These are unusual times. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Baseball decided to suspend spring training and delay the start of its regular season, meaning the only kind of big league ball being played for the foreseeable future is of the video game variety. Happily, MLB The Show 20 has arrived for PlayStation 4, making incremental but real additions on top of what was already a very solid foundation. The timing couldn't be better, not just because of the delay of actual baseball, but also since it's the end of an era: The Show will no longer be a PlayStation exclusive come 2021.
Much of what makes MLB The Show 20 a delight is in the sheer number of ways it approaches baseball. There are solid options if you want to compete online or you're the type who prefers to build a team through years of franchise play. More importantly, not much is siloed off, as just about anything you really enjoy can be found in all of the various game modes. And while the gameplay improvements are probably most noticeable to returning fans of the series, MLB The Show does its best to lay out all it has to offer for newcomers as well.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Sony Canada. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
- Lots of different ways to play.
- More customization options just about everywhere.
- Gameplay tweaks seem good.
- Still some creation options left to add.
- Franchise mode could use an online option.
- A bit of a learning curve for new players.
What you'll love about MLB The Show 20
What will you love about this game? The TL;DR answer is "plenty." That's mostly due to the wide number of choices you have on exactly how you'd like to play baseball this year, with every mode back in the game and almost all sporting some kind of new twist for this season.
It's fun to start with Franchise mode when diving in, simply because The Show is arguably the only sports game series on consoles that seems to make it an annual priority. As always, you can assume as little or as much control over your MLB team of choice, from just playing the games and letting the AI handle the front office duties, to micromanaging every little aspect of your team like you were ... actually, MLB doesn't really have a Jerry Jones-like meddling owner who comes to mind at the moment, but if there was one, you could be that person.
Along with the expected 2020 roster update, MLB The Show 20 has fully integrated minor league baseball down to the double-A level, so the lower ranks of your organization aren't just stocked with fictional ballplayers. It's the level of detail that you might expect only from a PC baseball sim, and made even more impressive with face scans, equipment and animations. Fans who know the stars of tomorrow before they arrive in the majors are going to enjoy the heck out of this.
For everyone else, there are the joys of creating your own custom team from scratch, with the custom logo and uniform editors that used to be exclusive to Diamond Dynasty now accessible within Franchise as well. You'll have to remove one of the existing MLB squads to do it — still no expansion teams here, sorry — and the editor itself isn't exactly newbie-friendly, but once you get the hang of it, you can easily get lost in uniform tinkering for a while.
Speaking of Diamond Dynasty, it's very much a big part of MLB The Show 20, as it is pretty much a required part of the current sports game landscape to have an aspect that can be summed up as "build a fantasy team, and oh yeah, if you want to spend some money on microtransactions, that'd be great, thanks!" But for lack of a more precise term, Diamond Dynasty doesn't feel nearly as thirsty for your money as similar modes in other sports titles, and nearly everything else you do in other modes levels you up and earns rewards you can use toward making your lineup better.
Calling Diamond Dynasty a mode isn't even quite right, because there are various ways to play even within it. New for this year is Showdown, which challenges you to draft players to form the core of your team and pick perks that grant boosts during certain in-game situations. This allows you to use some really great cards that would normally take you a lot of effort to earn otherwise, and the boss battles are a lot of fun. Plus you can win rewards to help out your normal Diamond Dynasty team, which is the best kind of synergy and very much in line with the game's overall ethos.
Regardless of how you decide to spend your time on the diamond, you'll be getting acquainted with the new fielding and throwing mechanics. Let's talk about the latter one first: The buttons for throwing to a base are still the same as they've always been, but now a meter appears above a fielder's head to indicate how long you need to hold down the proper button to make an accurate toss. It's definitely a bit of an adjustment at first, but it's hard to deny that it feels right. Making plays on the run in real baseball requires both strength and accuracy, and this is as good a way as any to do it.
Of course, throwing is something you'll need to do often, whereas the other new fielding features that deal with first steps and an "extreme catch indicator" don't factor in quite as much. They're still welcome, as is the "Perfect/Perfect" addition to the hitting interface. Put simply, you can now make perfect contact with perfect timing, and if you do it on a fly ball and you have the proper power rating, it's essentially a guaranteed home run.
That might sound like a bad thing when it comes to a game that leans so heavily on online play, and maybe it will be in time. But it also might not matter that much because this is a game that requires more than a little effort to master, which makes a great segue into ...
What you'll dislike about MLB The Show 20
Hitting a baseball is reportedly the most difficult individual skill in sports, according to scientists who have studied these things, so it makes sense that a baseball game should be challenging. But MLB The Show 20 can overwhelm with both the number of options you have to play and actually playing ball itself, so there's a certain intimidation factor here that isn't true of every current console sports title. The gameplay tweaks likely only add to that tendency a bit. It should be simple to make plays in the field, but that has given way ever so slightly in favor of realism, and while that's not going to bother longtime players at all, it might discourage people picking up The Show for the first time.
There's nothing to dislike about the game's visuals, as they are as gorgeous as ever and make one naturally excited for what this same development team might be able to do with the next-gen consoles. It's cool to see them used for the custom uniform editor, but there's still another step left to take, and that's to put that visual goodness to use for custom ballparks. This seems like an obvious addition; even though The Show has tons of stadiums already in it (even some historical fields), playing with your own franchise in your own park is just the logical way to go. Maybe on PS5 and whatever other platforms the game is headed to in 2021.
Road to the Show didn't get much new this time around either. Perks have been changed a bit to make them more like an RPG skill tree, and relationships with other players supposedly have larger effects on in-game situations (though it was hard to tell how much in a few evenings of review time). Almost everything else is exactly the same as The Show 19, which isn't a bad thing but also might feel repetitive if you sunk a lot of time into this mode last year.
Finally, Franchise mode is begging to be played with friends. Yes, there are other ways to compete with others, with Diamond Dynasty foremost among them. Still, that's not quite the same as setting up dedicated online leagues with the full power of The Show's Franchise mode. It's quite possibly the best in all of console sports gaming right now, and it would be great to be able to share that with others.
Should you buy MLB The Show 20? Yes!
Solo, online, Franchise, Diamond Dynasty, whatever you might feel like doing at any given time, this is a game that has you covered, and it's pretty much all good. There's something to be said for not changing too much when a series is already very much in its groove, and that's very much the case here.
4.5 out of 5
By making sure that everything players already liked was back in the fold and increasing the options for flexibility in how to play and customization for teams of all kinds, MLB The Show 20 is like a hardball buffet. If we're going to be stuck with only video game baseball for the time being to satisfy our cravings for the national pastime, we could do a lot worse than having this to tide us over until the real thing returns.