A few weeks ago, spring’s annual crack of the bat was in question as MLB’s lockout dragged on. The players and league eventually came to an agreement, and the season was delayed slightly, but no games will be lost. As of this writing, we are just a week away from the first pitch being thrown on April 7. Sony’s MLB The Show series usually hits a few weeks in advance of the MLB season starting, but this year’s installment hits the streets just two days before it on April 5 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and, for the first time, on Switch.
I just got my hands on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Switch versions, and will be updating this story throughout the day and weekend with initial impressions of my time on the diamond. Sony is saying that the hitting, pitching, and fielding are improved, and the audio commentary is coming from a different team. Players can also dive into a new online cooperative mode and can expect improvements in all of the series’ core avenues of play, including Franchise, Road to the Show, and Diamond Dynasty.
I’m beginning my impressions with the PlayStation 5 version. The first thing you’ll see is a short video of Shohei Ohtani revealing more of his path into baseball. After that, for returning players, you’ll receive some rewards for coming back for another season. Here’s what I received:
Before reaching the main menu, you select your favorite team, and then are given the option to enter a practice game to select which gameplay styles work for you. I recommend going through this process to get a hang of the gameplay again and to figure out which pitching and batting systems you want to use.
The new online co-op mode is front and center on the main menu, inviting players to play 2v2 or 3v3. This will be my first avenue of play. You can see what this mode has to offer in the trailer below:
When entering Diamond Dynasty, before you can view anything, you will first need to complete five missions. As always, the game gives you a default squad to work with. Here’s mine:
The first mission pits you against the New York Yankees in the bottom of the ninth. You are at the dish with runners on first and second. In my instance, I managed to send the first pitch over the right field wall to win the game and complete the mission. I received two cards as a reward: one of which is Vinny Castilla (72).
Since people who preordered the game get a four-day headstart on playing, I had no problem finding a teammate for my first cooperative game. We were greatly outmatched in terms of lineup. Before the action starts, both players select a handful of cards from their collections to use during that game (meaning you could use some Legends you never earn on your own). Our opponents must have opened a few packs to have Fernado Tatis Jr., Rickey Henderson, Joe Mauer, Giancarlo Stanton, and more jaw-dropping power in their lineup.
Matchmaking worked quickly, teaming me with my teammate in seconds, and finding opponents within 30 to 40. As you would expect, in a 2v2 game, you and your teammate alternate at bats. If someone gets on base, the player not batting becomes the baserunner. For the fielding, one player pitches for an entire inning, and controls the pitcher and catcher for that entire inning, too, meaning that this player handles steals and most bunts. The other player fields. Any player can enter the pause menu to get the bullpen active. If you are fielding, your view is behind the pitcher until the ball is put in play – allowing for you to get a good look at the pitch locations (you just don’t see your teammate’s meters).
We experienced a little latency in our game, but it was mostly smooth. We ended up netting 12 hits to their five, but two of their five were home runs. We left the bases loaded twice in our nine-inning game. One scoring chance was squashed by a groundball that was hit up the middle into a shift. The final score was 2-0. We played our hearts out but it wasn’t enough.
The gameplay was nice and smooth, but I didn’t see much that was visually different from last year. That said, it’s still a hell of a game. Every fielding animation fit to the moment, player speeds seemed right both on the base paths and in the field, and the pitching/batting battle was as exciting as always. I like that you can see the PCI for your teammate to see just how close they came to squaring one up.
The video above shows one of the packs I opened. I still don’t have any 90-plus players, but I am only 4,500 studs shy of a Big Dog pack, which gives me one Diamond player that is rare 90 overall and base 85-plus. I’m digging the card designs this year, especially those tied to the timed Faces of the Franchise program which ends in 28 days. Faces of the Franchise offers daily moments, featured program moments, Legends and Flashback missions, and a final boss showdown. XP for this battle pass-like path can also come from standard games, collections, and exchanges.
The only other program listed at launch gets you a Babe Ruth card at its conclusion. This challenge simply asks that you complete one mini-season game, and tally a number of basic baseball achievements, like getting five hits.
Diamond Dynasty’s menus and avenues of play are again a bit overwhelming and hard to understand at first glance, but deliver plenty of exciting paths for players to earn rewards in and spend plenty of time.
I took a glance at a few rosters and they are all as current as you would hope. Carlos Correa is on the Minnesota Twins and Marcus Stroman is wearing his Cubs pinstripes. Rookies who are promoted from the minors and out-of-league signings like Seiya Suzuki are not yet in the game, and must first play five innings before they can be added (or be on any merchandise). With that in mind, you may want to hold off until the start of the real MLB season before starting Franchise mode or any roster-based activity. The best avenue at play at this point is Diamond Dynasty.