2021 is going to be a very big year for San Diego Studio and MLB The Show. The launch of a new console generation is always a catalyst for hype and expectations, and MLB The Show will be no different. The potential for new consumers on Xbox Series X (and hopefully PC) — perhaps as early as 2021 — only adds to the excitement surrounding the series. In fact, MLB The Show 21 might be the most intriguing next-gen sports game purely because it will be going multi-platform at some point.
But what should we fans expect as baseball takes the next step into a new inning? Better graphics? New player models? Create-a-stadium? What’s reasonable? What can the past tell us?
To get a decent idea of how San Diego Studio will take advantage of MLB The Show 21, it’s important we step back seven years and examine the jump from MLB The Show 13 to MLB The Show 14. In other words, the jump from PS3 to PS4.
MLB The Show 14 On PS4
The jump from the PS3 to PS4 was a big one for sports gaming. While this article obviously isn’t centered around NBA 2K, it’s important in the context of what’s possible. The graphical fidelity from NBA 2K13 to NBA 2K14 was substantial. Player models and lighting took an enormous jump forward. While that was an “emphasis” moving from MLB The Show 13 to MLB The Show 14, it paled in comparison to its basketball counterpart.
San Diego Studio clearly put some resources into graphics in MLB The Show 14. Graphics improved a bit. Crowd models were enhanced and variability of the fans themselves certainly stood out. Improvements in the stands led to a more immersive experience on the field. That said, the product on the field lagged behind.
Lighting on players’ helmets and jerseys definitely took a step forward, and player face models in some cases also took a step forward. On top of that, the facial hair certainly improved. Still, it wasn’t the jump most expected. The leap felt like a step forward, but it didn’t feel like a “generational” leap from console to console. It was progress, but it wasn’t eye-popping.
Beyond the players, the stadiums looked a bit better, and the grass looked a shade more realistic, but it felt in line with the moderate improvements to the player models. Ball physics also improved, but most critics like myself didn’t feel as though that sort of upgrade should be attributed to more horsepower under the hood. At the end of the day, MLB The Show 14 was certainly a sharper experience but nothing divine by any means.
Game and quality-of-life enhancements also took a step forward, but again, it’s hard to tell whether or not added power helped make those things possible. Quick Counts became a thing, and even more importantly, year-to-year saves also became a reality. Without a doubt, give San Diego Studio credit here as that sort of thing was unprecedented and it has changed the landscape in a lot of ways for users.
The presentation didn’t really change much. MLB The Show is now going on 15 years with Matt Vasgersian at the helm. Whether a fan of him or not, that’s an extremely long time with one guy leading the booth. For context, Al Michaels and John Madden did play-by-play for Madden NFL Football for just seven years. Kevin Harlan has been handling NBA 2K for 15 years now, but there’s so many guest commentators in that game, and the dialogue flows so effortlessly, it’s hard to compare the two. MLB The Show has been overdue for a presentation makeover for an entire console generation now, so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s made a priority in the coming years.
What To Expect From Next-Gen MLB The Show 21?
So, with all of this in the rearview mirror, what’s a realistic expectation from MLB The Show 21 on next-generation consoles? Well, first off we know baseball games never launch with new consoles so there will be some added time here.
At a minimum, improved graphical fidelity should be expected. Lighting enhancements on players’ faces and jerseys are probably a safe expectation at launch. Whether or not those live up to the bar set by NBA 2K21 remains to be seen.
Improved realism in grass and dirt textures are probably a reasonable ask year one as well.
Create-a-stadium has been on the wish list from fans for so long now, and with the “lite” version of it coming to MLB The Show 20, it may not be out of the realm of possibility we see it right out of the gate in MLB The Show 21.
Beyond that, it’s hard to know. Overhauled player models will be necessary and fully expected in the next year or two. SDS developers have said for the last couple years that the PlayStation 4 was totally capped in terms of memory. The narrative has been that the developers have been handcuffed in the “power” department, but I suspect that issue will no longer be a thing.
Improvements on the presentation side should be on the radar as well, though those coming in year one may be too much to ask. Realistic audio cues from the crowd and situational awareness in terms of stadium atmosphere need to be an emphasis as well. MLB The Show has seemingly lacked a sense of flow and immersion during its PS4 life cycle — a big area of opportunity moving forward.
One final thing to look for is the release date itself. Back in 2014, MLB The Show launched on the PlayStation 4 a full six weeks later than it did on the PlayStation 3. It’s usually around this time the studio announces a cover athlete and begins its initial marketing push for next year’s game. Does this mean everything is being pushed back a month or two? It’s possible.
In 2014, that added time was to allow developers the opportunity to polish some of the rough edges, as well as prepare servers for the introduction of an entirely new platform for its online users. Unfortunately, online play was entirely broken that year as crippling lag and the inability to even find a game crushed the experience. Online play in general has taken immense strides forward in recent years, so I wouldn’t expect the headaches we saw seven years ago this time around.
A message from San Diego Studio. pic.twitter.com/Do5XTrCYZm
— MLB The Show (@MLBTheShow) October 26, 2020
This is a big launch for San Diego Studio and the MLB The Show franchise, and there’s no doubt MLB The Show 21 could serve as a major catalyst for the series as it spreads its wings to consoles outside the Sony ecosystem.
What do you expect from next-gen MLB The Show 21 at this point?