It may feel like at least a few hundred sports games release each year, but each sport really only has one or two studios that hold exclusive licences to the professional leagues. For as long as I can remember, the majority of the genre has been dominated by EA (sports, it's in the game!), with basketball and baseball being the two main outliers. I think we can mostly all agree that 2K owns basketball these days, despite EA's unsuccessful attempts at the sport in recent years. While baseball is statistically one of the least followed American sports here in New Zealand, there remains a stalwart fan-base of the MLB The Show games. If the term "batter up" makes you think of deep-fryer delights, baseball probably isn't your sport of choice so I can't recommend MLB to you. If however, you've yet to play the series and have a fondness for the sport, it makes for a compelling addition to the PS4 library.
The MLB series, much like other major sports games has little in the way of competition, which can lead to a sense of complacency with yearly instalments. Still, thankfully a handful of the titles released each year are clearly developed by a passionate team. Developed by SIE San Diego Studios, MLB The Show 20 is one of those games with a readily apparent love of the game. This year's entry is an excellent digital representation of the sport. During a time when fans can't watch the real thing, it provides an excellent alternative to both newcomers and returning fans. MLB The Show 20 represents the series' final year as a PlayStation exclusive and is likely the last one primarily developed for the current generation.
When it comes to the action on the field, pitching was my favourite aspect which is handled with the classic three-button press meter we've seen in plenty of other sport titles. Playing on the beginner settings, it was quite easy to strike out opponents. On my first game, I got twenty strikeouts with one pitcher, and only gave away two home runs in doing so. I scored thirteen home runs in reply and thought I had the game sussed. I promptly returned to the menu and switched the settings over to advanced with the hope of playing a slightly less one-sided game. It didn't work out exactly as planned, as the game was still very one-sided; it was just me turning in the embarrassing performance this time around. It was the arrogance antidote I needed, so I reverted the settings and kept them for several hours before switching back. There's a deceptive amount of nuance to the game, and it's vital to have a full understanding of its many systems if you want to play at a higher level.
That's not to say there's not a considerable amount of accessibility for folks dipping their toes into the series for the first time. 2K has included a vast amount of options for players to explore, so with a bit of time in the menus, you'll find the right balance to keep things enjoyable. There's more focus on star fielders and their ability to get under a high-ball faster or accurately whip the ball back to the bases. Fielders with lower skill are a stark contrast to their more talented teammates as they present you with more of a struggle to get under the ball or are more likely to drop difficult catches.
When it comes to stepping up to the plate and batting, things can feel a little random at times. The timing required to actually hit a home run feels like it comes down to the millisecond when not playing on the basic setting. I spent hours trying to figure out the timing, but more often than not, when I did hit a homer, it felt random, rather than intentional. There's a new 'Perfect-Perfect' system which requires precise timing and placement, which mostly always gets you home runs, but again, actually getting it right takes a significant amount of skill and timing. You can influence the direction you want to hit in, but you'd have to be a better player than I, as any home run I got inevitably went in the opposite direction to my so-called ' directional influence'. Due to this, batting feels like the weaker aspect o the game as a whole, but I suspect series die-hards will have a far more in-depth understanding of the nuance required than I ever will.
The animation is mostly excellent with incredibly lifelike player movement. There's an insane amount of detail to everything; seeing the players jog onto the field at the start of the game was a bit of a 'wow' moment with the impressive level of realism to their movement and likenesses. There's a phenomenal amount of animation work, and San Diego Studios have added more this year, which leads to a smoother overall feel to the game. Despite the improvements and impressiveness of the overall animation, It can be a bit jarring at times when players sometimes awkwardly transition between them, more resembling a puppet granted sentience right before the game. It's a small gripe and one I've had with nearly every team sport game I've ever played.
Backing up the decent animation is a solid graphics engine. The level of detail in players and their uniforms is at times staggering, with player clothing creasing with every movement. You can even see the threads and pattern in the fabric, further showing of SIE's impressive attention to detail and love for baseball. Facial scans for major players lea to some incredible likenesses with player-specific mannerisms for the more well-known. I do feel bad for the players with character models that would look more at home as NPCs in an open-world game, and couldn't help but chuckle at their inhuman appearance.
That level of detail runs throughout the entire package, with a wealth of stats, menus and true to real-world roster change updates. When first booting up the game, my brain stopped working altogether for a moment as it struggled to take in the crowded home screen. Between menus for card pack purchases, several game modes and heaps of other options, the home screen features multiple pages for players to digest. Depending on your view at in-game purchases and on-screen advertisements for them, the main screen can feel a bit snake-oil salesman in its execution, and if you're not familiar with the sport, navigating your way through it all can feel a bit like navigating the streets of Tokyo with nothing but a map of the London Underground.
When it comes to available modes and ways to play, MLB The Show 20 provides a bountiful range. From a simple retro mode, practice modes and challenges to March to Madness and Road to The Show, there's something for every fan. Whether you want to create a new character and start a career, or want to play out some of the sports most pivotal moments, The Show 20 excels in its varied offerings.
If you're a fan of the sport and are desperate for your baseball fix while the world of sports is shut down, it doesn't get much better than MLB The Show 20. From it's mostly impressive visuals to its satisfying gameplay systems and wealth of modes, there is just so much game on offer for those interested. It may be a be overwhelming for first-time players, and it's uncompromising adherence to making the perfect simulation of the sport, it can at times feel a bit lacking in personality and traditional fun for more casual fans of the sport. Those who love to dive into pages of stats and nuance will find a game that delivers in spades. While not quite a loaded base home run, MLB The Show 20 is an excellent entry in the series and is peerless when it comes to its accurate depiction of the sport.
+ Heaps of modes available.
+ Changes to fielding game are well implemented.
+ Wealth of stats for fans.
+ Best digital way to enjoy the sport.
+ Excellent tutorials and options for beginners.
- Menu is a bit hard to navigate.
- Batting feels imprecise and hard to master.
- Not all player likenesses are on point.
- Can feel a bit sterile for casual players.
- Commentary is very hit and miss.