Each year, developers of annualized sports franchises work to craft new experiences to try and avoid the community criticism that each successive release is "just a roster update." While real-life sports don’t evolve much year over year, developers still need to provide players with reasons to come back each time, whether that be gameplay improvements, enhanced modes, or better visuals. MLB The Show 23 does all of that while also exploring a 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 runners on, taking the mound in a tense bases-loaded situation, or simply chasing down a routine flyball, the gameplay is smooth and often gorgeous thanks to new animations in this year’s entry. Even the commentary, often one of the most challenging elements for sports games to nail, is top-notch.
On the gameplay side, new quirks further differentiate the superstars and role-players, and various improvements to fielding (like a tweaked throwing meter) make for more skill-based play. It may be anecdotal, but I also notice fewer home runs this year, which is perhaps a testament to how the Casual, Competitive, and Simulation styles were tweaked. Of course, if anything isn’t to your liking, you can change things around in the extensive settings list, with which I experimented to great lengths. The list of adjustable settings is daunting, but the Options Explorer that launches when you first fire up the game helps you get things close to ideal in an efficient manner.
Perhaps the centerpiece of this year’s new offerings is an excellent new Storylines mode highlighting The Negro Leagues. Featuring eight players, including Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Rube Foster, and Buck O’Neil, these chapters offer documentary-style talking-head clips before giving you control of these icons from the era of racial segregation. I loved learning more about and playing as some of 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 had me excited to see the last goal checked off my list. Too often, sports video games are fixated on the present and future of the sport, but MLB The Show 23 shows that looking back to the past is a rewarding avenue for developers to explore, especially when it’s about such an important but often-overlooked chapter in baseball’s history.
In past years, the player-lock mode Road to the Show, where you develop a created player over several years, has been my favorite mode. However, the maturation of March to October, which started as a story-driven single-season mode, has led to it taking that title. The mode has grown substantially since its introduction in 2019, now offering scouting, trade logic, and plenty more while still only having you play the crucial moments of each season. Franchise mode offers you much more flexibility, breadth, and depth, but March to October tailors the experience to 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 with which you can engage. From the card-collecting team-builder Diamond Dynasty to the history-rewriting Moments mode, you can step on the field from the angle of your choosing, with the level of commitment that matches how much time you have. You can even hone your skills in an improved practice mode where you can specify details down to the frequency of the pitch types thrown your way, or create your own stadium, now with more options than ever before.
The action of MLB The Show 23 is superb, but the occasional technical or logic hiccup breaks immersion on a semi-regular basis. From checked swings clearly crossing the plate and being called safe (and vice-versa) to fielders not covering bases in certain situations and the computer-controlled runners completely misunderstanding the tag-up rules, unnecessary frustration reared its ugly head every few games. Add in some of the nets in foul territory constantly phasing in and out of existence, and MLB The Show 23 would definitely benefit from a patch addressing these, even if the overall package is already great as is.
Real-life Major League Baseball continues to evolve in ways to encourage faster play in hopes of appealing to a broader audience, but MLB The Show 23 feels somehow ahead of the game. At the same time, the new Storylines mode shows the past is just as important as the future, providing players with the best of both worlds. Myriad options and modes allow you to engage with America’s Pastime precisely how you want, and in the process, MLB The Show 23 delivers one of the best baseball games in years.