There’s a limit to how much development can happen in a game in a single year, and MLB The Show 22 is the perfect example of what hitting that wall can look like. This year’s entry into Sony San Diego’s annual baseball series plays and looks great like never before, but the limitations imposed by the strict release schedule are also more apparent than ever. A new cooperative mode is a welcome addition and an already solid stadium builder has been nicely expanded, but technical issues are also more persistent than in previous installments. MLB The Show 22 is still a really good baseball game — it’s just showing signs that it might be time to call a helper.
The lifelike recreation of major league broadcasts in MLB The Show 22 is just as impressive as last year. The way player-driven action is framed has a cinematic quality, with intros, outros, overlay graphics, and the extensive pool of stats that baseball fans have come to expect. The lovingly detailed recreations of real stadiums also look great in 4K. The lighting is particularly stunning; Real baseball games last several hours, and the in-game transition from sunset to a fully lit stadium against the night sky is wonderful. The afternoon sun’s shadows give way to 360-degree illumination as the sun goes down, and it’s easy to forget that what you’re seeing on the screen is still just ones and zeros on a hard drive.
MLB The Show 22 gameplay screenshots
This year, an all-new broadcast crew brings their voice to the series: Jon “Boog” Sciambi & Chris Singleton have replaced the Matt Vasgersian-led team as in-game announcers. The performances are generally convincing, and new voices are refreshing after many years with the same crew. However, the number of unique lines of dialogue is noticeably fewer than before, and lines are more repetitive than before. There were only so many times I could hear the same bad joke about the ball “just not wearing for the first time” before I wanted to mute the announcers entirely. It also introduces some confusing holes in dialogue, such as when Ken Griffey Jr., who appears with spoken lines in the Road to the Show campaign, is only referred to as “Number 24” when you play with him in games.
MLB The Show’s strength has traditionally been its versatility, and this is no different. Controls can be simple, with automatic base running, one-button pitches, and simple hitting—or complex, with multi-part thumbstick movements for pitching and precision hitting. The former is easier to execute, but the latter will yield better results if done well, stimulating and rewarding you for trying to expand your skills without shutting out those who want a more relaxed involvement.
Likewise, Franchise mode can be played in minute detail, with drafting into minor leagues, drafting, scouting and micromanaging budgets, or it can all be set to automatic while you focus on the gameplay itself. You have multiple options to correct historic mistakes that kept your favorite team from winning a championship and becoming an eternal powerhouse. It’s a design feat to be able to cater to users from casual to hardcore, but MLB The Show continues to set the standard for accommodating diverse tastes.
Although Major League Baseball is nearly 150 years old, The Show still lags behind this ancient sports institution in a few key areas. Beginning with the 2022 season, new rules will come into effect that extend the designated hitter to the entire league, but these are not reflected here. This is particularly disappointing as it relates to two-way players, including The Show 22 cover athlete Shohei Ohtani, who is a revelation as both an elite bowler and hitter. In real-world baseball, this rule change allows him to serve as both the designated batsman and the starting pitcher, allowing him to be relieved as the pitcher while remaining in the game as the batsman. Unfortunately, MLB The Show is unable to do the same. It’s the kind of problem you’d hope could be fixed in an update, but at the time of publication it’s a swing and a miss.
Online co-op is one of the key new editions of 2022, allowing you to team up for 2v2 or 3v3 cross-platform competition, either with friends or through random matchmaking. Players on each team switch batsmen while on the plate and rotate between pitching and fielding each inning, and it’s liberating to be able to single-mindedly focus on a defensive task. While one person plays cat and mouse with field selection, the other can focus on where to push and make strategic decisions around the diamond. There’s a joyous excitement stepping up the plate with a friend on base, knowing they’re counting on you to score the hit that puts them on a key run.
However, there are also some limitations to collaboration. You can play in random matches or in a Diamond Dynasty limited playlist, but there are no permanent teams or co-op leagues. You also can’t choose your opponents, so the only way to play against friends is through luck with matchmaking. Rotating defensive roles is also mandatory, forcing you to switch back and forth even if one player just wants to pitch and the other just wants to field. I played a game with a random teammate who was a really solid hitter and defender, but their struggles on the mound doomed us as our opponents drove in multiple runs every other inning. In its current iteration, co-op feels more like a fun proof-of-concept than a fully fleshed out mode suitable for online competition.
Co-op play often didn’t connect me with cross-platform friends when we tried to play together, and all sorts of technical issues were unfortunately commonplace during my time at The Show 22. Players would sometimes pose in strange ways towards the shelter, tutorials that I had disabled in the settings would still show up, I had to restart multiple times after freezing, and online games of any kind were prone to random disconnects. The stability that I’ve come to expect from The Show in general has suffered noticeably, which is definitely a shame.
Diamond Dynasty mode will be familiar to series veterans, allowing you to build teams of players from across baseball history, collected via random decks, and compete against other player-built squads. The concept is well established in sports games, but the execution in The Show was and is excellent. The programs return when the Battle Pass kicks in: you’ll earn XP by playing any of The Show’s different modes, and unlock rewards as you level up. Stubbs are your main currency for purchasing packs, which again you can buy with real money, but you still earn them at a reasonable rate. I focused on completing the daily challenges called “Moments” and was able to earn XP and Stubbs at a pace that didn’t force me to spend any money. In no time I was reliving the Seattle Mariners’ glory days of the ’90s, when Ken Griffey Jr. patrolled the outfield while golden mullet-wielding Randy Johnson attacked the batsmen with relentless fastballs.
A new Mini-Season mode is a very welcome single-player activity for your Diamond Dynasty team, allowing you to pit them against seven CPU-driven teams in a 28-game season, complete with a miniature playoff at the end. Between that and the returning turn-based strategy-like Conquest mode, it feels like we’ve reached a point where it’s possible to have a worthwhile Diamond Dynasty experience for players who prefer not to immerse themselves in the wild west of more casual human-centric to confront opponents.
On the other hand, the Road to the Show story mode is indistinguishable from previous versions, but it’s one of the best modes in any sports game anyway. It’s addictive to play as a created prospect and follow your player on their journey to the big leagues while increasing RPG-like baseball stats. Games often only last a few minutes and it’s hard to resist the urge to play just one more game, especially when you can see the ball well and make solid contact as a batsman. The few games per game I spent defending, framing pitches, and shooting down base-stealers as a catcher were great pallet cleaners between at-bats, and the stat-building minigames on days off are rewarding. It still takes too long to go from double-A to triple-A and so on, but Road to the Show is so much more about the journey than the destination.
The stadium builder has returned exclusively for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S players, sadly leaving The Show’s Switch debut a bit incomplete. The UI has been streamlined and building your dream stadium is now a smoother experience, with props quickly accessed from a radial menu. Your custom stadium can now be played day or night, and light placement is surprisingly strategic. Pre-designed templates can speed up the process, and a great mix of serious and humorous pieces gives you the freedom to create both classic stadiums and downright monstrosities. I built a baseball field with alien spaceships and a carefully lit (for safety) herd of T-Rex just because I could. It’s a great example of a feature that debuts one year and improves moderately but meaningfully the next.
https://www.ign.com/articles/mlb-the-show-22-review MLB The Show 22 recap