As far as baseball games on consoles are concerned, it’s been a pretty eventful thirteen months. A mere two seasons ago, not to mention for the preceding nine years, the only way hardcore baseball fans could get their fix of diamond-rooted simulations was to indulge the siren’s call of PlayStation platforms. Then, in a stunning move that admittedly still boggles my brain, the Sony-developed stalwart made its way to Xbox platforms last season, and now Switch this time around the horn. With the developer’s attention being pulled in several new and decidedly different directions for MLB The Show 22, has it undermined their ability to innovate or will they knock the proverbial cover off this installment?
Back to the Fundamentals
MLB The Show 22 is easily the industry standard when it comes to annualized sports franchises. There’s a reason why they ran unopposed for as long as they did. The series was just that damn good. At least mechanically speaking, this installment once again continues to keep the bar high. However, despite its prowess on the diamond, once you start dipping into the more ancillary modes, things start to get a bit dicey.
There have been the expected annual tweaks to the gameplay that come along with the passage of time. Chief among these enhancements are more dynamic fielding animations. It certainly appears that the engine is beginning to take account of a player’s speed and fielding stats when determining the responsiveness of a fielder. Simply put, this builds on the authenticity that the brand has been known for. That said, there are still countless occasions where a fielder can be clipped through along the basepath or glitches occur reverting your character models to the dreaded “T stance.”
Adding a bit of insult to injury, while the game still looks fine visually, it just feels like the fidelity enhancements have stagnated. The realism is still there, however, many of the fine-grain details don’t look quite right. Simple things like long hair and beards still look fairly unnatural, and flow oddly, especially when the weather factors come into play. Sure, the lack of graphical innovation would likely fall into the nitpicking camp, but if nothing else it helps drive home how solid the action has otherwise looked over the last handful of installments.
March to October was easily the best new mode introduced, last time The Show was at the dish. While I was a big proponent of the truncated schedule and abbreviated game length, the fact that you could only play through one year was slightly off-putting. After gathering feedback from across the community, the newest outing can span multiple seasons, with fully-featured postseason and offseason cycles. Though the improvements aren’t earthshattering by any stretch of the imagination, these are the minutia-focused refinements and minor enhancements that you can expect to see across the suite of features.
Whenever a sports title talks about changing an already successful formula, I start to get a little nervous. In this very specific case, the development team is dismantling the entire announcing booth. Despite providing us with a duo of fresh voices to ring in Opening Day, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s taking a rather deliberate step in the wrong direction. After fifteen years as the voice of The Show, Matt Vasgersian, along with his rotating band of merry men in the co-host(s) chair, have taken a back seat to newcomers Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton.
As you might imagine, replacing someone with a decade and a half of banked dialog has resulted in a drastic dip in overall commentary quality and variety. That isn’t to say that Sciambi or Singleton are doing a particularly rough job, because their injection of fresh anecdotes and quips is a relative breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, the well of clips that the audio team has to draw from is far shallower. The net result is sound bites getting recycled very frequently, even appearing numerous times within a single game, under the right scenarios.
Even things that should be straightforward like speaking a Hall of Fame player’s name, instead of simply calling them by their number, just seems silly. We are talking about the likes of Babe Ruth or Key Griffey Jr. I mean, for God’s sake, Griffey was the damn cover athlete for the entire franchise only a handful of seasons back! Let’s just hope it was worth it to pull the trigger now, because they are facing a long and challenging path.
Rough Roads Ahead
For the second time this console generation, Road to the Show has again been relegated to the proverbial backburner. Pouring a little more salt in the wound, last year’s campaign cannot be loaded in MLB The Show 22. While this was a bit more acceptable after making the console generation jump, I fully expected the ability to continue utilizing your favorite avatar to make a triumphant return. Instead, I was once again forced to start from scratch.
On the surface, being forced to restart your player’s career isn’t the worst thing in the world. I started to almost get excited at the proposition of comparing and contrasting the differences between seasons. However, all this replay does is help reinforce how little Road to the Show has evolved over the PS5’s lifespan.
It legitimately feels like I’m being forced to just replay the same damn experience, with very little variation. Sadly, for the first time in my entire fandom of the series, I can’t pinpoint ANY reason why you’d want to play this mode over the prior version. This legitimately bothers me to no end, especially considering that Road to the Show was always the single biggest motivation to purchase the title.
The one saving grace is that Diamond Dynasty still strives to show EA how to correctly balance the “Ultimate Team” formula between gameplay requirements and pack payout. While I still fundamentally disagree with the mode’s monetization methods, I will say that it has made tremendous strides of late, and is far less manipulative than competing sports franchises. It feels like I’m constantly progressing toward unlocking new packs, and the process to grind for additional perks isn’t that arduous.
Why would you want to buy MLB The Show 22? If I’m being completely honest, it’s really hard to justify taking the plunge this year, especially if you owned 2021’s installment. This release feels devoid of any marque justification for purchase, aside from continued refinement on existing mechanics. It’s really hard to shake the feeling that this was supposed to be a grand slam and ended up being a dribbler off the end of the bat.