Each year, developers of annual sports franchises work to create new experiences to try and avoid community criticism that each successive release is “just a roster update”. While real-life games don’t evolve much from year to year, developers still need to provide players with reasons to come back every now and then, whether it’s gameplay improvements, enhanced modes or better visuals. MLB The Show 23 does all that while exploring one unique avenue – history – to great effect.
On the field, MLB The Show 23 plays as well as any entry to date. Whether stepping up to the plate at a critical moment with a runner, taking the mound in a tense situation, or simply chasing down a routine flyball, gameplay is smooth and often gorgeous thanks to the new animations in this year’s entry. Even the commentary, often one of the most challenging elements to a sports game, is top notch.
On the gameplay side, new quirks further separate superstars and role-players, and various improvements to fielding (such as a tweaked throwing meter) make for more skill-based play. This may be anecdotal, but I’m also seeing fewer home runs this year, which is probably a testament to how casual, competitive, and simulation styles have been tweaked. Of course, if nothing is to your liking, you can tweak things in the extensive settings list, which I experimented with for quite some time. The list of adjustable settings is daunting, but when you first start the game the Options Explorer helps you get things closer to ideal in an efficient way.
Perhaps the centerpiece of this year’s new offerings is an excellent new Storyline Mode highlighting the Negro Leagues. Featuring eight players including Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Rube Foster and Buck O’Neill, these chapters provide documentary-style talking-head clips before giving you control over these icons from the era of racial segregation. I loved playing and learning about the greatest players and most influential figures in the history of baseball.
The bite-sized gameplay challenges are often simple enough to complete, but the reward of unlocking the next history lesson got me excited to check the last goal off my list. Too often, sports video games focus on the present and future of the game, but MLB The Show 23 shows that looking into the past is a rewarding opportunity for developers to make discoveries, especially when it comes to an important but often overlooked chapter. Ho in the history of baseball.
Over the years, my favorite mode has been the player-locked mode Road to the Show, where you develop a built player over several years. However, the maturity of March to October, which began as a story-driven single-season mode, took that title. The mode has grown substantially since its debut in 2019, now offering scouting, trade logic and more while still only letting you play key moments from each season. Franchise mode gives you more flexibility, breadth and depth, but March to October optimizes the experience of not only your performance but your team’s starting point, giving you a more dynamic and efficient experience.
MLB The Show 23 offers so many different modes that you can get involved with. From the card-collecting team-builder Diamond Dynasty to the history-rewriting Moments mode, you can take to the field from the angle you prefer, with a level of commitment that matches how much time you have. You can also hone your skills in an immersive practice mode where you can specify details down to the frequency of pitch types thrown your way, or create your own stadium, now with more options than ever.
MLB The Show 23’s action is fantastic, but the occasional technical or logic hiccup breaks the immersion on a semi-regular basis. From a checked swing clearly crossing the plate and being called safe (and vice versa) to fielders not covering the bases in some situations and computer-controlled runners completely misunderstanding the tag-up rules, every few games Unnecessary frustration reared its ugly head. Add in some traps constantly being phased in and out of foul territory, and MLB The Show 23 would definitely benefit from a patch addressing these, even if the overall package is already great.
Real-life Major League Baseball is rapidly evolving in ways to encourage play in hopes of appealing to a wider audience, but MLB The Show 23 somehow feels ahead of the game. Plus, the new Storyline Mode shows that the past is just as important as the future, giving players the best of both worlds. Myriad options and modes allow you to accurately engage with America’s pastime, and in the process, MLB The Show delivers one of the best baseball games in 23 years.