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MLB the Show 22 Review: Gameplay Videos, Features, Modes and Impressions

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2022

Sony Interactive Entertainment

Like the sport itself, MLB The Show 22 continues to push the boundaries of modernization while attempting to reach as many fans as possible.  

Developer San Diego Studio pushed the beloved baseball series onto next-generation consoles last year and—for the first time—to Microsoft game systems. The effort was a resounding success and this year's version will make its debut on the Nintendo Switch, too. 

Fittingly, it's Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani on the cover for such an effort. Besides general outreach to new consoles, The Show 22 offers additional difficulties and streamlined features within key game modes to appeal to all different types of players, too. 

In the endless era of the annual sports game updates, The Show 22, at least on paper, has the makings of the best entry in the series. 

    

Gameplay

It's a testament to The Show's rock-solid foundation that frankly, this year's version didn't need a ton of help in the gameplay department. 

There's no major drawback or complaint with any of it across the board. Controls are responsive, snappy and inputs make sense. Difficulty can scale to the individual player and the systems available to the player, while sometimes intimidating, offer a depth most games simply don't have.

This utter perfection of the formula years ago instead lets The Show 22 further focus on the player-onboarding process. 

Like in the past, upon first boot of the game, players get to enter a practice session and pick from a handful of not just difficulties—but different systems of play for pitching and hitting. These are robust, notably different and great for all skill levels.

There are also two new difficulties: Amateur and Minor. Those take aim at making the game even more accessible to players of all abilities. On the difficulty scale, those fall just above Beginner, which creates a nice upward momentum to brand-new players learning the systems and improving at their own pace.

The Show 22 asks players if they'd like for the game to scale up the difficulty as they improve. There's no pressure to do so, of course, but it's pretty thrilling to see one's skill go from "gently riding up the entry ramp" to eventually "blazing down the highway in the high-speed lane." 

Which isn't to say there aren't notable upgrades to the tried-and-true formula. Normal, contact and power swings see bigger penalties to misses outside of the batter's box now. In that box, players can now key on one of nine squares within the strike zone with (Plate Coverage Indicator), adding a fun gamble to the experience. 

As for pitchers, a new Perfect Accuracy Region helps guide even seasoned players in where they should place all types of different pitches. It combines with PCI tweaks to make for a nice give-and-take between offense and defense this year. 

Defensively, players can now hit on perfect throws from all over the field, not just the outfield. That doubles as a smooth tutorial-type feature for new players and something that could create a big skill gap in online play. 

It's truly an impressive feat to sit back and work through all the ways the game opens itself to players on the field itself. Want to have metered pitching? It's there. More complicated swings and options? Also there. The game seems to understand that level of immersiveness and enjoyability will vary by the individual player and leans into that. The tools are there for each player to unearth and enjoy their preferred experience. 

    

Graphics and Presentation

It shouldn't come as a shock to hear this is the best-looking game in the series, right? 

A year ago, the first next-generational effort for the series didn't look all that different from the older-generation editions. But this year is a bit of a different story.

While character models themselves don't seem dramatically different, it's the little details that have gone into lighting and shadows systems, plus small things like the way dust kicks up in the wake of stomping cleats, that really stick out. 

Player mannerisms, reactions, crowd density and a whole host of new, refreshing animations across the board really sell the idea this is the next generation of baseball gaming to push the immersion. Broadcast-stylized camera angles, old and new, mesh well with eye-popping graphics and stats. 

Maybe the biggest name is the big shakeup in the broadcast booth. This time it's "Boog" Sciambi and Chris Singleton on play-by-play and color commentary. Reactions to the change will vary by the player, but no matter where one falls on the job they do in their debut, it's pretty refreshing to hear new things from new voices. If there's a big catch here, it's just how often certain lines get repeated, presumably because the backlog of years' worth of lines isn't there anymore (something about balls not floating past first base is perhaps the biggest culprit). 

Elsewhere in the sound design department, crowds just sound huge and react appropriately based on the on-field happenings. The crack of the bat is still wicked, especially when making good contact, and the haptic feedback on the PlayStation 5 controller is simply superb. 

It's worth pointing out just how well everything runs too. That almost sounds silly—it's a simulation-styled game, right? But other sports titles have oddities with player acceleration and such at times. None of that here. Besides just looking great, every player on the field seems to fit the action, whether it's a baserunner kicking up dirt or an outfielder going full speed after a lofting hit, which only deepens the immersion by quite a bit. 

    

Road to the Show and More

Longtime players know how this goes but new players might find themselves stunned about the headline item.  

Road to the Show, oddly enough for a video game landscape dominated by battle passes and card-collection modes, is still the main heavyweight presence for the game. 

The create-a-ballplayer mode is still stunningly good, from the in-depth creation and background screens to the journey itself. There's always a carrot to chase—players start at the MLB draft, head to the minors and have to work their way up to the big leagues. 

Along the way, they'll encounter some impactful conversations with teammates in the locker room and otherwise, partake in some mini-games and consistently hear oddly specific details and opinions about the player's journey in the form of podcasts and TV shows. The latter is still a shocking feat of technology, in part because it's never really done well in other sports titles. 

Narratively, RttS remains more grounded than the silly stuff that can unfold in an NBA 2K career mode or within other sports titles like Madden. But that just feels right.

As a bit of an exclamation point for RttS, not only does last year's functionally that lets players take their created star over to modes like Diamond Dynasty return, players are now free to create multiple ballplayers. That won't be for everyone, but it's nice to not feel so restricted while creating the first one and ultimately, long down the line, leveling up one star who manages to be simply amazing at everything.

Diamond Dynasty thankfully gets some much-needed versatility and brevity to the grind. A new Mini-Season feature has an apt name, as players get to square off against the computer for an under-30 game season before going to the postseason. In a fun twist, those computer-played teams are actually using real-world teams with logos and rosters created by other Diamond Dynasty players. 

The Faces of the Franchise program is a bigger time investment, but understandably so and not unfairly so. It spans 28 days and, like many online games these days with battlepass-like mechanics, boasts dailies, flashbacks and in a fun creative twist, even final bosses

Other favorites return within Diamond Dynasty like Conquest and Battle Royale. They're all back with minor improvements and enjoyable for those who seek out this sort of game mode. But as always with said mode, if this hasn't been something a player has liked in the past, that won't change here. It is indeed grindy and the barrier for online play against other humans is, in a word, gigantic. But those who love it might have a hard time ever booting up another game mode.

One of this year's big new talking points is the presence of an online co-op mode. 

This handles what could be very complex and convoluted really nicely. Players on offense alternate at-bats. Players on defense alternate between pitching and fielding, with the former controlling the pitcher and catcher for an inning, while the latter handles all fielding before swapping roles in the next inning. 

Interestingly, online co-op isn't limited to just real-world rosters. Players can also engage this mode through Diamond Dynasty, where teammates will get to select a few cards each before mashing them together for a throwdown. As expected with a mode based around card collection, matches can be wickedly lopsided, but it's a nice utility to have in the game for those who want it.

The saga between Franchise and March to October modes is an odd one. Franchise is still as deep as ever. But there aren't a ton of updates to speak on at this stage. March to October, the more streamlined version of franchise, seemed to get most of the love. 

This year, March to October lets players fully customize their teams instead of being restricted to real-world squads. And for the first time, players can engage in more than one season before the save file shifts over to Franchise mode. 

Bigger still is the addition of free agency and the ability to make trades. They function well and add some interesting depth. It'll be interesting in future editions of the series to see how and why MTO keeps becoming more like Franchise, but it's a much more welcoming, pick-up-and-play experience for the casual crowd. To its credit, Franchise is still the deepest franchise mode in sports games. 

Stadium Creator, which debuted last year, makes its big return and is as borderline intimidating as it is deep—which is a good thing. That's mitigated somewhat by the ability to choose between a streamlined editor or a more complicated one (just like MOT and franchise, notice a trend?).

The gauntlet of modes and things to do hardly stops there. There's still exhibition, home run derby, weeklies, postseasons and custom leagues to name a few. And in keeping with the theme of accessibility, the game's menus reveal plenty of control over sliders, rosters and quite a bit more. 

     

Conclusion

Like those before it, MLB the Show 22 is unique in some very important ways. Despite the lack of serious competition, it's still a stunningly good, deep-as-you-want-it-to-be experience.

And while it boasts requested features like a card-collection mode, its solo create-a-player mode is not only its standout feature again, but one the rest of the industry should look at for inspiration. The Show is once again a highlight of this year's gaming calendar with its stellar gameplay combined with RPG-like freedom and systems.

At some point, it's worth talking about how The Show's superb all-around package and wide-open arms to players of all types is part of the reason it doesn't have a ton of competition. That time would be now, as MLB The Show 22 is the best release in the series to date and worth a look from new and returning players alike.