MLB The Show 21 review: Playing both ways

The esteemed pro baseball franchise expands onto non-Sony hardware for the first time ever with solid results.


SIE San Diego has been hard at work perfecting the video game baseball simulation with The Show franchise. For 2021 the series reaches its most important release to date. For the first time ever, the baseball sim is leaving PlayStation exclusivity and appearing on Microsoft’s Xbox consoles. This change expands the possible player base and reach of the franchise, potentially enabling it to reach new heights in the future. As much work was needed to go into bringing the series to a new ecosystem (as well as next-gen consoles), the game itself remains largely unchanged from the previous iteration. That said, if you’ve always wanted to try The Show and never had a PlayStation console, there’s never been a better time to dip your toe in the water.

A new lineup

Bringing MLB The Show 21 to additional platforms is the clear showcase feature of this year’s release. The MLB license used to be widely utilized by a variety of publishers, though in recent years, Sony had been the last company to sign off on AAA budgets for baseball games. 2K Sports gave up on MLB nearly a decade ago and non-PlayStation gamers simply went without a serious pro baseball game.

SIE San Diego’s baby didn’t simply get a port to Xbox—it gets the royal treatment. All features and modes are fully intact and Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game are cross play compatible. Finding online games or leagues just got much easier thanks to the potentially expanded player base. Even classifying the player population as potentially larger is a bit of a laugher. Microsoft is committed to seeing MLB The Show do well on its consoles—so much so that it is launching on Game Pass immediately. For Show players who always wished for more competition, this is like a dream come true.

MLB The Show 21 also marks the franchise’s initial foray into the next-gen consoles. Both PS5 and Xbox Series X are able to run the game via backwards compatibility and pick up some additional features and options exclusive to the more powerful hardware. I got the chance to spend time with the PS5 version of The Show and have been looking forward to seeing what cutting-edge hardware can do for the series.

The PS4 Pro versions of previous Show entries offered the option to play the game at an upscaled 4K resolution with enhanced visuals, but the resulting frame rate was so poor that the 4K mode was only useful for screenshots. The PS5 version of The Show 21 offers a single video output mode: native 4K with enhanced visuals. The biggest difference between console generations is the improved lighting and frame rate. Depending on the time of day, The Show 21 can look more lifelike than ever, particularly in early evening games.  

Native 4K resolution offers an unmatched visual experience, particularly on the various wide-angle shots of the stadiums where the raised pixel count gives detail boosts to spectators, signs, and textures. Uniforms look razor-sharp and, in certain ballparks, the blades of grass can be seen clearly from couch distance. Virtually all gameplay interactions are at 60fps, which is a big jump from the PS4 Pro enhanced visuals mode. Sadly, most cutscenes and transitions have drops to 30fps. It doesn’t directly affect gameplay, but it does manage to kill immersion and is disappointing considering the game looks largely identical to the previous entry by all measures other than resolution and lighting. 

When in movement at 60fps, MLB The Show never misses an opportunity to flex its high-quality animations. Real-life throwing motions, batting stances, swings, and more are identifiable without needing to see jersey nameplates. Some new animations made the cut this year, with lots of focus going to outfielding situations. When the frame rate is not seesawing between 30 and 60fps, the aggregate visual output is mighty sweet.

Most game modes move into 2021 without any big changes. March to October, the main season mode, is mostly identical to last year’s version. Road to the Show acts as a career mode and its biggest alteration is the removal of pre-draft exhibitions and their replacement with a series of questions for the prospect. Franchise mode returns in all its glory along with the Diamond Dynasty card-pack team-building mode. I’ve never been a big fan of these modes in modern sports games, but it's hard to argue that trading cards and Major League Baseball have not been joined at the hip for more than one hundred years.

The front-end UI and menus all get a reworking this season. I haven’t spent enough time across multiple Franchise mode seasons to decide if I like it better than the old setup, but it does look sharp at first glance. I was hoping for more responsive button inputs and menu traversal on PS5, but it's possible that everything was designed to be uniform across all editions of the game. PS5 gets support for the DualSense haptic feedback feature, though it makes no material difference on how much fun you’ll have and I might have missed it altogether had I not been looking for it specifically.

The coolest new addition to the game is the Stadium Builder feature, though it is exclusive to the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions. SIE San Diego gives you thirty different templates for custom ballparks along with hundreds of props so you can build the baseball temple of your dreams. When presented with the option to use dinosaur statues, I went totally nuts and made sure any home run ball had the chance to plink a tyrannosaurus. As with most features like this, the final quality of a given custom build job will depend on how much time someone devotes to perfection.

Retiring the side

As a big-time fan of MLB The Show, I am rather disappointed at how the next-gen version of the game panned out this year. The lack of a rock-solid 60fps and virtually no graphical embellishments other than lighting make things feel like a half-step rather than a new experience. I can fully understand that SIE San Diego’s attention was focused on some other super-important considerations this year, though. AAA-quality baseball is now available to all console owners (please Sony remember the PC in 2022) and the sun is shining on virtual big leaguers who are down for crossplay. MLB The Show 21 is once again an incremental step, but still an important one for the series moving forward. 8/10 trashcan signals

This review is based on the PS5 digital version. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. MLB The Show 21 is now available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. It is also available on Game Pass.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Review for
MLB The Show 21
  • Expansion onto Xbox consoles with Day 1 Game Pass
  • Cross play support
  • AAA production values
  • Stadium creator mode for next-gen consoles
  • Only an incremental game update
  • PS5 version is not consistent 60fps
  • Next-gen upgrades seriously lacking
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 21, 2021 7:30 AM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, MLB The Show 21 review: Playing both ways

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 7:41 AM

      Hi Chris, in your review it says "Stadium creator mode for next-gen consoles", does this mean that you can only create stadiums on the PS5 / XBOX SERIES versions?

      Thanks for featuring the BLUE JAYS in your screenshots and in the video review haha! I usually buy MLB The Show every year but they stopped having unique covers for the Blue Jays (i.e. copies sold in Canada) a few versions back which sucks.

      • reply
        April 21, 2021 8:04 AM

        Yes, stadium creator not in ps4/xbone version.

        • reply
          April 21, 2021 10:16 AM

          Well that's no fun :/ I wonder what the hardware limitation is?

          The Far Cry games have had pretty good drag and drop map editors on the consoles, which would allow you to add way more stuff than what's contained in a baseball stadium.

          Ah well, my need to buy this game just dropped quite a bit now.

          • reply
            April 21, 2021 2:21 PM

            The ancient CPU on last generation consoles is certainly the reason. It’s decade old tech at this point.

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 7:48 AM

      I am so excited to fire this game up later today. I haven't played an actual MLB game in years.

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 8:10 AM

      I want this game on xCloud! I don’t have a Xbox but I have ultimate. XCloud beta is happening now but I’m not invited 😭

      • reply
        April 21, 2021 11:23 AM

        I played it a little bit on xcloud last night and it was pretty decent. Compression is a bit high on the grass areas and I didn't try any of the advanced timing based control schemes since that didn't seem like it'd work very well but with a classic control scheme it was fun enough to play 4 innings before I'll never touch it again.

      • reply
        April 21, 2021 12:22 PM

        I had horrible lag when I tried this on Xcloud and could not hit the ball to save my life

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 9:13 AM

      I just installed it. The graphics are pretty bland. It's fine but I was expecting something prettier having not played a baseball game in a few years.

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 12:30 PM

      I am terrible at this game! I haven't really played a baseball game since the 90s and apparently I have no sense of timing at all because I hardly ever hit the ball lol

      • reply
        April 21, 2021 12:32 PM

        Same here!!

      • reply
        April 21, 2021 2:35 PM

        half way through my first game last night, it started to click. At first I was just swing away at everything, but of course you're gonna swing on obvious ball throws, so I focused more on the throw direction for a few at bats. Then I used the swing meter (I'm playing like at noob level or something but its adaptive, so I keep seeing "difficulty increased / decreased") to figure out if I was too fast / slow or on the money. And in the next few at bats, I got a solo HR.

        I'm using the directional arrow swinging, which I believe adds even more spin to the ball since whenever I use the Directional Stick to aim, I almost always hit a foul ball.

        I love pitching though. Granted I'm on the easy difficulty, but I was getting strikeouts left and right last night.

        • reply
          April 21, 2021 2:41 PM

          I can’t figure out base running.. was rbi baseball time with people randomly running and getting caught

          • reply
            April 21, 2021 2:44 PM

            oh lord yeah. Like I think I get it, but in order to practice it, you need to get a Hit first to get on base. After the tutorial, I decided hit the button to steal second, as I thought it would just more do a lead off. Nope. Easy pick off to end the inning. Then later on, I hit what clearly should be a double, but forgetting how to base run, my guy just stops at first.

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 3:06 PM

      I started playing last night and its fun. Also I fucking suck. The opposing pitchers threw 71 pitches. I only laid off on one and it was by accident. I have 14 hits with only 3 runs.

      I remember saving up for Ken Griffey on the SNES. I remember wanting it SO BAD. I loaded it up, played the first game and holy FUCK was I bad at that game. I literally cried (shut up and fuck you) because I had wasted my money on a game I sucked at.

      But I kept playing and I got DAMN good at that game. I doubt old fat me will play as much as young fat me but I'm still going to have fun with it.

    • reply
      April 21, 2021 3:11 PM

      There are so many damn options when it comes to pitching hitting and baserunning. I don’t know which control scheme to use?

      Is It possible to have large multiplayer games where everybody plays a specific position? In the narrative mode you actually get to play the base position or outfield position. Kind of cool. Lots of waiting haha just like baseball.

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