Baseball is back and more vibrant than ever in MLB: The Show 20. It’s a ball-throwing, bat-swinging sports sim that takes America’s favourite pastime and gives it a healthy dose of gamification.
If you’ve ever wanted to step into the cleats of some of the all-time greats, take control of your favourite team or carve out a playing career from draft day to a pennant, then welcome to The Show!
MLB: The Show 20 is nothing if not a faithful recreation of the experience of baseball. You can play as a single player or an entire team and battle your way through a huge variety of gameplay scenarios. You can customise a finals series, or knuckle down into a full season running your favourite team. It does everything that you could possibly want from a sports sim, with as much gusto as it can muster. It falls firmly into the space of a niche sports sim, alongside the likes of cricket or golf. If baseball is your bag, you’re going to find exactly what you need here.
The presentation of the gameplay in MLB: The Show 20 is second to none. As with industry leading sports games like NBA 2K, Madden NFL and FIFA, you could walk into a room and easily mistake the game for actual television coverage and, with the inclusion of some pretty snappy commentary tracks, it accurately represents the feel of a live event. Some of the career mode scenes outside of the main gameplay can be little bit janky and hollow by comparison, but that doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
The sound design is similarly spectacular. They’ve set up the “in-play microphone” and it picks up everything down to the encouraging general chatter from the catcher. The sound of the ball whistling in, the swish of the bat and the smack of the ball in the catcher’s mitt are all incredibly visceral and are faithfully captured here. Although nothing can really compare to the at-bat crack of hitting a ball out of the park. Timing and executing it aren’t as easy as it might seem, so when it does happen, the rarity of the event is matched by the satisfaction of the noise.
Another massive plus is the control customisation here. Each aspect of the game is laid out for you to specifically tailor the experience to your own style. Whether you prefer stick controls, button combos or timed power bars, you’ll be able to specify the right combination for each aspect of the game. The ease of setup for this helps you to immediately customise your experience.
If you’re a newcomer to the game, unless you’re Dr Karl or Stephen Hawking you may need a significant amount of time before you can come to terms with a basic understanding of the role statistics have on this game. When it comes to detail, statistics are almost matched by the overwhelmingly large glossary of obscure acronyms and shorthand that baseball has invented for itself. There are nearly 900 terms to learn just in the official MLB glossary (yes, that’s a thing that you can Google). There’s a certain amount of charm to how the commentators react and describe certain events. It’s the American equivalent of Cockney rhyming slang – you may have no idea what they’re talking about, but gosh darn it’s charming!
‘Road to the Show’ is probably where you’re going to spend most of your time during the game. This is the single player, RPG experience, where you take the reins of a new draft prospect who’s trying to make it as a pro baller. You’ll start out kicking around the minors and refining your skillsets. You can build friendships with teammates, start rivalries with opposition players and piece together a useful set of perks to make yourself into the very model of a AAA player. If you’re expecting something new, you may be a little disappointed, as it’s more or less the same experience from MLB: The Show 19. To be honest that’s OK, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s not nearly as cinematic as the experience in NBA 2K20’s MyCareer mode, or as dynamic as FIFA, but it gets you playing the game much faster, which is a big plus.
MLB: The Show 20 is a pure sports sim that has some excellently-integrated game modes which make the game much more accessible. However, we found a significant interest plateau that gets reached when playing for more than a few hours. Still, while the re-playability here may be a concern for casual sports fans, sim lovers will bat up gleefully to this faithful recreation of the experience of playing baseball.
MLB: The Show 20 is available from March 17, exclusively for PS4.