Reviewing sports games is both the easiest and hardest thing in games journalism. As far as how easy it is, these reviews can essentially be boiled down to two things – is it a successful simulation of the sport, and is it better than last year’s game. In short, when it comes to MLB The Show 22, the answers are ‘yes’ and ‘not really’. Now comes the hard part – explaining why.
MLB The Show is a pretty accurate recreation of baseball. Part of me misses the arcade feeling of The Bigs, but The Show is special because it gets pretty much everything right on a minute to minute level. The precision pitching method returns here and feels like the best possible recreation of pitching. Cricket games, the closest in the genre to baseball games, have never offered this level of tangible control. Likewise, batting offers a variety of inputs that work best for you, even if pitching is where the game shines. Fielding still feels comparatively basic, however.
I also appreciate that The Show understands baseball is a very long game. I’ve long considered NBA 2K and FIFA to be kings of the sports sim arena, and it’s no surprise that these come from two of the fastest, most end-to-end sports on the planet. Baseball doesn’t have that, but The Show offers you the chance to play as few as two innings in some game modes, while others target specific moments (coming back from two runs down at the bottom of the sixth, for example). There are some purists who will want nine innings every game, but The Show does well to recognise that not everybody wants that experience.
The skill level works perfectly too with Dynamic Difficulty applied. With it, you start at the lowest level, though you can choose to start higher (and experienced players should), then as you play the difficulty adjusts around you. In practice, some people may not like the idea of the game getting harder as they win (or the indignity of it getting easier as they lose), but the gradual adjustments make it feel like ranking up in a shooter game, where you’re always wanting to push the little bar further up as a measure of success. It’s more satisfying than picking a difficulty you can cruise on, or having to manually decide when things need a change yourself.
There’s a good variety of game modes, but they mostly just involve playing baseball games. I know that seems obvious, and it’s not inherently a criticism, but The Show 22 has gone all out in the promos on the trimmings around the sport but still feels best when you’re on the diamond. That said, my biggest issue with NBA 2K22 was how frequently it forgot it was a basketball game in favour of letting you skateboard around a city and shop at State Farm, so I’m glad my baseball game just wants to be a baseball game. March to October mode also now runs back to back seasons for as long as you want, rather than being a single-time affair you can beat and move on from. Of course, stopping after a single season is fine too.
Graphically, it all looks a little too clean. Part of that is because baseball is slower than other sport sims, and is almost exclusively played on summer days or in clear evenings, meaning everything looks glossier, but there’s a shiny plastic look to it that feels more obviously like a video game than a lot of its competitors. That said, the Retro mode – which offers modern day graphics with the simple classic controls of old – especially highlights how far the game has come on a technical level. Shame the grass looks naff.
The game also constantly pushes Diamond Dynasty, its version of Ultimate Team, handing out XP and points towards the card-based game every time you so much as sneeze while holding the controller. I don’t like the invasion of card trading MTX modes to the sport genre, but MLB’s is far and away the most consumer friendly so it picks up points for that.
In short, MLB The Show 22 feels like MLB The Show 21 after a decent-but-not-major patch has been installed. If you haven’t played the series for a few years, or are a newcomer looking to dive into baseball sims for the first time, this is the best thing on the market. If you picked the game up last year, you’re paying for minor tweaks and a roster update, and you might not feel a new game is worth it.
Score: 3.5/5. A PS5 code was provided by the publisher.
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