Opening Day is perhaps the best day of the year for baseball fans.
Baseball begins once again on March 26 when all 30 teams take the field to start a new season. Well, not in real life, but it will for anyone playing video games.
The 2020 MLB season may be delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, but baseball fans can still get their virtual fill of the nation's pastime while they practice social distancing. (They also can get their fill of classic baseball action on TV and other media platforms throughout Thursday thanks to MLB, MLB Network, ESPN2, FS1, and others.)
There are plenty of baseball video games out there; you can even play Backyard Baseball on your computer with an emulator. But by far the best baseball games with real-life accuracy are MLB The Show 20 and Out of the Park Baseball 21, which both came out in the last two weeks.
It's worth keeping in mind that they are each only available on one platform. As always, MLB The Show is only for PlayStation (a PS4 in this case), and OOTP is a computer game (available on both Mac and Windows). But if you have access to both systems, each game has its own great strength.
MLB The Show 20
MLB The Show shines for its in-game accuracy and beautiful graphics. You know the layout on MLB.com's GameDay feed that shows the stadium in great detail? That comes straight from MLB The Show.
This year's version of MLB The Show doesn't do much groundbreaking compared to last year's edition from a gameplay perspective, but that's okay. MLB The Show's in-game engine is already on par with any Madden, 2K, or FIFA game as far as realistically displaying the game, which can be hard to beat.
The fielding got a big upgrade in last year's edition, and there are more slight adjustments that give even more separation between mediocre and elite defenders. Additionally, the redesigned Plate Coverage Indicator makes it slightly easier to make good contact and feel more in control of your at-bats.
But no change was more welcomed than the addition of teams' complete minor league rosters. Before, only players on 40-man rosters were included, which left nearly every top prospect out of the game. But instead of customizing your team's prospects or waiting to download rosters from a secondhand source online, every top minor leaguer from Wander Franco to MacKenzie Gore is available from the start.
Updated minor league rosters make the "Road to the Show" feature feel even more realistic, and players develop chemistry with their teammates, which can help avoid errors, among other things. The ever-popular "Diamond Dynasty" remains largely the same, although the pay-to-win format has received criticism for leading some fans to pay far more than the $59.99 sticker price in this mode alone.
MLB The Show is not nearly as comprehensive as Out of the Park Baseball from a front office perspective. You can add teams to your league and redesign uniforms, but there is no realistic expansion draft. The ability to scout and plan for the draft also fall short of OOTP, although the addition of real minor leaguers makes up the gap somewhat.
If you're looking for a hyper-realistic video game baseball action, MLB The Show is a great choice. Games may take more time to complete compared to those on other baseball video games, but no other game will have you feeling like you're watching a live broadcast until real baseball comes back.
Out of the Park Baseball 21
OOTP is a very different style of video game than MLB The Show, and it largely caters to a different audience. If MLB The Show is great for anyone who loves the game of baseball, OOTP is made for fans who love dyntasy fantasy leagues and always dreamed of being a GM.
For the uninitiated, OOTP does not have the high-quality graphics of MLB The Show and doesn't let you control what pitches are thrown or when a batter swings. Instead, players make all the managerial decisions, which allows games to be completed in a matter of minutes. However, for long-time players, the new 3D model is a much more appealing interface during games.
Don't be scared off by the lack of pitch-by-pitch action; fans love OOTP for everything else that comes with the game. And perhaps the most impressive part of the game is the simulation engine's accuracy. OOTP is the gold standard for baseball simulations after more than 20 years to perfect the code, and that's borne out by the program correctly predicting the last three World Series champions.
"What goes into it, really, for the first 10-15 years of it was a lot of trial and error," COO Richard Grisham told Athlon Sports. "Over the last few years, it’s really about tweaking and adjusting and scientific analysis of results and comparing them to real-world results. Now we’re able to focus a lot less on the artificial intelligence of the engine and really build the spokes around it."
Those spokes include a revamped scouting system that includes thousands of scouting reports on minor league players. Adding to the realism of what it's like to work in a front office, users can designate how much to scout major league, minor league, draft-eligible, and international players. There are even mock drafts and top-1000 (yes, a thousand) prospect rankings from both a scouting agency and your scouting director, and future draft classes are updated to include top real-life players like Spencer Torkelson and Jack Leiter.
Players can customize league setups and playoffs to their own design and create expansion teams (and run expansion drafts) with even more options than before. One of the other intriguing new features is a 3D stadium builder, which is expected to gain even more updated features throughout the year.
It's easy to build a realistic dynasty team that lasts decades without it taking years to play through games. And if building a dynasty isn't your speed, you can also run your own simulations. Would the Expos actually have won the 1994 World Series? What if your favorite team actually signed Bryce Harper or Manny Machado last winter?
If you want to build your own baseball experiments or feel like you're running a baseball team, Out of the Park Baseball 21 is a great choice. It's also on the cheaper side at $39.99 (and is currently 10 percent off at the Steam Store). There are so many tools at your disposal that it can be overwhelming at first, but the new "Game Flow" feature makes sure you don't miss anything.