For those who’ve spent the past year embedded in MLB The Show 21’s bullpen, Sony San Diego Studio’s slight but specific improvements in MLB The Show 22 will be welcome. This is an annual instalment where one of its headline tweaks includes adjustments to trade logic, preventing teams from swapping their star players for relief pitchers. To put it bluntly, while this baseball sim plays better than ever, the lack of meaningful additions will make it a somewhat tough sell for the average MLB fan.

Of course, to say there are no changes would be unfair, but a lot of the headlines here read like patch notes – regardless of how much effort has been invested behind-the-scenes. Flagship features include a new co-op mode, which allows you to squad up online with up to two friends and take on challengers from around the world; in Diamond Dynasty, the series’ wildly popular card collecting mode, you’ll be able to combine your collections of cards, allowing you to create a truly formidable roster, which is an incredibly fun idea.

There are also some pretty major changes to March to October, the franchise’s truncated seasons mode. In past entries, this was a one-and-done campaign, as you picked your favourite team and played key moments throughout the year on your way to World Series glory. Now you’ll be able to oversee multiple seasons, with a really fun fast-paced offseason system enabling you to pick up free agents and personalise your team. It’s a nice addition that adds longevity to the mode, and we actually prefer it to the traditional Franchise mode purely due to its streamlined format.

Not content with being the most generous card collecting mode on the market, Diamond Dynasty also has a new gameplay wrinkle for single players, in the form of Mini Seasons. These allow you to take your custom team, comprised of cards you’ve collected, into a miniature league format, where you can compete for Program XP, upgrade your player Parallels, and cross off missions. This, combined with Conquest, cements the mode as by far the best of its kind – and will give both newcomers and veterans hundreds upon hundreds of hours of fun.

Beyond these headlines, though, MLB The Show 22 begins to bleed into MLB The Show 21. Gameplay feels fantastic, as always, and has been further refreshed with new animations and balance upgrades. One tweak sees the batter’s vision nerfed ever so slightly when swinging for pitches outside the strike zone, and you can also anchor the PCI to different spots. In addition, positional players can now make perfect throws to bases outside of home, building an even greater gap between average fielders and truly outstanding players with sky-high ratings.

The whole package has been streamlined as well. Whereas the previous entry went a bit bonkers with Battle Pass-like Programs in an attempt to unify all of its modes, this year’s game is a little lighter on that front, while still achieving the same core objectives. We’re a little concerned the emphasis on one, overarching Program may result in less rewards for casual players overall, but that’s a difficult thing to judge right now, and something we’ll need to monitor over the course of the coming months. The main thing is that it all feels a little more logical out of the box.

The same is true of Road to the Show, which unfortunately adopts the same old fly-on-the-wall sports documentary format, but is interspersed with fresh podcast segments. While there’s clear effort been invested into these – and they feel a bit more polished and a lot less Microsoft Teams than they did last year – this mode is in desperate need of a spring clean, as it feels crusty compared to what 2K Sports is doing in NBA 2K22. The progression is faster at least, which is great, and you can create multiple Ballplayers – again, good news.

Less positive is the presentation, which has gone another iteration without any real improvements. A bunch of players have received fresh face scans, including cover star and two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, but all the same drudgy dirt textures return. For a game where you spend an enormous amount of time staring at neatly mowed lawns, MLB The Show 22’s grass looks unbelievably bad – it’s tragic to think this series was far and away the best looking sports game on the PS3 and the PS4 because it’s miles off the pace these days. We can only assume Sony San Diego Studio has big improvements planned for future instalments.

Despite all that, though, the game does play great – and it continues to have a zen-like quality to it, regardless of which mode you play. There are a couple of new difficulty tiers that make the gameplay more manageable for all abilities, and Custom Practice has been given another pass to expand to fielding and even the ability to replay plays. Meanwhile, the new commentary team starring Jon ‘Boog’ Sciambi and Chris Singleton is decent, although with a smaller library of lines to talk through, you will start hearing some repeated phrases sooner than you’d like.

Netcode seems relatively sturdy – especially for a franchise that has a rich history of its servers collapsing during release week. All of the crossplay functionality, which extends to cross-saves, can be a bit fiddly to setup, but it's impressive once you've got it working – and with the addition of Nintendo Switch, it means you can take your progress on the move for the first time since MLB 15: The Show on PS Vita.

Conclusion

It’d probably be reductive to describe many of MLB The Show 22’s improvements as the kind of thing you’d expect to find in patch notes, but it’s still somewhat true. The gameplay feels great as always, and we really like the additions to March to October as well as the Mini Seasons mode in Diamond Dynasty. But while this is undoubtedly a streamlined, enhanced version of the already excellent MLB The Show 21, casual players will struggle to spot the difference – and, frankly, some aspects of the series are really beginning to tire.