In 2013, Rockies’ shortstop Troy Tulowitzki sent a line shot toward Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. With ridiculous glove speed, Fernandez snatched the ball out of the air, leading to a meme-worthy reaction from Tulowitzki: “Did you catch that?” Fernandez smiled and nodded. Now, years after Sony boasted about the “emotion engine” inside the PlayStation 2, MLB The Show 22 capably recreates such one-off moments.
Those occasional ‘wow’ occurrences aside, there’s not much truly new in The Show 22. Because where do you go when, in gameplay terms, you’ve been on elite form for two decades? ‘Cosmetic’ is a straightforward yet strong answer, and richer facial animation really stands out. Batters take a deep breath, cheeks expanding, before entering the box. Complaints over strike calls look familiar to Show veterans in their body movements, but now the batter’s brow furrows, and it’s almost possible to read lips. In sports, this matters, even if it’s ultimately canned and superficial with no actual game impact.
Platform(s): PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Release date: April 5, 2022
Developer: Sony San Diego
Credit is deserved for bringing facial definition into MLB The Show 22, yet the visual package wanes in other areas. Glorious as stadiums appear from the batter’s box, when a ball exits the park, the Snack Attack concession stand remains, unchanged since the PlayStation 3, smeared textures and all. Angular, awkward fans defeat the realism during mid-inning cutaways. Grass poking through painted logos looks less like turf than a close-up of someone desperately in need of a shave. The jump to PS5 hasn’t done much for the graphical presentation - yet.
From inside the booth
If there’s a singular presentation tweak worthy of discussion, it’s Matt Vasgersian’s retirement from the virtual commentary booth. He’s called The Show since 2006, and while undeniably routine and stale in recent years, Vasgersian became the series’ voice. Replacing him is Cubs/ESPN regular John Sciambi. Despite the repetition (Sciambi doesn’t have 15+ years of calls recorded) and occasional inaccuracy, he handles the material convincingly. It’s a worthy performance alongside color man Chris Singleton, and together, there’s a baseline to build on.
The pair commentates a slightly tweaked on-field MLB The Show 22, notably with regards to fielding. Errors occur with greater frequency when controlling lower-rated players, with arm strength and accuracy now critical to consider. In playing through the mostly untouched solo career Road to the Show, some games prove painful; trying to get a jump on tight shots into the outfield or snagging a ball driven into the gap become impossible without greater reaction numbers. The plus, then, is AA and AAA ball feel like minor leagues, creating a satisfying skill gap when (eventually) called up to the MLB.
Ahead of release the dev team has been keen to trumpet improved ball physics. The year-to-year change in this department is subtle to the point of being barely noticeable, but behavior off the bat has undoubtedly changed if you make a broader comparison to, say, five years ago. Combined with the sound, nailing a perfect swing feels stellar, the authenticity marvelous. Add in varying degrees of rumble in the controller (a hard hit tingling like a real bat, albeit with no pain), and there’s no better effect in this genre.
March to October to March to October again
Gaining momentum, the smartly conceived March to October mode earns depth this year, including multiple seasons, and that includes the off-season, making this a speedier way through a franchise (while franchise mode, of course, exists on its own too). Given the MLB’s season length, March to October simplifies things, playing only key moments for a chosen team, plus their minor leaguers that can lead to surprise call-ups (and send downs). Yet, both these modes lack requested GM features, weakening their depth when compared to other sports franchises.
However, The Show 22 does boast cross-console play, meaning franchise save files can be shared between PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch editions. This hasn’t been missed since Sony chose to nuke the PlayStation Vita, but now with a Nintendo Switch version, portability again matters.
Although played largely pre-release, it’s worth mentioning online struggles (also with cross-platform play). Stability wavered wildly during sessions, even with perfect connections according to the on-screen readouts. It’s not a great start to a new two-on-two or three-on-three co-op mode. There’s no genuine depth to speak of (it’s only one-off exhibitions) and baseball isn’t that conducive to video game team play, but it’s a pleasing addition with room to grow. Players take turns between batting and running, with pitching and fielding duties split between innings. But again, missing that pitch meter timing due to a lag skip and giving a teammate fits isn’t fun for anyone.
Elsewhere, there’s the Diamond Dynasty money sink, same as it ever was, adding veteran Hall of Fame players into the mix. As a Mariners fan, it’s great seeing Randy Johnson represented, although the idea of needing to open digital packs to acquire him isn’t ideal. Consider the push to pay real money to access more packs, and it’s less ideal still. Besides, given The Show 22 recycles the enjoyable retro mode (complete with music mimicking the Super Nintendo great Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball), a better choice might be to include full throwback teams rather than one-off superstars, similar to what NBA 2K did when Michael Jordan became the cover athlete. There, full ‘90s era rosters were recreated for a true nostalgia jolt. However, keeping them pinned behind a paywall isn’t the answer.
Gripes aside, MLB The Show 22 remains a fun, authentic and comprehensive simulation, among the industry’s best. Ignoring the surrounding marketplace pressure to reiterate and innovate, Sony’s series sits alongside NBA 2K as the premier pro sports offering. It’s a consistent tie, both visually and where features are concerned – and we’re still only two games into the new generation. Meaning next year’s baseball vs basketball face-off should be a true humdinger.
Reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.