Man was I excited for the 2021 installment of MLB The Show! This is our first season on the next-gen consoles, so what’s not to be excited about? With my PS5 at the ready, I fired up the game and was greeted by the ever-familiar glow of my favorite franchise in all of sports. However, herein lies the problem: MLB The Show 21 seemed too familiar. Where was my new console pomp and circumstance? This felt like the same goddamn title I’ve been playing for the last decade. Now, if that is a good thing or not, I will leave for you to decide.
MLB The Show 21 Review – Next-Gen Game, Last-Gen Tech
Right off the top, we should probably have a serious heart-to-heart about the visuals on the PlayStation 5 version of MLB The Show 21. This should have been the biggest home run in the history of sports gaming. Why not make use of all that fancy new technology and deliver an experience that puts the previous generation to shame? Instead, we are treated to watered-down visuals, seemingly handcuffed by the decision to support the previous generation of consoles.
Don’t get me wrong. This most recent iteration in the franchise looks excellent. The series always has been a visual powerhouse. The issue was that it doesn’t look that much better than the PS4 version. Sure, there are certainly some jaggies that have been smoothed out and animations that may run a bit smoother, but there was legitimately nothing here that set the higher-priced PS5 installment apart from its last-gen counterpart. But at least we can design our own ballparks on next-gen, right? Oh, wait… We can’t use those ballparks for night games? Come on, guys. I’m trying to help you here!
Despite the presentation lacking a substantial wow factor, one area where The Show has never been a disappointment is in the moment-to-moment minutia of America’s Pastime. Everything from the pitcher’s windup to an umpire’s trademark strike-out delivery has been accounted for. Hell, even the concessions barkers are making themselves known throughout the innings. The only thing missing is the wafting aroma of freshly cut grass, terrible beer, and sizzling brats.
MLB The Show 21 Review – Restarting the Climb
And what could be more authentically The Show than their storied Road to the Show mode? They’ve been doing the single-player career experience since the PSP era, so the fact that it’s still around is a bit of an accomplishment. While there have been incremental improvements along the way, it feels like there haven’t been any remarkable advancements made over the past few seasons. Is this the year that they make changes in the right direction? The answer is a complicated one, to be sure.
To steer players towards the new lower-league mechanics provided this season, for the first time in recent memory, you can no longer import your player from the prior year. While this was a disappointment for me—my major leaguer was well into his 2028 campaign—after rolling over for the past few seasons. It was honestly something I’d considered restarting on my own this time around, anyway. Unfortunately, the game decided for me. Your levels of frustration with this may vary, depending upon how much time you’ve invested in your player’s in previous years.
Luckily, the restart of a career is completely different this time around. You get the opportunity to split time between the two premier aspects of the Road to the Show experience: regular position players and pitchers. These two diametrically differing gameplay styles help break the monotony that’s been a big turn-off to many for as long as the mode’s existed.
Complimenting this new two-way gameplay option, the overall narrative structure and arch have also been adjusted rather dramatically. Every week of the season you’re treated to the expert analysis of members of the MLB Network family. The story is told through the lens of a podcast series, focused on your character’s career progression. This was an interesting framing mechanism for the campaign as a whole, but ultimately it felt like most of the analysis videos came from a pre-canned collection that they would try to retrofit to apply to the current circumstances. It certainly isn’t perfect at this point, but it is a huge step in the right direction. And before you ask, yes, the video portion of these podcasts are only available on the PS5 version, while the PS4 crowd only gets the audio track. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d imagine load times and that fancy SSD may have something to do with it.
Interestingly, a new addition to last year’s Road to the Show mode was the inclusion of player relationships. With the disclaimer that my player is still marooned in AAA, I’ve yet to have any opportunities to interact with my fellow teammates. Maybe this changes when you get to the major league level, but currently, it’s nowhere to be found, aside from the relationship boosts that happen between players simply through standard gameplay. It was certainly not a dealbreaker by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a curious exclusion nonetheless.
MLB The Show 21 Review – Endlessly Authentic
Just to put the nitpicking to the side for a moment, I’m going to take a second to gush about MLB The Show 21′s overall gameplay. Authenticity to the sport has always been paramount in the franchise and this installment once again drives this home with a bullet. The gameplay is just as solid as it has always been, with the latest addition being the new pinpoint pitching system. Your mileage is going to vary on this new mechanic, as it combines the use of both sticks and a heavy dose of timing to perfect each pitch in your arsenal. While I did enjoy getting a different experience from the mound, ultimately I did end up putting it to the side in favor of the traditional pitching 3-click system.
Another simple boost that is immediately apparent is the improved framerate. While it may not sound that groundbreaking, if you’re participating in any of the timing-centric mechanics, the smoother refresh rate can help greatly improve your precision. This is especially apparent in the rare moments when there’s a hitch in the framerate because it will send your reflexes into fits of frustration. Thankfully, these occurrences are few and far between, undoubtedly thanks to the hefty boost in next-gen processing power.
And ss much as I would love to get excited about the new stadium creation mode, I just can’t bring myself to care. There. I said it. The one new thing that this game introduces when making the generational jump is a damn stadium creator. Show me someone who is legitimately excited about this and I will eat my cap. If this is how they’re trying to justify the extra ten dollars on the price tag, they should feel embarrassed.
MLB The Show 21 Review – Living in the Cloud
Aside from this abysmally disappointing exclusive feature, there isn’t much else that sets this installment apart from last season. We simply get additional refinements to the series’ already immaculate gameplay and presentation. All of the main modes, including the different permutations of Diamond Dynasty, full seasons, and March to October all make an appearance, each got a minor spit-shine in the process.
The one last aspect of this go-around is their newfound attention to cloud-based profiles. Now that the series is available over in Xbox-land as well, there’s finally precedent to make full use of their online profiles to transfer campaigns between versions of the game. And yes, there is full cross-progression and cross-play among all platforms and generations. I’ve since managed to successfully load and play with my new Road to the Show player on Xbox One X, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. Despite my initial concerns, everything worked seamlessly right out of the box.
When you take a step back and look at the “big picture,” at least on paper, MLB The Show 21 is a success. That said, when it’s your first entry in a new console generation, the bar for success is admittedly quite low. For this reason, not to mention the meager distinctions between the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game, it’s fairly difficult to justify the extra expense of making the jump to next-generation hardware. That said, if you decide to take the plunge and pick up the PlayStation 5 version, you won’t be disappointed by the latest in a franchise that keeps knocking it out of the park.
MLB The Show 21 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS5. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.