Skepticism is my default setting when confronted by big promises and splashy game trailers. I’ve been hurt before. So have you. But I so wanted to believe the promises that puppet Fernando Tatis Jr and Coach made about the long-awaited Stadium Creator in the next-gen version (and only the next-gen version) of MLB The Show 21 that I allowed myself a glimmer of hope. Yet while Stadium Creator in MLB The Show 21 is a whole damn meal on its own, offering plenty of options for amateur stadium designers and fans of games like Minecraft, I’m struggling to love it with my whole heart. And I’m not sure that that’s the fault of the game.
Before I unpack that, let me do the thing where I give a general read on that most basic of questions so you can hurry on out of here if that’s all you’re looking for: should you buy MLB The Show 21? It depends! If you’ve got an XBOX Series X or XBOX One, no, don’t buy it. Just get or use Game Pass and play the game there (the first time the series is available on Microsoft platforms). If you’re on a PS4, I don’t know that the game’s improvements justify the expense. Road To The Show seems like it has been deepened with a more customizable and versatile experience with your created player (who can be a two-way star). The overall gameplay, by way of an influx of animations, is smoother. So that’s something. Enough of a something? Eh.
For PS5 players, who like XBOX Series X players get the full breadth of the dev and design team’s love with the shift to next-gen, the answer is a clear yes, but it’s mostly because of the addictive experiences at your disposal in Stadium Creator. If you’re not into that, then this may not be a necessary game for you.
I, and many others, have complained for years about the lack of stadium creation and customization in MLB The Show. It’s something we got in a more limited tech time with EA’s much-missed MVP Baseball series, so the expectation was understandable. To their credit, San Diego Studios (a Sony operation that produces MLB The Show) could have caved to criticism years ago, delivering a surface experience to shut us all up for a minute. But they didn’t. They waited. They put in the time (two years in development) to deliver something that feels, not revolutionary, but at least evolutionary with the potential to improve in subsequent years.
As far as what you have at your disposal now, Stadium Creator offers 30 templates (including options that look a LOT like Jack Murphy Stadium and Ebbets Field) and hundreds of options to create funzos where you can bounce homers off of the head of a T-Rex 285 feet down the line from home plate with floating space ships swapped in for bleachers. The time of your life can be had while engaging in a little imagination that breaks the laws of reality. If that’s the limit of what you’re looking for, this is going to give you everything you want. And I hope you get weird with it for as long as that keeps your attention.
Much like the laws of reality, the laws of physics are also suspended with Stadium Creator, though. To pull off some angles, sections merge with each other in unappetizing and pointy ways demanding you stack a section on top of another one and crush a few hundred NPCs or cause them to sort of phase into each other. None of this means a damn thing in an actual game, but it’s still aesthetically unpleasing when you’ve sunk a ton of time into these projects. But, I mean… you also can’t alter foul territory, add on-field features, take out a generic batter’s eye, or build a dome. This means that while you can get close to replicating stadiums of the past with a lot of trial and error (a lot), you’re ultimately going to fail at true authenticity and perfection. And for someone like me that was pretty much all in on this with the hope that that wouldn’t be so, that’s a problem.
I get it. Mine is a micro niche folded into another micro niche. But we’re conditioned to think that everything is meant to be tailored to our wants. Algorithm curated playlists and streaming recs, ample chances to alter a food order to your liking, and on and on. Hashtag campaigns like #ReleaseTheSnyderCut even started working. It’s hollow, but as consumers, we get our way a lot or are at least led to believe that’s what’s happening. And it’s broken our brains a little. Broken mine, because I’m somehow feeling disappointed in something that is probably 95% what I was hoping for (being able to play these stadiums online with friends would be nice, by the way. My little Canuck friend that I mentioned last year is just heartbroken that we can’t battle on our obscure and bizarre stadiums).
Am I going to sit here, arms folded, mourning my inability to make an exact replica of Palace Of The Fans from the early 1900s? Maybe! But no, not really.
Truth be told, I spent 20 hours and came away with a half dozen false starts and one not-terrible tribute to Tiger Stadium (above). I know where all the warts and weird bits are. The things I had to do to make things work to the point where I’d be satisfied. And while it was often frustrating (I see you flashing red section that’s a half-centimeter over the wall, and would it KILL them to put in an undo button?), it’s also been on my mind all week and I can’t wait to do it again. So I guess the takeaway is something about the journey being the reward? No, that doesn’t sound right. Take wisdom from the Rolling Stones song about not always getting what you want? Nah.
How about this: while I was looking for authenticity and annoyed by the inconsistencies in my creations, didn’t I just stumble onto true authenticity because imperfections are part of the charm of old stadiums? Nah. Maybe I should borrow a line from the theme song to Mystery Science Theater 3000: “repeat to yourself it’s just a game, you should really just relax.”