Playing through a condensed season of baseball in MLB The Show 20's March to October mode, may be the most normal thing I've done so far in a year where nothing is normal.
The year 2020 has been very trying so far, but video games continue to help us through it. Playing a bit of a classic pastime such as baseball is pretty high up on my list of ordinary things to do, and MLB The Show 20 obliges with its popular condensed season mode, March to October. During normal circumstances, we’d be watching baseball on our TVs these days, cheering for our favorite teams, and maybe even heading out to a ballpark. Firing up MLB The Show 20 allows us to at least inject some of that feeling into our gaming veins.
March to October
Getting through an entire season of baseball is a time-consuming venture. Fortunately, MLB The Show 20 offers its March to October mode, which puts you in charge of your team but allows you to sidestep everything but the most critical moments of the year. Much of the season is simulated, and you typically step in during the later innings of games or play entire games as an individual player hoping to make an impact.
After choosing your franchise, you’ll find yourself being asked to help your team out of jams, ensure you don’t give up a late-inning lead, and generally ensure your organization remains on a hot streak. This boils down to usually playing no more than three or four innings at a time, resulting in games that last about half an hour of real-time. Since about three-quarters of games are simulated, you’ll be able to make it through a season in a reasonable amount of time. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable options of this game mode is when you’re able to play an entire game as a single player. This will usually be a high-profile rookie on your team, or a recent call-up or trade acquisition. Depending on your performance, this player will play better or worse throughout the rest of the season, so your influence is quite extensive.
You also get to wear your manager’s hat during March to October, alas in a very watered-down version. You identify areas of weakness in your team and point scouting staff in the desired direction. Occasionally, you’ll have opportunities for trades, but everything is straightforward, as it’s just a matter of choosing from a list of three possible trade options. There are certainly more in-depth managerial options in the other game modes of MLB The Show 20, but for someone looking for a quick way to play through several seasons, this is just the right amount of impact.
The core components that every baseball game has to get right are pitching, batting, fielding, and base-running. MLB The Show 20 excels at one of them and is often very satisfying in the others, with a few notable exceptions. Pitching, in particular, continues to be very well done in MLB The Show 20. Each pitcher feels different, whether it’s the angle of their delivery, variety of their pitches, or even the impact of their energy and confidence levels.
Hitting can be a lot of fun. When you make solid contact with your bat, you know it immediately. Batters’ animations are very well done, and it seems like every little nuance and style has been captured. You often don’t even need to know the batter’s name or see their face, as you can recognize them by their batting stance. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to judge an incoming pitch. I struggled with distinguishing between fast and slow pitches. Every pitch more or less looks the same, and some breaking balls appear to move faster than fastballs, even though the radar gun won’t corroborate that. This can lead to some very frustrating outings, especially at the higher difficulty levels. Occasional stuttering and lag of incoming pitches, even on a PlayStation 4 Pro with an upgraded SSD, can result in some uncharacteristic desires to throw a controller.
Once you get some baserunners on the diamond, the controls to trigger steals and runs, are reasonably simple to use, especially for veterans of the series. More than a few times, however, I ended up making disastrous decisions, usually related to follow-up runners not holding at their base. I’m willing to accept some responsibility here because I tended to be rather excited during these tense times, but I did question the AI’s smarts on more than one occasion.
Fielding was, without a doubt, a frustrating exercise in patience. In-field defensive play was rather natural once you get the hang of pre-loading your throw, choosing the correct base, and still tracking down the ball. I found the gauge used to determine accuracy a fair bit too touchy, resulting in far too many high-risk plays on routine groundballs to short. Fortunately, even my average first baseman was able to corral most of my throws to first. Surprisingly, it’s the outfield where things get downright whacky. Long fly balls should be some of the easiest of plays to make. Still, fielders will frustratingly refuse to sprint to the anticipated catch location, should you accidentally disengage the sprint function even once. Did I mention that it involves pushing in the left stick? So essentially, if you have one tiny slip-up, you might as well give up and accept a base-clearing in the park home run. Your teammate’s AI is downright annoying, as they never display any sense of urgency to back you up, should the worst happen. I don’t have a problem if my mistakes lead to a dropped ball or a missed catch, but what’s frustrating is if every one of those mistakes leads to the rest of my team sitting on their hands, resulting in some severe damage on the scoreboard.
It’s a Lovely Day at the Park
Visually, MLB The Show 20 is a delight. From highly detailed and recognizable player models to smooth animations, both on the mound, in the field, and in the batter’s box, the only thing missing from the atmosphere is the smell of fresh-cut grass and hot dogs. The commentating team does a great job of providing a television-like experience, complete with reports from down on the field. Honestly, during this stressful past few months, enjoying MLB The Show 20 has offered a wonderful distraction and a sense of normalcy. It is for that reason, and the fact that frankly, there is no competition, I would highly recommend you check out this year’s version of MLB The Show 20. I focused almost exclusively on its March to October mode, but its always popular Road to the Show is excellent as well. In fact, there are more game modes available here than anyone really needs, so you should be able to find something that suits your interests.