March 17, 2020
Sony Interactive Entertainment
SIE San Diego Studio
In the grand scheme of things, I generally feel like sports games get a bit of a bad rap. Maybe it’s a false dichotomy of the geeks versus jocks. Do people think that sports games are inherently bone-headed? In my mind sports games are such an interesting fusion of ideas. It’s a game genre where skill, strategy, and luck meet. Any play is only as good as the plan behind it and the ability to execute it. But there is a lot of chaos that ensures that luck is an integral part. So in this spirit, let’s talk baseball with MLB: The Show 20.
Let’s just get this out of the way, I am not a super frequent player of The Show. Like so many other sports games, MLB: The Show is an annual sequel. Each to there own but I have very rarely bought into consecutive sports sequels. I really can’t say I follow the zealotry that leads one to buy these strikingly similar games on repeat. In other words, for the super fans out there, I can’t speak to the specific intricate improvements. Instead I review The Show 20 as one who has previously only dipped into the baseball genre and this franchise.
The real star of “The Show” is the controls. It’s pretty rare that I compliment a game on something as specific as controls, but the customisation is too good to ignore. Most games will give you a few set controls, with some assignable buttons. The Show has taken some massive steps forward. Players can choose schemes for each game action independent of each other. Batting, Baserunning, Pitching and Fielding come with their own mechanics.
“…the customisation is too good to ignore. The Show has taken some massive steps forward. Players can choose schemes for each game action independent of each other.”
The best part of this control customisation is it opens the door to a fully customised challenge. I am a fantastic pitcher, so I pick the hardest version, to really work for my strikeouts. The batting took longer to find my control scheme. Funnily enough, one system felt too technical, but given the chance to experiment, I found the most complex scheme suited me the best. On the other hand, fielding felt a bit ungainly, and it was costing me games. As such, the ability to flip a switch and hand the fielding over to the AI was invaluable. Obviously I do have to criticise the controls for feeling a bit unintuitive, but either way I don’t have to worry about it.
So the gameplay deserves a gold star, but what about the game modes? Well The Show does what it can to mix things up, but there isn’t really much wiggle room. The standard game modes are what you’d expect. You pitch, you field, you bat, you run the bases. The only added layer to this is the management. You can min-max your team strategy and alter the fielding positions to make the most of the situation.
There are also “career modes”. Functionally these provide the same general gameplay loop with a bigger context. Other modes are just variants on the standard. Player Lock is a game mode that runs like FIFA’s Be a Pro, having you control a single player rather than the entire team. This mostly abbreviates the game as one or more innings pass between your handful of chances in the batting box. Retro mode is a drastically simplified version of the game, akin to a Gameboy game. It’s a different experience but it’s kind of hard to reconcile the vast difference. A nice palette cleanse but that’s about it. Best case scenario here is the March to October game mode. This gives you shortened games, starting the game off at the 6th innings, and mini challenges to freshen up the feel a little. But in the end, baseball is baseball, done well or not.
- Fantastic level of control customisation
- Solid gameplay
- Game modes are pretty similar
In many ways that is all that can be said in regards to MLB: The Show 20. I never expected this to become my new favourite game of all time, and I was right. Having said that, the game is gameplay-wise one of the best experiences I’ve had in quite some time. To some “best sports game” may seem oxymoronic. In truth, within the first hour I had been about as impressed as this game could make me. I’m not going to be dedicating weeks to this or fully submerging myself in this game. But for the limited breadth such a game has, The Show demonstrates how far you can run on gameplay alone.