MLB The Show 21 review: Gameplay, new features, game modes

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The Show 21 introduces the long-awaited Ballpark Creator. Photo from Polygon.MLB The Show 21, the latest instalment of San Diego Studios’ baseball title, is finally here. The game is out now and most notably it is not only available on Playstation 4 and 5, but – for the first time ever – it is also available on Xbox consoles.
I have played the game on PS5 and this review will be solely for the next-gen version of the game.
MLB The Show 21 Review
Some features are next-gen exclusive and a couple of things I really like are because of the console itself. With all that out the way, let’s go. Here is my full MLB The Show 21 Review for next-gen.
Gameplay
Let’s just start at the top. MLB The Show has long been the only truly realistic, gameplay-driven baseball experience on the market. With that being said, competition or not, its gameplay is one of its strongest aspects.
Madden, FIFA, NBA 2K and more sports titles have gameplay down – and the market for these sports games is huge – but MLB The Show is really up there with the best sporting gameplay systems.
Baseball is pretty complicated and so is The Show. Yet, in a way that makes it feel fun and challenging. If you play a game on FIFA on the easiest difficulty you will find it pretty difficult to lose. On The Show, however, you need to know what you’re doing.
Aaron, Bryce and J.T. all earned a Diamond Rating in @MLBTheShow 21 — an honor awarded to only the top 40 players in the game!

Check out our ace, @AaronNola027, showing off the hardware.

#TheShowDiamondClub | #RingTheBell https://t.co/dXcTyUOhJc

Operating on the assumption you use the gameplay mechanics that require proper player input (zone hitting, button accuracy fielding etc), you have to learn to do lots of different skills. Hitting combines aiming your PCI (Plate Coverage Indicator) in the place where the ball is going to be and you have to simultaneously try and judge the timing. Hitting is definitely the hardest part of the game and I would say that it is the hardest thing to do in any mainstream sports game.
Different Gameplay Skills
Reading a pitch and working out what type of break it will have, whether or not it will be in the zone and how long until you have to swing is legitimately tough to get good at. With a challenge comes the reward, though. If you get a ‘perfect perfect’ [perfect timing with perfect PCI placement] you will feel like Mike Trout for a second as you trot around the bases.Pitching is much easier to do from a skill perspective, but that ignores the mental side of it. Yeah, you can hit your spot, but what spot do you want to hit and with what pitch!? Maybe pitching isn’t on the level of playing offense on Madden, but it’s a whole game in itself to outsmart the hitter.
Fielding is easy. Again, though, the decision making is not and when you play online, I promise you will face some cheeky players who try and steal on you and round third base when you weren’t expecting it.

All in all, the gameplay is absolutely awesome. There’s a high skill ceiling and you will genuinely find yourself becoming more patient at the plate, getting a better eye for reading pitches and having better results. The biggest turn off for people in this game is the feeling that you don’t always get rewarded for what felt like a good hit. I understand the frustration, but watch some baseball… Hitting is hard! Embrace the challenge and feel that little bit better when you hit one 450 feet.
New Gameplay Feature – Pinpoint Pitching
Okay, so I said that I like the fact that there’s a skill gap. But the key to a skill gap is that those who go the extra mile get rewarded with better results. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the new pitching interface in 2021.
‘Pinpoint Pitching’ asks the player to perform a Skate-3 esque action with their analogue stick to try and do so accurately and with the correct timing. I was really excited when they revealed this (I adore Skate games) but I am disappointed in the reality of it.
Having actually used it now, I realise that there’s not enough benefit to using the new system. The amount of increased accuracy you get if you perfectly execute the pinpoint pitch is microscopic compared to the negative impact if you mess it up. Pure Analogue Pitching remains to be the best way to pitch in my opinion. I wanted to like the new system, but it’s not worth the sheer amount of precision required to execute every individual pitch.
Next-Gen
The Show was released a little later this year than usual, but it is well worth the wait. The next-generation version of the game is a notable upgrade for two key reasons. Now, straight off the bat, I do want to say – I was slightly disappointed to see that the graphics have hardly improved – if at all. But, the positive stuff is really good.
The Stadium Creator is finally here and oh my. It is everything we wanted it to be. You can create up to 30 stadiums and customise them to your heart’s content. You can create an absolute disgrace of a park which is absolutely absurd in every possible way, or you can keep the field itself playable and just mess around with the stadium around it. There are over 100 choices for your outfield wall which have been deemed appropriate for online play and then everything else is fair game. You can have dinosaurs roaming on a hill behind the fence, you can play surrounded by snow-covered mountains. You can even put some ‘hit it here’ signs up as a bit of target practise.

While making your own stadium is of course the most exciting new feature – and rightly so – I am significantly happier about something they don’t advertise or hype up so much. It’s just a little thing, but it’s so important. The loading times on next-gen are utterly incredible. As an experienced MLBTS player, it’s so noticeable you find yourself double-taking.
‘Wait, it’s already loaded?’ No more going on social media while waiting for a game online, you barely even have time to see your opponent’s team. It is phenomenal.
Game Modes
There are a few game modes in the game, all for different gameplay experiences. There is Franchise mode which is your quintessential franchise experience; Diamond Dynasty, which is the Ultimate Team/baseball card collecting mode; Road To The Show, which is a singleplayer experience where you start in the minor leagues and grind out to reach the majors in a career mode; and, finally, March To October, a one-season experience which is half franchise and half career mode.
RTTS and Ballplayer
Road To The Show is a fantastic mode due to the sheer addictive nature of trying to work your way into the majors and improve your player. It’s also benefitted a lot this year from the next-gen upgrade because of the great loading times.
There is also a really cool new feature for those who want to embrace the career mode experience, too. There is now a podcast that follows your player’s career and progress. On next-gen, there is even video that accompanies the clips, too. The new option this year to be a two-way player is central to the story of the podcast and the new ballplayer system allows for you to have a different version of your player depending on what you’re doing in each game.
The new Ballplayer system, which replaced the create-a-player from Diamond Dynasty and combined it so that you use the same player in RTTS, is pretty solid but has some teething problems. The actual idea of having a player that is used in both modes is really cool but, unfortunately, there have been bugs where people’s missions to record stats while playing on RTTS haven’t been loaded. When all of the silly issues get sorted out, though, the new system could be really cool.

There are different archetypes and perks, too. It all helps you to customise your player and tweak your gameplay experience and attributes.
Franchise
I do not play this mode very much, if ever, but Franchise is everything you expect and this year it got better. The developers made an active effort to improve the realism of the game from the front office side of things, which is something you only primarily deal with in this mode and briefly in MTO. They have worked hard to try and improve the contract and salary logic. They have also made the mode look and feel much better just in general.
The new depth chart screen which is central to the mode gives a really nice sleek look at your team and I was impressed by the way that they can put a lot of information (both for the present and the future) onto this screen. While the number of people who play Franchise as their go-to mode will never be a huge one, this is the best it has been and it should be enjoyable for those who play it.
March To October
The newest mode to be added to the game, just one year ago, March to October is a pretty unique and cool experience. You pick your team and your difficulty. Then you are put into a season where you will play all of the key moments. You will play on Opening Day, try and pull off the sweep, defend your home field against a rival, for example.
Contextual games will follow decisions, for example, you might promote a new player from the minors and then you will play a player-locked game as that rookie – and if you play really well you will actually gain them fast-tracked development.
The momentum system affects your simulated games, so if you do great when you’re in control, your team won’t let you down and lose all the other games. You don’t have to play full games in the ones you do play, either, so it is a nicely streamlined experience, which will probably take single-digit hours to finish up a season. The main appeal of this mode to most people is that it earns you progress in the Team Affinity Programme in Diamond Dynasty. The mode is genuinely pretty solid, though, if you prefer the offline experience.
Diamond Dynasty
Speak of the devil. I saved the best mode until last. I’m not just talking best mode in MLB The Show even, to be honest. I think Diamond Dynasty is my favourite mode in any sports game. Ultimate Team plus baseball card collecting, with absolutely phenomenal content and a plethora of different ways to play. It’s absolutely awesome.
You buy or unlock cards for all of the players in the major leagues as well as flashback and legend cards from baseball history to put into your dream team. If you want to make a lineup with Babe Ruth, Mike Trout and Fernando Tatis Jr., you can. Also, the collecting element is actually a legitimately interesting part of the mode.
Instead of just being a pile of players to choose from, by collecting cards you can actually gain rewards. For example, when I collected every single player from the 40-man roster of the Chicago Cubs, I got given an 85 overall Kerry Wood flashback card. When I finish collecting the entire NL Central Division, I’ll get Ernie Banks who is rated 94 and is one of the best hitting shortstops in the entire game.

The way that the card collecting actually feels meaningful is a huge strong point and that’s just one of the many ways you get free cards. Diamond Dynasty is a mode that you can very easily play without spending any money on buying packs (or players – it’s all one currency).
Diamond Dynasty Game Modes
I mentioned Team Affinity earlier and that is the ultimate example. TA allows you to acquire free, high overall cards by doing missions and content specific to a division. These are just a couple of ways to get good cards for free.
There are loads of fun game modes within Diamond Dynasty, including Conquest, which is like Risk meets baseball; Showdown, where you start with a huge deficit and have to try and walk it off in an inningless variant with a certain amount of outs; and multiple online modes where you either use your own team or draft one. The replayability and depth of the content is unreal. All the same depth and fun is there in MLB The Show 21, but now with even faster load times.
The loading times are most noticeable in Moments, a challenge mode where you hop into a situation and try and do a specific task – for example, try to tally four total bases in one game. Being able to load in and out of these quickly saves countless hours when playing all of them and it is one of the most notable upgrades over previous years.
MLB The Show 21 Review: Conclusion
I have played every major sports game under the sun and MLB The Show is right up there with the best of them. MLB The Show 21 takes the franchise to the next generation of consoles and even bridges the gap as the first-ever Xbox version, which is really exciting for its own reasons and also brings it to a wider audience.
This instalment isn’t some total overhaul, but it takes their phenomenal foundation and improves it even more.
The gameplay is as fantastic as ever. Pitching is a satisfying mental battle against your opponent and hitting is genuinely one of the most challenging but rewarding mechanics in any game I’ve played. There is an abundance of modes and content, including Diamond Dynasty, which is the gold standard of sports gaming.
While a couple of things fall short, namely the actual benefits of using Pinpoint pitching and the lack of graphical upgrade despite next-gen, this is undoubtedly a brilliant game. The Show keeps getting better and this is an absolute must-buy for anybody who likes baseball. In my opinion, you should give it a try even if you don’t.
The game is available for free if you have Xbox Game Pass, which is an absolutely awesome way to announce their entrance onto the new platform. If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing one of these games, this is the perfect edition to jump in. Welcome to The Show.



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