MLB The Show 21 review: “strong in so many areas, yet also an opportunity missed”

Good news, in theory: MLB The Show 21 celebrates Jackie Robinson. While any year is fitting to his legacy, America’s pastime standing for racial equality as the country struggles with well-documented issues should be celebrated. Baseball – and sports – matter, even the interactive kind. Yet while Robinson is the cover star, it’s only on the pricier, beefier edition. That seems crass, especially as Robinson’s in-game addition amounts to a few branded, RPG-like stat-boosting items, and cards for the costlier-still Diamond Dynasty mode. However well-intentioned, his inclusion could have been better handled. More on that shortly…

Fast Facts: MLB The Show 21

MLB The Show 21

(Image credit: Sony)

Release date: April 20, 2021
Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony
Platform: PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X / Xbox One

It’s not only the push for equality which has made for a 12-month period like no other. During that time fan attendance at sports events has been either limited or banned completely, yet MLB The Show 21 doesn’t contend with this new normal. Other pro sports games failed there too, like NBA 2K21’s inability to reconcile the league’s prominent statements against police violence, but its commentary at least mentions COVID and the unusual season. Nothing in The Show 21 does, and every stadium is stuffed with fans, akin to the controversial Texas Rangers’ opening day sellout with 40,000+ people in attendance. That’s a lot of skirting reality for a series applauded for authenticity.

There’s a powerful caveat though: where it matters – out on the field – MLB The Show 21 is still a notable, impressive simulation, up there with the sporting elite. For instance, added fielding animations bring a weightier feel when chasing liners or pop-ups. PS5 advancements boost facial expressions, and while imperfect, they capture the frustration on a pitcher’s face after giving up a hit or a coach screaming over a botched strike call from the dugout.

MLB The Show 21

(Image credit: Sony)

With Matt Vasgersian returning on the call (the best in the video game sports commentary world alongside NBA 2K’s Kevin Harlan) and authentic MLB Network graphics and music, it’s a series still near-indistinguishable from broadcasts, with or without major visual upgrades on PS5… and mostly without. Next-gen improvements concern lighting, especially outside stadiums. Passing sun casts different shadows on buildings, particularly somewhere like Detroit as the park is surrounded by downtown.

Speed-demon baseball

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