From first party Sony dev San Diego Studio and published by Sony themselves, we have MLB The Show 23, just in time for the opening day of the Major League Baseball season on 30th March. Somewhat unusually, we notice this is included on Xbox Game Pass on day one, but not on any PS+ tier at the time of writing. This is probably why Xbox players outnumber those on Sony consoles by a factor of six in the week after launch.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it began on PS2 and PSP in 2006 with Sony exclusivity until the 2021 version at which point it went cross platform. This is due to Major League Baseball’s insistence that it reach as wide an audience as possible, so we get it in terms of wanting to maximise their exposure. Unlike the Madden series when it comes to NFL, The Show has only had the exclusive MLB sim rights since 2014 so isn’t resting on its laurels to the same extent as EA’s juggernaut has been.
You’re introduced to the game, after a nice boilerplate EULA with some delightfully woolly legalese, to a matchup with the current World Series champions, the Houston Astros. At least that’s what happens when you choose a favourite team that isn’t them. Think of a combination of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea at their most hateful and just as smug.
Us, we’re Mariners fans. No, not Grimsby Town but Seattle. Until last season they were the team with the longest playoff drought in US sports, a bit like Southampton in terms of their perennial underachievement. Though without the threat of relegation due to the franchise system. The current runt of the litter is the Oakland Athletics who share a division with the Mariners, the aforementioned hateful Astros and a couple of other teams who are generally also rans by season end.
There’s a nice tutorial during the initial match where you’re gently introduced to the mechanics of batting, pitching and fielding. It helps that The Show 23 flatters you somewhat at the outset by letting you run up the score nicely before throwing you into the game proper.
MLB The Show 23 is very much the baseball equivalent of EA’s cash cow Madden and FIFA series, though rather more niche in the UK where this reviewer is based. As we said, we’re Mariners fans which equates to many evening games at three in the morning due to their being based in the Pacific North-West. Typically for us to get our fix we’re watching highlights after the event or hoping for live coverage at a decent time, The Show 23 does a great job of replicating the joy and at times, absolute futility of being a baseball fan.
This being a fully licenced MLB product, you get all thirty teams as well as AA and AAA minor leagues represented in game. Additionally, in the wake of the World Baseball Classic you get a whole load of WBC content and challenges into the bargain too. There’s a big focus on the amazing Negro Leagues with showcases on pivotal players in the league’s eventual integration into MLB itself.
The Negro League mode is very well done with video introductions and period uniforms replicating the experience of the time, without the simmering racist undercurrent and threat of actual murder that the players no doubt experienced in the pre-Civil Rights movement Jim Crow era. Even if it weren’t for the unlockables and the eventual trophy for completing the mode, we’d be playing it anyway as it’s a seldom seen history outside of Jackie Robinson Day where #42 is commemorated across the league.
Don’t get us wrong though, much like EA’s games, the focus is overwhelmingly skewed towards The Show 23’s Ultimate Team analogue, in this case Diamond Dynasty. Most actions in other game modes garner you with in-game currency and card packs. In the case of the NL showcases, you get the player from each set who is very useful in the early stages of your dynasty career. It somehow feels less cynical though, as collecting baseball cards is part of the fan experience stateside, if not necessarily those this side of the pond. We’d love a decent haul of real-life Mariners rookie cards though.
Besides Diamond Dynasty there’s the usual franchise, Road to the Show (aka Be A Pro) & March to October. You also have Challenge of the Week, Moments, Home Run Derby, Exhibition and Retro Mode. Additionally, you can go straight to a postseason bracket if you prefer or a custom league. Sony would like it if you played this and nothing else, thanks. Of course, they’d rather you shelled out actual money for credits rather than earning them via in-game actions too, that’s probably how they’re making money from this being on Game Pass.
All of this means absolutely nothing if there’s not a decent game to back it up. And boy does it back it up. At the tutorial stage you’re very much encouraged to find a batting, pitching and fielding system that fits your preference. We previously reviewed the arcade-flavoured Super Mega Baseball 3 and while fun, it isn’t a patch on what MLB The Show 23 has to offer fans of the game.
Road to the Show is a great way to start out with a created player and its down to your aptitude (or not in our case) to upgrade them via training and playing in the AA and AAA farm system to ply your trade as real-life prospects will have. If you’re good enough, eventually you’ll get a call-up to The Show proper, but if you’re as error prone as our two-way player is in the field, you’re likely to be stuck in the doldrums as we are. Good pitching and fair batting are great until you fluff a throw to the wrong base as we’re prone to do.
March to October is a truncated version of franchise mode, first introduced in MLB The Show 22, with rather less than the typical 162 game slate on the cards. It’s a cunning way to give you the feel of a season playing out, if not actually having to play every single game in a season as you do so. It’s all done in the name of accessibility and SIE San Diego Studio should continue to be applauded for its inclusion. It does give you less margin of error than a full slate does though given how the game extrapolates a few results across the season.
We could just carry on describing the modes, but you’d likely get bored of reading this, if you aren’t already. It’s probably easier to say what’s not made the cut in MLB The Show 23. One big development this season has been the introduction of the pitch clock and subsequently a much faster pace of game in the real world. In effect, a batter has to be set with eight seconds remaining on the count before the pitch takes place. If they aren’t in position, they take a strike.
Similarly, if the pitcher doesn’t get a pitch off in time, they can end up behind on the count too with a no ball ruled. As is often the case, the umpires have been maddeningly inconsistent in their implementation of the new rule, so we’re perhaps a little thankful that it hasn’t show up in MLB The Show 23 yet.
There was also the outlawing of defensive shifts, though their presence was felt far more in the real world than in the game. They might still be intact, but we don’t profess to knowing how they’re implemented even if they are still in the game.
One thing the game does well is commentary, though it is occasionally prone to repetition. This is far more noticeable when you’re playing the highlight moments. For example, we now know that Mitch Garver is from New Mexico and played with Alex Bregman in his youth, by virtue of being told this a dozen times as we retried the Mitch Garver moment over and again. This has probably pushed out some far more useful information that’s never to return, but eh.
Our kid expressed amazement at the quality of the presentation, which while not quite broadcast quality is impressive enough that the players are easily recognisable, even if they can look a bit wonky on occasion. We’ve yet to encounter a horror chimera like Abraham Toro’s avatar last year, but we expect one will rear its literally ugly head eventually.
In conclusion, we like MLB The Show 23 a lot to the extent that we see ourselves playing it way past the honeymoon period at which point we usually get bored of with the likes of Madden. The presentation is top notch, the sheer amount of stuff to do is staggering, the Negro League section is very well done and above all else, the baseball is great fun. If you don’t like baseball, you’ll probably come away as baffled as this reviewer is with any music released in the last five years, so probably best to skip this. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to play some more.
+ Staggering amount of content with new moments added throughout the season
+ Presentation is second to none
+ The Negro League section is very well done
+ Conveys the highs and lows of being a baseball fan well
- Some player avatars can be a bit on the scary side
- Commentary occasionally repetitive
- All roads lead to Diamond Dynasty
- On Game Pass day one, but not on any PS+ tier at release
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