Covering all the bases

MLB: THE SHOW 21
From: Sony Interactive
For: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X,
Xbox One
Rating: (G) ★★★★

Yes, you read that correctly. A Sony game — and an elite sports title that has long been exclusive to PlayStation — published on Xbox for the first time. These are indeed strange times.

A sign of cross-platform brotherhood in a post-Covid world? Not quite. This was a decision made by Major League Baseball Media, the game’s co-publisher. Extraordinarily, The Show was made available on day one to Xbox Game Pass subscribers, so its player base must have doubled if not trebled.

And that’s a good thing, because this — as usual — is a good game. In fact, it may be at the point where it is the genuinely the most accurate sports simulation of them all, besting the likes of powerhouses Fifa and Madden, which are great and all but have plateaued in recent years.

The advantage baseball has over those other codes, in terms of recreating it in a video game, is its relative simplicity (ignoring the remarkable depth of statistical analysis) and its pace.

Most of the action involves just two people at a time — the pitcher and the batter — and while the ball fairly whizzes over the plate, the broader game action is fairly sedate.

So, it all looks incredibly lifelike, from the great stadiums like Fenway Park to the great players like Mike Trout.

This is the first baseball game for the new generation of consoles (I played on a PS5) and you can just feel and see that lift in smoothness and processing power, especially in the little details around the diamond.

Quick loading screens get you straight into the action, and while the game does not hold your hand, it does give you every opportunity, through tutorials and a vast range of difficulty settings and sliders, to create an experience that suits you best.

You don’t necessarily need to know a lot about baseball to pick up and play, but you might want a reasonable level of knowledge about America’s pastime to really make the most of it.

As usual, Road to the Show — widely regarded as sport’s gaming’s pre-eminent single player experience — is fun and deep and essentially offers an endless loop of gameplay.

As usual, Diamond Dynasty has lots going on but, sorry, just can’t compare to something like Fifa Ultimate Team.

And, as usual, the real baseball obsessives can do a full-on franchise mode and lose large chunks of their life to running a baseball team.

The real gem for me this year is March to October, the slimmed-down franchise mode that allows you to get through an entire season (famously long, at 162 games plus playoffs) in 9-10 hours, playing just the key moments and making a few simple decisions.

It’s not new, but it has been tweaked to the point it is a brilliantly concise way to enjoy the ups and downs of a season without having to set aside six months.

A new feature this year is ballpark creator, for the design nerds who want to create and share their own versions of Major League stadiums. Not my bag, but some will love it.

Oh, and if you were wondering, that bloke on the cover is Fernando Tatis jun, shortstop for the San Diego Padres. He’s just 22, and he is very good.

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