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MLB The Show 20

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Sports
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studio
Release Date: March 17, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'MLB The Show 20'

by Redmond Carolipio on March 20, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

MLB The Show 20 is what baseball dreams are made of. With new ways to play, greater customization, and more exciting new paths to rake in rewards — this is the biggest and best Show ever.

MLB The Show 20 comes to us at a strange time, but possibly the right time as well. With COVID-19 panic gripping the nation and the world of sports canceling itself or pushing back the starts of seasons everywhere, frustrated fans need a place to go. For baseball fans, this edition of The Show will be as good a place as any.

The series has consistently taken the "less is more" approach to its overall package for years, adding subtle and effective tweaks to its gameplay, improving its look piece by piece, focusing on detail and sliding in new game modes to let them organically grow in the minds of players. One of the things I've appreciated about The Show games is how accessible they are to people on both ends of the spectrum of fandom. You can customize your game to play with all the widgets of catch-and-throw meters and analog hitting to immerse yourself in the pursuit of refined skill, or you can ease off everything and just hurl and mash the hours away. None of this feels forced — rather, the game asks you to explore it and find your own way.

I have always chosen to explore The Show through what I think is the game's true essence, the mode called "Road to the Show," (RTTS) in which you build a player from scratch, get drafted in like the 15th round and guide him through the minor leagues, eventually making it to the majors to carve out your career. Not only does this mode give you hints of something that feels like story progression and role-playing as you build relationships with teammates, but it can also expose you to every on-the-field gameplay feature.

What's slightly disappointing is that this year's version of RTTS feels the least addressed. There's slightly more dynamism in how you build relationships with your teammates through play in the field, but there are also no chances for negative, risk-or-reward repercussions during the vanilla locker-room interactions. You're always the one dictating how things go as a simple means of choosing which of your perks or attributes to address, to the point where you actually max out all of your supposed personality types and perks. I'm no expert on personality, but it looks a little odd when someone is a "captain" AND a "maverick" AND a "heart and soul" AND a "lightning rod." I feel like a person with four maxed-out personalities would fail some kind of test. I'm not looking for Mass Effect or even NBA 2K story depth, but what if you stink at the start of your major league career and teammates get hot at you, therefore affecting your attributes? Why can't they start conversations with you about things like free agency and contract situations and such? More elements to the human nature of RTTS, like give-and-take with personalities, has felt like the next logical step for some time, and I can only hope we see some of it in the next iteration.

One new thing I did notice during my RTTS playthrough was the appearance of real-life minor-leaguers. I am far from a huge seamhead, but I've been in Los Angeles long enough to recognize the name of Gavin Lux of the Dodgers, who actually broke into the majors for a spell last season. This might sound trivial, but it's good to hit/pitch against real up-and-coming prospects instead of random, computer-generated dudes. It adds an even deeper layer of authenticity in RTTS' early stages.

I have a theory about sports games, where I think cover athletes typically hint at the kind of changes one might expect in gameplay or what a particular focus might be. In the case of MLB The Show 20, it's the Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez, one of the more exciting and well-rounded players in baseball. He has good power numbers, so I expected some alterations to the finer points of hitting, and he's also capable of highlight-reel fielding at shortstop, hence his "El Mago" nickname (which means there might be some new fielding aspects). This time, the theory rings true.

There's even more satisfaction in the art of hitting, where the timing of your swing matched with ideal plate coverage can lead to both "perfect" swing timing and "perfect" contact, according to the feedback window on the left side of the screen. Such an occurrence is called "perfect-perfect," which almost guarantees either a laser to an open part of the field or a long bomb out of the park. Like actual hitting in real-life baseball, the perfect marriage of bat velocity, wood barrel and ball is rare, but a thing of beauty to witness and hear when it happens. You know when you hear the bat crack and see the ball jump off the bat. It never gets old.

On the other side of the ball, there are a couple of new wrinkles that add a little more fun to the action. There's the "first-step" fielding for guys in the outfield, which automatically determines what kind of jump and direction a fielder is going when a ball is hit into the air. The better someone's fielding rating, the better the jump. This epitomizes the less-is-more approach mentioned earlier; it's a simple first step in the direction of the ball, but it eliminates confusion on angles while still giving you the chance to play the ball however you'd like.

That brings us to the "extreme catch" indicator, a ball icon that appears in front of your running fielder to give you the chance to try for a spectacular catch — either a diving one or one at the shoestrings. However, there's some drama to this decision. If you mess up, that thing's bouncing all the way to the wall, and someone's getting extra bases at your expense. Every opportunity at an extreme catch is also a chance to extremely fail, which only adds another essential layer to the in-game competitive experience.

I've never really been a big Diamond Dynasty person, where you build a fantasy squad, build them up and play away. This is a feature that feels like a popular TV show that everyone watched but me: If you didn't get hooked in the beginning, you're probably not going to get hooked now. In taking a loose stroll through the new "showdown" mode in DD, I enjoyed its single-player, battle-royale feel and the ability to draft big-time hitters and mess around with their perks. This is definitely the mode for people who want to smash balls all over the yard, meet challenges and eventually get into a boss battle against an elite pitcher. The "March to October" mode, a newer part of the game, carries a little more polish and focus on season-changing moments, but the true baseball geeks among us will also enjoy calling up people from the minors and exploring trades.

My favorite part of this Show experience is just looking at it. So much of baseball is about taking in the scenery, and every year, the game keeps adding details that culminate into a richer visual experience. The ballparks are almost perfect, and I maintain that The Show series has some of the best face and body-language/quirk stuff I've ever seen. This feels important to mention because baseball is not a sport where there's minute-by-minute action all the time, but there's a "feel" to watching baseball both live and on television — an organic, chill vibe that rises in tension depending on the stakes and the time of the game (a lazy late-spring, early-summer game vs. October ball). The fact that my created player twitches, fidgets, smirks, talks to himself and chatters along with real-life players after throwing a strike or taking a big cut at a fastball gives the game a unique life.

MLB The Show 20 might not be a giant leap forward, but it's more than enough of a leap for fans to enjoy a game they're missing right now.

Score: 8.9/10

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