After the delightful weirdness of having MLB The Show 21 on Xbox last year, we can now settle into the annual pleasure of a new entry accompanying each real-world season. If you're coming back for a second year a lot will feel familiar, though MLB The Show 22 does make some tweaks to the formula (and it's even been wrangled onto Nintendo Switch for cross-platform progression). It's also back on Game Pass, which is always a bonus.
Beginning with the obvious, MLB The Show 22 delivers a full-fat baseball-sim, the only of its type on the market. Packed with real players, both from the current game and legends of the past, it has the usual modes and options you'd expect of a sports sim. In fact, in that regard, a lot is similar to last year's entry, making this a particularly iterative arrival all told.
To start off with the Ultimate Team-style mode, Diamond Dynasty, early on it has a few adjustments. The most notable addition is Mini Seasons, which is actually the best change in years for CPU matches in the mode. You're in a league of 8 and try to reach the playoffs to win it all, with some darn good rewards on offer. The other teams are reflective of the rosters that real world players have put together, and it's far more interesting and compulsive than the 'March to October' mode.
The other notable change in Diamond Dynasty relates to Programs, the 'seasons' and challenge sets that take up a great deal of time. The monthly Program now offers more player rewards than the 'bosses' of last year, but it's also a little more of a grind. The currency ('stubs') seems harder than ever to earn in any meaningful way, and we feel there are also less packs to be earned. It's still arguably more generous and organic than a lot of equivalent modes from other franchises, but Sony San Diego would be wise to heed early fan feedback and keep it that way.
Beyond that compulsive team building and the eventual online matches, the other main mode is Road to the Show. As was the case last year, you have a created player linked to your account that also feeds into Diamond Dynasty, but there have been some improvements. You have full control over position and play type, including the option to be a two-way player like cover star Shohei Ohtani, and you can even set up multiple custom players (with just one 'active' at a given time).
The actual career has some adjustments. The opening trial is now gone, with the game giving you the choice to play for a random team or choose your favourite Club. New presentation is included in the form of podcast-style input from various sport journalists and coaches. They're nice little extras, with the core experience essentially being the same - play batches of games, manage training and minigames, and try to reach The Show. It's as addictive and fun as ever, albeit adjustments from last year are mainly cosmetic.
The other main mode is Franchise and, despite the usual talk of updates and improvements, it is mostly the same. We were still able to trade away a contract with the Chicago Cubs that no club would touch in real life, so 'realistic' trades still don't seem to be in place. On the one hand it's a relatively deep and very enjoyable franchise mode in an era where some games are dropping the idea entirely, but it's also crying out for an update and additional features. What's here is good, but it could - and arguably should - be better.
Gameplay as a whole also feels familiar, which makes sense as this has always been relatively accomplished beyond the occasional bugs and silly animations. A bit of re-balancing has taken place, we'd say for the better, with pitching now being a little harder; if you mess up or your pitcher is tired, they're now more likely to hang one up the middle. This will hopefully reduce the pitching battles of last year, particularly online, when some pitchers were nigh-on untouchable. CPU difficulty is also up a notch, though there are additional easy settings for those that are less experienced.
Pleasingly, aside from the usual early server glitches, online games in Diamond Dynasty have also been relatively enjoyable so far. Connections vary of course, but at least in the early game we've had some tight matches with both teams putting runs on the board; we'll see how this evolves as the season progresses.
Presentation is still mostly great (outside of some age-old quirks in Franchise presentation, for example), with gorgeous fluidity on Xbox Series X|S, though the bulk of our play was on the more powerful machine. Though the graphics engine has had few meaningful overhauls in years, it polishes up nicely on the strongest hardware. Some of the audio is a step-up, too, with more dynamism and variety in crowd noises, the sound of the ball hitting a glove and so on.
Commentary has also had a major change, with a new combination Jon "Boog" Sciambi and Chris Singleton, reunited from their ESPN Radio days. The duo do an solid job with the material at hand, the problem is that there simply aren't enough lines. It will only get better in years to come as more recordings take place, but the commentary is repetitive enough that we may turn it off; that's a pity considering the efforts of the commentators themselves.
MLB The Show 22 is another brilliant arrival in the series, and once again delivers fluid and gorgeous presentation on Xbox Series X|S. The gameplay remains highly satisfying, while Road to the Show and Diamond Dynasty remain compulsive modes. While 'no money spent' is still pleasingly feasible in the latter, it feels a little more grind-heavy this year, so hopefully that will ease off. Elsewhere new commentary is welcome, but is too short on lines this time around.
MLB The Show, as a series, does feel like it needs a leap at some point; as another steady iteration, though, this latest entry is still a standout sports sim and a must for baseball fans.