days of randomly generated Minor League monstrosities and in with a chance to get a glimpse into the future of your favorite franchises. Sure, on the surface it seems more minor (see what I did there?) but this undoubtedly took a ton of work for the development teams. It will ultimately help to deliver a more comprehensive and realistic experience when climbing the ranks in Road to the Show.
Road to the NO!
For the second season in a row, my one consistent beef is the lack of attention being paid to Road to the Show. It’s no secret that this is far and away my favorite mode, so why it has sat in relative stasis for several seasons is a bit beyond me. Sure, there are a few minor tweaks to the fielding and batting systems when playing as a position player, but these are essentially the same new mechanics that were introduced as part of the upgraded core systems mentioned earlier. At the risk of beating a dead horse, they really need to do something new and remarkable in next year’s installment, otherwise they risk losing their dedicated audience. Sometimes changes can be scary, but in this case, it’s absolutely necessary.
When you take a step back and look at the game as a whole, MLB The Show 20 is exactly the experience I was expecting. There was very little that wowed, and even less that evolved more than incrementally this season. And while this is still easily the best baseball title ever released, it did very little to raise the bar over its prior installment. If you are hard up for action on the diamond, rest assured that this will help to temporarily satiate your desires. However, if you have last season’s installment, you may not need to make the upgrade this trip around the calendar.
MLB The Show 20 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a launch PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.
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