There’s a limit to how much development can happen on a game in a single year, and MLB The Show 22 is the perfect example of what hitting that wall can look like. This year’s entry into Sony San Diego’s annualized baseball series plays as well as ever and looks great, but the confines imposed by its rigid release schedule are also more apparent than ever. A new cooperative mode is a welcome addition and an already solid stadium builder has been expanded upon nicely, but technical issues are more persistent than previous editions too. MLB The Show 22 is still a really good baseball game – it’s just beginning to show signs that it may be time to call in a reliever.
The lifelike recreation of Major League broadcasts in MLB The Show 22 is just as impressive as last year. There’s a cinematic quality to the way player-controlled action is framed, with intros, outros, overlay graphics, and the deep pool of stats that baseball fans expect. The lovingly detailed recreations of real world ballparks look great in 4K too. The lighting is particularly stunning; real baseball games play out over multiple hours, and the in-game transition from sunset to a stadium fully illuminated against the night sky is marvelous. Suncast shadows in the afternoon give way to 360-degree illumination when the sun falls, and it’s easy to forget what you see on screen is still just 1’s and 0’s on a hard drive.
There is an all new broadcast crew bringing their voices to the series this year: Jon “Boog” Sciambi & Chris Singleton have replaced the Matt Vasgersian-lead team as the in-game announcers. The performances are generally convincing, and new voices are refreshing after many years of the same crew. However, the number of unique lines of dialogue is noticeably lower than before, and lines repeat with greater frequency than before. There are only so many times I could hear the same bad joke about how the ball is “just not carrying to first” before I wanted to mute the announcers entirely. It also leads to some baffling holes in the dialogue, like when Ken Griffey Jr., who appears with spoken lines in the Road to the Show campaign, is only referred to as “Number 24” when you play with him in games.
The strength of MLB The Show is traditionally in its versatility, and that’s no different here. Controls can be simple, with automatic baserunning, one button pitches, and easy hitting – or they can be complex, with multi-part thumbstick movements for pitching, and precision hitting. The former is easier to execute, but the latter will yield better results if done well, incentivising and rewarding you for trying to grow your skills without gating out those who want to have a more relaxed involvement.
Likewise, Franchise Mode can be played in painstaking detail, with minor league call-ups, drafting, scouting, and micromanaging of budgets, or that can all be set to auto while you focus on playing in the games themselves. You’re given multiple ways to right whatever historical wrongs have kept your favorite team from winning a championship and becoming a perennial powerhouse. It’s a feat of design to be able to cater to users from the casual to the hardcore, yet MLB The Show continues to set the standard for accommodating diverse tastes.
That said, while Major League Baseball is nearly 150 years old, The Show is still trailing behind this ancient sports institution in a few key areas. New rules extending the Designated Hitter throughout the entire league are going into effect as of the 2022 season, yet they aren’t reflected here. This is especially disappointing as it relates to two-way players, including The Show 22’s cover athlete Shohei Ohtani, who is a revelation as both an elite pitcher and hitter. In real-world baseball this rule change allows him to function as both a designated hitter and starting pitcher, enabling him to be relieved as a pitcher while remaining in the game as a batter. Sadly, MLB The Show lacks the capacity to make the same allowance. It’s the sort of issue one would hope can be resolved in an update, but as of release is a swing and a miss.
Online co-op is one of the key new editions in 2022, allowing you to form teams for 2v2 or 3v3 competition across platforms either with friends or through random matchmaking. Players on each team alternate batters while at the plate and rotate between pitching and fielding each inning, and being able to focus single-mindedly on one defensive task is liberating. While one person plays cat and mouse with pitch selection, the other can focus on where to go for force outs and make strategic choices around the diamond. There’s joyous excitement to stepping up the plate with a friend on base, knowing they are depending on you to make the hit that brings them in for a key run.
However, there are some limitations to co-op too. You can play in random games or in a limited Diamond Dynasty playlist, but there are no persistent teams or co-op leagues. You can’t choose your opponents either, so the only way to play against friends is luck in matchmaking. Rotating defensive roles is also mandatory, forcing you to switch back and forth even if one player only wants to pitch while the other only wants to field. I played one game with a random teammate who was a really solid hitter and defender, but their struggles on the mound doomed us as our opponents drove in multiple runs every other inning. In its current iteration, co-op feels more like a fun proof-of-concept rather than a fully fleshed-out mode fit for online competition.
Co-op games frequently failed to connect me with cross-platform friends when we tried to play together as well, and all sorts of technical issues were unfortunately common in my time with The Show 22. Players would sometimes walk to the dugout frozen in strange poses, tutorials that I had disabled in settings would still appear, I had to restart multiple times after freezes, and online matches of any sort were prone to random disconnects. The stability I’ve generally come to expect from The Show has taken a noticeable hit, which is definitely a shame.
The Diamond Dynasty mode will be familiar to series veterans, allowing you to assemble teams made up of players from throughout baseball history, collected via randomized card packs, and face other player-assembled squads. The concept is well established in sports games, but the execution in The Show has been, and remains, excellent. Programs return as the battle pass stand-in: you accumulate XP by playing any of The Show’s different modes, unlocking rewards as you progress up levels. Stubbs are your primary currency for purchasing packs, which you can once again buy with real money, but you also earn them at a reasonable rate regardless. I focused on completing daily challenges called “Moments” and was able to earn XP and Stubbs at a pace that didn’t coerce me into spending cash. In no time I was able to relive the glory days of the 90’s Seattle Mariners, with Ken Griffey Jr. patrolling the outfield while the golden mullet adorned Randy Johnson attacked batters with relentless fastballs.
A new mini-season mode is a very welcome single player focused activity for your Diamond Dynasty team, allowing you to pit them against seven CPU controlled teams in a 28-game season, complete with a miniature playoff at the end. Between this and the returning turn-based-strategy esque Conquest mode, it feels like we have reached a point where it’s possible to have a rewarding Diamond Dynasty experience for players who prefer not to face the wild-west of random human opponents.
On the other hand, the Road to the Show story mode is indistinguishable from previous versions, but it continues to be one of the best modes in any sports game anyway. Playing as a created prospect, following your player on their journey to the big leagues while you raise RPG-esque baseball stats, is addictive. Games often take just a few minutes, and it’s hard to resist the urge to play just one more game, especially when you are seeing the ball well and making solid contact as a hitter. The few plays per game I spent on defense, framing pitches and gunning down base stealers as a catcher were great palette cleansers between at-bats, and the stat building mini games on off-days are rewarding. It still takes too long to transition from double-A to triple-A and on, but Road to the Show is so much more about the journey than the destination.
The stadium builder has returned exclusively for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S players, unfortunately leaving The Show’s Switch debut a slightly incomplete. The user interface has been tweaked, and building your dream ballpark is a smoother experience now that props can quickly be called up from a radial menu. Your custom-created stadium can now be played at day or night, and placing lights is surprisingly strategic. Prebuilt templates can expedite the process, and a great mix of serious and humorous pieces give you freedom to create both classic ballparks and absolute monstrosities. I built a ballpark with alien spaceships and a carefully illuminated (for safety) T-rex herd just because I could. It’s a great example of a feature debuting one year, and improving in moderate but meaningful ways the next.
Source: IGN Video Games All