MLB The Show 23 Review — Baseball Shines When It Acknowledges & Embraces History

MLB The Show 23 Review Storylines Shine

MLB The Show 23 on PS5

Sports simulations can be tricky. With each passing year, this craving for a heightened sense of realism grows, which oftentimes can lead to a glaring imbalance in the final product. And while I would argue that no simulation ever strikes said balance exactly right, MLB The Show’s latest offering comes closest. Not necessarily because of everything we’ve come to expect from the series, but rather the steps they’ve taken to improve on past missteps. The latest entry from San Diego Studios plays the hits all while bringing history to the forefront, and that is where it shines. First, though, let’s talk about a potential sticking point for anybody looking to play quickly.

As I continue to learn through playing various sporting titles, the battle between patience and impatience can become very real. And every year, particularly with The Show, that is where things seem to break down most often. You can breeze through a FIFA match in 15 minutes if you’d like, for instance, and even quicker if you’re not playing Ultimate Team. With an accelerated play clock in Madden, not to mention an ability to focus only on Key Moments, an NFL game can be wrapped up in 15-20 minutes as well. Depending on what you’re looking to do in The Show, that’s not always going to be the case. Sometimes a game is going to take as long as it takes. Fortunately for the player, there are countless options to choose from — though, with varying levels of attention.

Road to the Show Doesn’t Offer Enough

To start, I appreciate when a sports simulation puts time and a particular level of care into their career-focused mode. Unfortunately, Road to the Show feels flattering than ever this year. There is little-to-no draft process, as your player can essentially just end up on your favorite ballclub if you feel like going that route. While NBA’s MyPlayer can certainly come off awkwardly with its fair share of cringe-filled moments, and FIFA has entirely done away with their story-driven The Journey series of the past, Road to the Show provides no story at all. What it comes down to, simply, is how often you feel like playing and checking off the same set of tasks game after game after game.

Where I will give it points is this: the option to be a two-way player now exists (thank you for that, Shohei Ohtani), and the options provided ahead of time are just customizable enough for you to set off on the path you wish to take as a player. As a Pitcher, whether it be of the Starting or Closing variety, players can focus on Velocity, Break, Control, or even strive to be a Knuckle-baller. At the dish, you’ll have the choice to focus on either Power, Contact, or Fielding. So, what about when it comes to playing through the actual games? Well, players will be prompted with Dynamic Challenges throughout the game, with a successful challenge resulting in specific statistical boosts. Not all Dynamic Challenges are created equal, of course, and playing it safe early on may be the move. The good news is that’s entirely up to you.

That said, there isn’t much more to Road to the Show. Dynamic Difficulty, which can be applied to just about any game mode you choose to enjoy, remains one of the greatest things this series has provided its players. It isn’t enough to save this game mode from feeling stale quite quickly, however.

Storylines Is the Best Addition The Show Has Given Us in Years

MLB The Show 23 Review The Negro Leagues Storylines
Image Source: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Twinfinite

There is nothing stale about this next mode, though, and it is quite easily the best aspect of MLB The Show this year. San Diego Studios brings The Negro Leagues to the forefront with their brand-new Storylines mode, detailing the journey of eight different greats from that era, including Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Jackie Robinson, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Hilton Smith, Hank Thompson , John Donaldson, Martin Dihigo, and John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil. Presented alongside the narration of Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, you’re able to relive moment after moment of some of the most legendary players the game of baseball has ever seen.

This is where the game’s presentation shines brightest. In general, MLB The Show falls somewhere between the FIFA and NBA 2K series in terms of overall presentation, with a high point being the impressive (albeit expected) visuals and the most glaring weakness being its commentary. Perhaps it’s down to the lack of time announcers Chris Singleton and John Sciambi have recorded together, but the back-and-forth feels both flatter and more surface-level than most sports entries.

Even still, Storylines shines due to Kendrick’s presence, as well as the inclusion of old video footage. In between each chapter, of which there are eight or nine depending on the player, you’re greeted with historical footage of some of their most revered moments in question. There are so many to experience, and they do not arrive alone. With them, you’ll encounter and be able to unlock plenty of historical grounds as well as incredible throwback uniforms. Not to mention, you’re sure to learn plenty along the way. And if you’re a Diamond Dynasty enthusiast, be sure to play these Storylines to the end. You will not be sorry that you did.

Oh, and for those who believe players “showboat” too much nowadays? Well, you’re in for a lovely experience. From the artwork down to the nicknames of “Satchel” Paige’s pitches, there is so much to love here. If there is one criticism to be made, it’s that this is only Season 1 of Storylines. Going forward, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this mode become a staple of MLB The Show for years to come.

Franchise Mode Is Almost There

By now, I very much understand that Franchise mode is not where the money lies within sports videogames. That said, would it hurt that much to include an Online Franchise for players and their pals? That’s what I keep coming back to more than anything with regards to this feature, but I will also say this: The Show has improved its Scouting function(s) drastically. The draft system is refreshed, and with the addition of “fog of war,” there is more of a risk-reward battle to tracking prospects.

Generally speaking, players will be very happy with the vast array of gameplay options to choose from and customize. You can very much play your way in The Show, and that can mean anything from how you approach an at-bat to how you feel like running the bases on any given day. As always, you’re not locked into one style of play either, and can tinker to your heart’s content. Quick Counts, which has been around for multiple years at this point, also helps if you’re looking to cut down on time. Though sometimes, there can be an imbalance between favorable and unfavorable count situations. So, be prepared to take that on.

It’s just that as always, no matter how many seasons you can either play or simulate your way through, I only wish Franchise mode received a little more attention. Where it doesn’t, though, is where this next mode does.

Diamond Dynasty Sets Itself Apart

MLB The Show 23 Review Diamond Dynasty
Image Source: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Twinfinite

For anyone who has dabbled in FIFA Ultimate Team or NBA’s MyTeam, you quickly come to an understanding that eventually, you’re going to be priced out of the best cards the games have to offer. This won’t necessarily be the case in Diamond Dynasty this time around, as plenty of the highest-rated cards will be available from the very beginning. Not only that, but a lot of these highly-rated cards can be earned simply by playing the game. What Diamond Dynasty really boils down to this year is simple: The more a player wishes to engage with it, the more they’ll be rewarded. Purchasing Stubs and and varied pack luck remains, but unlike the aforementioned team-building modes, there is more of a level playing field than ever before in The Show.

Captains makes its way to Diamond Dynasty for the first time, allowing players to choose one pitcher and hitter Captain apiece. Say you’re able to select Mike Piazza as one of your captains early on — that means acquiring more players from the New York Mets will result in a statistical boost for those players. Team Affinity feels as though it actually means something, and at the very least has a noticeable positive effect.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, Sets and Seasons make their way to The Show in cycles. That means at some point, players will have to construct different teams — or at the very least, reconstruct them. This, coupled with the general level of accessibility of Diamond Dynasty at large, makes for arguably the most enjoyable version of this mode to date. And that’s before you take into account all of the customizable options, from colorful bat skins and the lovely, sharp (Japan, Venezuela, and Israel just to name a few) World Baseball Classic uniform options to the downright laughable (Great Britain, especially) .

When it comes right down to it, like most sports simulations, players will get out of MLB The Show what they put into it. With so many different game options, there really is no right or wrong way to experience it. The lack of an Online Franchise can be a hindrance to some, but the accessibility of Diamond Dynasty gives players plenty of ways to compete. Likewise, Road to the Show does feel like a genuine letdown, but the addition of Storylines is not only beautiful in its retelling and presentation, but necessary in enhancing our knowledge and love of baseball.

There will always be missteps, but if MLB The Show 23 is any indication, the future of this series looks bright.

Twinfinite Editors Choice Award

MLB The Show 23 Critic Review

Reviewer: Shaun Ranft | Awards: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.