The latest iteration of the long-running MLB The Show franchise has finally arrived, and at a time when baseball is finally returning to some state of normalcy. The popular MLB video game counterpart has been revered for its stunning looks and technical precision over the years, and The Show 21 certainly delivers on those aspects. However, in a time when sports games are evolving and expanding, MLB The Show 21 isn't exactly a game for everyone.
Sony Interactive Entertainment made pretty massive waves this year when it announced that the new edition of its beloved baseball franchise, The Show, would not be a PlayStation exclusive game anymore. With 2K's Major League Baseball series ending years ago, MLB The Show has been the main baseball game franchise on consoles, and it has historically been exclusive to PlayStation systems. That changed this year when MLB The Show 21 was made available on Xbox as well, a move that seemed to indicate enhanced accessibility for everyone who wanted to play a baseball game.
In a sense, that statement is unequivocally true. More players can play MLB The Show this year than any year in the game franchise's history. However, when you think about "accessibility" as everyone who enjoys video games to play some baseball, MLB The Show 21 doesn't exactly hit the mark. If you're a lifelong lover of baseball, or have spent years and years playing The Show, this new installment knocks it out of the park. If you don't fall into either of those categories, though, this probably won't be a very enjoyable experience for you.
MLB The Show 21 is a downright gorgeous game, and most of the mechanics have been perfected over the course of the series. There are a ton of options with the controls to allow every player to create an experience suited to their play style. It's the best baseball game to arrive in quite a while, to be honest. But what The Show 21 lacks is something that a few other sports games have already figured out, and it's pretty glaring issue depending on where you're coming from. If you aren't a baseball expert, there aren't a ton of opportunities here to learn, at least not in any feasible amount of time.
No matter how perfect the controls may be, and no matter how gorgeous the fields are, if you can't tell the difference between a curveball and a fastball, you're simply out of luck. There's a technical difficulty that comes with baseball that hasn't really been factored into the game when it comes to folks who maybe haven't spent decades on a mound. It's an incredibly hard game to enjoy when you don't have an understanding of baseball's most intricate technical aspects.
On one hand, I really don't know if I should be counting this against The Show. It isn't advertised as a game for people who enjoy casual sports. It's a baseball game. But games based on other technically difficult sports have figured out ways to bring others into the fold. The recent NHL games from EA are a great example. I know virtually nothing about how to hit a puck a certain way to get it around a goalie. I can hardly even skate. But the new NHL titles have found ways like the popular CHEL tournaments to even the playing field a bit and provide fun opportunities for those who don't have a lifelong relationship with the sport. By playing Ones and Threes games, I had fun and learned how to really control a player, which helped pave the way for me to pick up other game modes and not spend hours being disheartened by my lack of knowledge.
The Show 21 has no such avenue. Every game mode presents the same difficulties. You either get baseball or you don't, and if you don't, it's hard to have any fun. If you do get baseball, though, The Show 21 is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-produced game. Sure, many of the modes are a bit of a slog, but anything in baseball takes some time, considering the 162-game season. The system of buying and selling cards in Diamond Dynasty is better than any other sports game out there. Road to the Show is tedious and doesn't have much in the way of a story, but it provides a great way to explore MLB farm systems.
The multiplayer experience for The Show 21 hasn't been great in its first few weeks, and those issues have been well-documented. The game is constantly crashing, transactions are having problems, and players are just generally running into more than a couple issues when trying to play any mode that's connected to the Internet. It's a knock against the game, for sure, but there are still a few offline modes to enjoy that haven't had any problems.
It really all comes down to your love of baseball. Even as a fan who watches the game regularly, I've had a hard time finding my footing in The Show 21. It's a hard game and that's OK. Challenges should always be welcomed. But there needs to be a way to bridge the gap, especially with The Show 21 now being made available to a much wider audience. If it can happen with other sports games, it's time it happens for baseball's biggest title.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
MLB The Show 21 is currently available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. An MLB The Show 21 review code was provided by the publisher, and it was reviewed on a PS5. You can check out all of our previous coverage of MLB The Show 21 right here.