This year's chapter of baseball gets you as close as possible to the game without sitting in a stadium. MLB The Show 20 is the sharpest-looking baseball game ever, as players look closer to their real counterparts than ever before, and for the first time, real minor league rosters are included, making the journey of athletes from minors to majors more believable. Similarly, tweaks to the fielding and batting system just feel right. You can't rely on your outfielders making mad dashes and snagging fly balls. Now, if you don't make a good first step in the right direction, you're going to give your opponent extra bases. Even better is the new Perfect Perfect batting system, which gauges your timing and aim on a pitch. When your timing is just right, the ball soars through the air from the whip crack of the bat. It doesn't guarantee that this ball will be a home run, but it sure gives you a jolt of excitement when your player drives the ball during a key moment. Speaking of key moments, the new Showdown mode takes this concept and raises it to a tense fever pitch, becoming easily one of the most engaging modes that The Show, and arguably many sports games, has had in years. Draft a team from a handful of players and choose a set of perks to enhance your squad. From there, play through scenarios, like avoiding strikeouts or getting on base a certain number of times. Failing gives you no help, while successfully completing these tasks lets you draft additional players, and gives you points toward a Showdown against an ace pitcher from a major league team. Here, you receive a set of outs (like 15 or 20) as you try to score more points off this hurler than his team has. Win, and you can continue for additional prizes, but fail, and you have to start over from the beginning. Considering that some showdowns cost in-game currency to enter, each at-bat feels vital and important, every swing and pitch exciting.
All of this being said, some elements should be sent back to the minors. For instance, the preload pitch timing meter is supposed to capture the split-second decisions and reactions necessary to make throws, but it fills up way too quickly, resulting in far too many wild throws, even with practice. If you're looking for extra challenge, you can turn it on, but it's much better if you leave this feature in the dugout. Another issue: Some sections just feel stale. While Road to the Show has tweaked the relationship features between teammates and rivals, the "story" of your created player has been the same for years now, and Show veterans know the sequence of plot cutscenes in their sleep. Similarly, the booth commentary feels stale and outdated, using many of the same phrases in a series of games, so on-the-field action doesn't seem that dynamic. But overall, MLB The Show 20 is still full of great features that will easily rally baseball fans to cheer for its gameplay.