Like its cover star, Shohei Ohtani, MLB The Show 22 excels on the field of play, whether competing on the pitcher's mound or in the batter's box. In The Show's case, this has been the way for a number of years, and improving on this consistent level of excellence is a tough ask. But while Ohtani has ambitions to build on last season's historic MVP campaign, MLB The Show 22 lacks that same drive and has generally stood pat. The on-field action is largely unchanged from last year's game aside from a few incremental improvements to aspects like fielding and ball physics. New additions to some of the series' long-running modes are more significant, but they don't move the needle far enough, and, as a result, The Show's year-to-year progress since moving to next-gen consoles is still glacially slow.
It's hard to have too many complaints once you step onto the diamond, however. Hitting is still immensely satisfying, and tweaks to the game's ball physics ensure that there's more hit variety than ever before. The thunderous crack of the bat that occurs when you nail the perfect timing and contact is particularly pleasing, especially when it results in a soaring moonshot that sends the ball careening into the bleachers. Pinpoint Pitching has also been refined so it's not quite as easy to execute as it was last year. This results in more walks, baserunners, and high leverage situations that feel more authentic to the challenges pitchers face on a daily basis.
The most noteworthy improvements occur when fielding the ball, as a plethora of new animations make it a much smoother experience. There's a bigger separation between good and bad fielders, with Gold Glovers taking better routes and reacting faster to fly balls, whereas their less-than-stellar counterparts are more likely to commit errors and misplay the ball. This has been the case in the past, but it's much more pronounced now because the players act and play more naturally. None of this is groundbreaking, of course, but these subtle improvements help maintain The Show's foothold as one of the best-playing sports games on the market.
Other additions to the on-field package are cosmetic. There are some fancy new augmented reality-esque graphics in the outfield before first pitch, but it's the new commentary duo that has the biggest impact. Matt Vasgersian was the de facto voice of The Show, having held the role of play-by-play announcer since 2006, but he's now been replaced by Cubs and ESPN regular Joe Sciambi. Chris Singleton is the latest in a revolving door of color commentators, and the new broadcast booth does an admirable job of calling the action, adding new perspectives and anecdotes in between plays. Without 15 years of built-up lines to pull from, however, there is more repetition than in the past. You'll hear a number of phrases repeated over and over again, often in the very same game. Singleton goes on the same spiel whenever a player isn't wearing batting gloves, for instance, and you'll hear the same line about a player being the full package both on and off the field over and over again.
More egregious are the instances where they'll incorrectly state the number of outs, or recount the history of Fenway Park when you're playing at Camden Yards. There also shouldn't be situations where someone like Babe Ruth is referred to as "number three," but this occasionally happens with both former and current players, even when their actual name is included in the game with commentary lines. Singleton, and especially Sciambi, provide a solid baseline to build on for the future, but there are some growing pains right now.
When it comes to game modes, MLB The Show 22 adds depth to the March to October mode by extending it from a single one-and-done season to multiple seasons. This makes what was otherwise a complementary mode feel more like an expedited alternative to Franchise, with a full off-season of trades and free agency signings to delve into at the end of each year. Franchise mode is still present, of course, and expands on March to October's truncated nature by letting you dive into the minutia of baseball and running a team.
There's not really much else to say here, though. Improved trade logic was touted as a vital inclusion prior to release, but the CPU still has a habit of trading its top stars for relative peanuts. Developer Sony San Diego says a patch is in the works to rectify this issue, but it's a bit concerning that a noted improvement still isn't working as intended. And even if it was, The Show's Franchise mode is still lagging behind some of its contemporaries. Being able to customize leagues and divisions, edit draft classes, and play online would all be welcome additions, as has been the case for multiple entries in the franchise.
MLB The Show 22's career mode, Road to the Show, is similarly lacking anything compellingly new or intriguingly different from what's come before. There are more live-action podcast segments interspersed between your on-field exploits, with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe Mauer providing insight from a player's perspective, while minor league managers and even a mental performance coach explore other elements of being an up-and-coming superstar. These moments are interesting but they're not always pertinent and don't really add anything of note to your journey from the minor leagues to the show. Thankfully, player progression is faster than it was last year, and you can now create multiple ballplayers all with unique appearances, which was a major oversight previously. But without any meaningful improvements, Road to the Show is beginning to wear thin.
Diamond Dynasty also returns and remains one of the better examples of the Ultimate Team concept. Aside from being the most generous card-collecting mode on the market, MLB The Show 22 adds a new single-player feature in the form of Mini Seasons. This lets you take your custom team and compete for a playoff spot against a handful of fictional AI teams in a miniature league format. Games are only three innings long so it's easy to work your way through the season relatively quickly, earning Program XP, completing missions, and upgrading your players as you go. Combine this with both Showdown and Conquest, and you can have plenty of fun building a fantasy roster without ever venturing online.
If you do want to face off against other players, however, co-op is another new addition to Diamond Dynasty's suite of modes. You can team up with one or two friends and play in two-on-two or three-on-three matchups against other human opponents. There's no genuine depth to these games since they're only one-off exhibitions, and MLB The Show's take on baseball isn't particularly conducive to engaging team play as each player takes turns batting, pitching, running, and fielding as opposed to working together by simultaneously playing different positions. It's an enjoyable addition, though, with plenty of room to grow in future installments.
MLB The Show 22 still plays a fantastic game of baseball, even if tweaks to fielding and hit variety are mere subtle improvements compared to anything more impactful. Additions to March to October and (especially) Diamond Dynasty enhance both modes, while Franchise and Road to the Show continue to stagnate by doing little else than treading water. There's still a ton of content to sink your teeth into, and MLB The Show 22 will keep you busy into the winter months, but it's difficult to ignore how conservative the series has been for the past two years. This is an excellent sports game, just as MLB The Show 21 was. The problem is that the list of reasons to upgrade is getting smaller and smaller.