key: Studio San Diego | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment |
genre: Sports | Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PS4, PS5, Switch
Tested in: Xbox Series X
In the world of sports simulation video games, almost all offerings have become outdated and started to lose their audience over the past ten years. FIFA has increasingly leaned towards the ultimate pay-to-win team strategy via loot boxes, Madden has struggled to innovate gameplay, instead turning into a poorly realized story mode, NBA 2K seems to have taken a bit from the A column and a bit from the B column, and NHL Can’t settle on any one direction to evolve in. Against all odds, Sony’s baseball sim MLB The Show has not only managed to buck the trend plaguing the genre, but continues to deliver a comprehensive feature set at a quality level that puts all others to shame. MLB The Show 23 Similar to one of baseball’s rare occurrences, the standing triple; It’s not a home run but at the same time, so much has been done so well that all it takes is a little push to put points on the board.
The core of any simulation game is the gameplay experience. Sim games walk a fine line between being too arcadey and too complex. This challenge is often solved through how the player interacts with and controls the game. With each additional layer of complexity, developers risk losing more and more of their audience. Translating real-world movements such as running, fielding, and batting into a digital representation of those actions in a way that maintains the correct level of sophistication requires a higher-than-average level of interaction complexity. The show 23 Makes this interaction look like child’s play.
As sports simulation game developers seek to improve and innovate their game, they introduce new ways of recording information and input controls. What The Show started doing a few years ago, and thankfully continues to do, is allow the player to customize the game to their liking. Although the moniker “The Show” wasn’t always used, the game has been around for 25 years. And in those 25 years, Sony’s San Diego studio has experimented with several different means for the player to interact with the game. What The Show does that so many other sports sims don’t is give players the freedom to choose from the best and most popular interactions over the years. This allows me to select a pitch using a meter while other players can choose from exact, pure analog options, as well as many other options for hitting, base running, and fielding, allowing each player to play the game in a way that feels most comfortable to them.
Not only do these options allow players to play the way they are most comfortable, but they also offer a variety of levels of complexity for a simulation that is significantly deeper than simply automating more and more parts of the input process. Using legacy interaction layouts, The show 23 Maintains the franchise’s gold standard of dynamic simulation depth and scalability.
In addition to pure excellence in control programs, The show 23 Features some minor but crucial improvements that are so well executed that they greatly enhance the simulation experience. Instead of the simple net used to direct the player’s swing, there are three different sized nets all positioned in a way that allows the player to intuitively control the type of hit they are aiming for. So instead of simply aiming and swinging the bat, the player can choose to hit a grounder, line drive or sacrifice fly. And the best thing is that this is not a simple choice but a matter of skill, so if the player is not good enough to carry out his plan then he can do things that were not intended. This level of simulation carries throughout all aspects of the game.
The variety of control schemes and interaction interface layouts combined with the newer, almost perfectly integrated features that significantly enhance the simulation experience make The Show 23 feel retro and modern at the same time. The San Diego studio has been slowly working toward the perfect balance between access and an almost limitless skill ceiling, and this iteration of the program has hit it. A sports simulation game that can be fair, fun, and challenging for two players of radically different skill levels at the same time is truly an example of world-class game design, unmatched and proven by no other. The industry is even willing to try to challenge the San Diego studio’s boldness on the diamond.
No matter how great the game is, the overall experience wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t supported by a proper suite of game modes. Fortunately for baseball fans, The show 23 Ships in fully finished condition with all expected operating modes and then some. The standard modes like Franchise Mode, Road to Showcase and Exhibition Mode are all present and accounted for, but it’s the inclusion of the Negro Leagues Story Mode, Custom Online Leagues and Retro Mode that round out the game. The Negro Leagues story mode shines a light on a vital piece of baseball trivia that is often forgotten; Custom online leagues expand the breadth of the multiplayer experience in a way that gives the game legs in a way that any modern sports game needs, and the retro mode offers a thoroughly old-school experience at a significantly greater level of simplicity than the rest of the game. The pack of game modes and features offered by The show 23 is what reintegrates best-in-class gameplay for different tastes and needs The show 23 A completely comprehensive package.
While the gameplay and game modes continue to build on the long-standing legacy of The Show, the visuals of The show 23 Seen a significant step back. The franchise has historically been known for its amazing gameplay and stunning visuals, but The Show 23 fails to live up to its predecessors graphically. Some of the more famous players have character models that look almost as realistic as any of the players seen in previous game iterations, but others look like much more generic GTA characters. Minnesota Twins star Byron Buxton looks like he’s been scanned multiple times to get even the most accurate detail, but other players who play significantly less look like they were created by the game’s character creator. And the baserunner screen in the top corner of the screen is so pixelated with such flat colors and almost no lighting effects that are lifted directly from the earlier iterations of the PlayStation 3 versions of The Show.
If I can take a minute to put on my tinfoil hat: Sony’s latest speculation during Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision is that Microsoft might one day deliberately release a lesser version of Call of Duty on PlayStation in an attempt to damage the PlayStation brand. What Sony themselves might be capable of. The fact that no one thought of it, or at least no one was willing to say it except Sony, naturally leads one to wonder if Sony ever considered using this strategy itself. This, combined with their need to be forced by the MLB to develop the game for platforms other than PlayStation demonstrates both an unwillingness to develop for other platforms and, at the very least, a willingness to devise a means of retribution for being forced to do so.
Were it not for Sony’s comments, the missing visuals in my Xbox review copy of the game would have been simply just that: lackluster. But the perfect storm of these latest comments, Sony’s need to be forced to put the games on other platforms, and the surprising regression of the visuals in a franchise that has always been, at least in part, known for its second-to-none graphics. leaves little doubt in my mind. If you take off the tin foil hat now, the lower graphics can be reasonably explained as a game being developed for a number of different hardware configurations, and therefore not enjoying nearly the level of optimization as previously expected.
MLB The Show 23 is a shining beacon for all other sports simulation games to aspire to. Despite the less than fine visuals, the show Hugely satisfying. The mixing of some legacy control schemes and playstyles and the addition of some really deep game modes make the case for the triple standing that it is. The show 23 Hit three at once.