If you haven’t heard, baseball has been postponed indefinitely. Well, all sports have been postponed, as has most of life in general, but baseball is the annual indicator of warm weather and lazy summer days, and this year, everything feels off. In more ways than one. Luckily, San Diego Studio has the backs of baseball fans, as usual, as MLB The Show 20 is out now on the PS4 to keep our minds off coronavirus, COVID-19, quarantines, and even sign-stealing scandals.
MLB The Show 20 has all the features that baseball fans love, and there’s a reason it has such a following that the game’s fanbase calls itself “The Show Nation.” This game is stacked with game modes. In addition to the usual Franchise, Diamond Dynasty, March to October, and Road to the Show modes, Sony has added new games for Diamond Dynasty to flesh out the baseball experience.
The highlights of these submodes include Moments, which allows the player to recreate iconic confrontations and situations throughout baseball’s long and storied history, and the new Showdown, which uses these Moments-like scenarios to create unique curated journeys with some killer rewards, like high-level player cards that can be used in other DD modes.
Other DD favorites, like Ranked Seasons, Events, Battle Royale, and Conquest, return, giving players variety in how they enjoy the gorgeously simulated game of baseball.
MLB The Show 20 also expanded the Road to the Show, RPG-like mode, to give the player more control of their character’s major league career. There is more emphasis on relationships in this year’s game, as a leader in the clubhouse can trigger his teammates to perform better, and a “lightning rod”-type of player can spark others to step up when the team is down late in the game.
New dynamic challenges pop up during games which, if completed, also help give the character some needed stat boosts. This was a new feature last year, but they seem to come with more frequency in this year’s game.
All of the amazing features in RTTS are still there, and the player has so much control in how their character physically looks, plays, is equipped, and can even set HR calls and walk-up music.
Custom Seasons are another new feature in MLB The Show 20. This allows players to join friends to create leagues and play a full baseball season with real teams, or their Diamond Dynasty teams. League commissioners can set the rules, creating a true custom league to fit your play style.
But no matter how many game modes are in MLB The Show 20, none of it matters if the gameplay isn’t up to the same level, and that’s where The Show seems to be stuck in the minors. San Diego Studio overhauled the fielding system this year, adding more emphasis on core ability, and unfortunately, the results are mixed.
I’ve seen superstar players, like Ken Griffey Jr. bumble a can-of-corn pop up, though he was in a perfect position to make the catch. His fielding ranking was a high-gold. And the AI seemed to realize it made a mistake, as when the ball rolled away from Junior, he comically chased after it, running as fast as Barry Allen, and got the ball back into the infield.
I’ve also had to super fun experience of playing in a close game, and then having first baseman David Ortiz field a grounder, and when I hit the circle button for him to take ONE STEP to the left to touch the bag, instead he decided to comically wind sprint toward the opposing teams dugout — on the third base line. David Ortiz has never ran that fast in his life. These are but two of the many glitches I have personally witnessed in my games.
YouTube is full of other off-the-wall defensive blunders from MLB The Show 20, including balls that got past outfielders and rolled to the warning track, and yet the player suddenly appeared to have the ball and threw it to second for the out — because the player saw the ball get past and decided for the extra base.
Hitting got some love this year as well with a new hitting tier, Perfect, which should mean good things if you get a Perfect contact and Perfect swing (it’s called a “Perfect-Perfect”). But I’ve personally seen Perfect-Perfect line drives go right to a waiting outfielder, and Perfect-Perfect grounders turn into double plays. What’s the incentive to try for a Perfect-Perfect with the plate coverage interface (PCI) if it doesn’t reward you for nailing it?
I can also tell when the game’s AI has decided that my pitcher is going to struggle in a game, as he can’t hit the strike zone with any regularity, no matter how well I place it and hit my spots on the pitch meter. And opposing batters can foul off eight, nine, and 10 pitches in an at-bat, which burns through my guy’s arm. When the AI decides that this is a game I should lose, everything goes wrong. Errors happen with great frequency, and three-inning DD games suddenly become nine-inning affairs. Fun.
It’s mind boggling that these errors are present in a game that gets so much else right. To put it bluntly, MLB The Show 20 needs to be re-balanced by the developers, and part of this issue might stem from the current coronavirus pandemic, as they too are stuck at home and cannot update the game as it needs to be updated, short of turning on weekly events and monthly programs, all of which were most likely pre-programmed into the code before the game even shipped.
So, players are stuck with an experience that’s full of gameplay bugs that can cause frustrations, and until San Diego Studio opens up shop again, may not be fixed. And it’s not just the bugs that hold this game back. Too often, the announcers will reuse lines of dialogue from previous seasons. Seriously, how many years in a row is Matt Vasgersian gonna call Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras a “young catcher”?! He’s 27 and has been in the league for four years.
While all of that is just scratching the surface in terms of issues in MLB The Show 20, the dedication to realism in other areas is astounding. Player models look fantastic, as do the stadiums. Playing the game with headphones on can single out the chatter from the crowd, and it is spot-on, game-specific stuff. Fans will bark at umpires for bad calls and I swear I can hear garbage cans being hit in the dugout at the Astros home park.
San Diego Studio knows the game of baseball inside and out, and they have recreated it — for good or bad — in a level of detail that other sports games can only dream of. Hopefully, they are reading the thousands of comments on social media and even their own Twitch streams, as fans demand: “fix ur game.”
MLB The Show 20 is a mixed bag this year, offering some form of the sport fans know and love, but bungling it in certain areas to create a mind-numbingly frustrating experience. If you can look past these bugs and glitches, there are a ton of neat things to do in this game, and the errors aren’t enough to just skip it this season. For the immediate future, MLB The Show 20 is the only baseball we have, and bad baseball is still baseball. And I say that as a lifelong Cubs fan.
MLB The Show 20 is available now for the PlayStation 4. This review is based on a copy of the game purchased at retail.