RBI Baseball 20 Review: Strike Seven, You're Out
It's a unique and extremely strange predicament the sports world finds itself in at the current moment. Basketball and hockey have been halted, baseball has been postponed before it could even begin, and when so much of the world has gone haywire, we can't even look to sports to keep us sane in these trying times.
With live sports out of the picture indefinitely, you'd be right to look to video game simulations to quench your sports thirst. However, you'd be wrong to look to RBI Baseball 20.
On PS4, it simply can't carry the bat bag of a game like The Show 20, and even on other baseball-starved platforms, there are just too many unforced errors seen in inning after inning to merit much playtime from virtually anyone.
RBI Baseball 20 Review: Strike Seven, You're Out
For what it's worth, this is my first time playing the series. Though its reputation preceded it, I wanted to see for myself, especially as we are now just a year out from Sony Santa Monica's series going multiplatform. Maybe the competition would light a fire under the RBI Baseball series.
Or maybe not. The same issues I've heard of hurting the series since its revitalization in 2014 have come back for a startling seventh consecutive year, it seems.
Animations are broken, and they often depict a ball that magically appears in a fielder's glove after looking like it's bounced over or past them. Players sometimes make plays on grounders without ever looking at the ball or moving their arms. Pitches approach the plate with such little depth perception that you'll likely find it difficult if not impossible to ever make good contact on the ball.
Trying to finely tune your pop fly positioning results in an awkward A-pose dance to the center of the catch circle. Players clip through one another like the MLB is made entirely of major league ghosts. By no means does RBI Baseball 20 fix these legacy issues which I've been reading about for years, but now I've experienced them first hand and it's not been fun.
The presentation is lacking, too. There seems to be one home run cinematic that will repeat every time there's a ball hit out of the park. A decent mix of songs pumps into each stadium for walk-ups, but players all behave like one another when they get there.
Pitching movements can look different, but it doesn't seem like players were modeled after their real-world counterparts. Rather there seem to be a few throwing motions the game shuffles through and deals out to all the pitchers, over and over again.
RBI Baseball holds the distinction of being the only MLB-licensed game on most major platforms, but it doesn't bother doing much with it, and few games I've played have ever felt so cynical in their design. It feels as though this series is trotted out to capitalize on The Show being nothing but a dream for some fans, and given how next spring makes that multiplatform dream a reality, one has to wonder if RBI Baseball even returns for another season.
A fair mix of expected modes decorates the main menu, like Home Run Derby, Franchise, and online play, but there are cripplingly few reasons to participate in any of them. Games are exceedingly boring, inning after inning, due to there being little fanfare and plenty of bugs and ugly moments.
Despite it all, the series does make some strides as evidenced by a total overhaul of both batting and pitching. The camera angle is more akin to other baseball games and pitching looks like you're watching a game. No longer do you float your batter around the box pre-pitch.
Now you step up to the plate and have to perfect your timing on power hits or swing away for contact. Because the game allowed me to try out both the "Classic" and "Modern" gameplay styles, I definitely noticed that these areas are better than they've ever been, but that distinction just serves as a reminder that better doesn't necessarily mean good.
RBI Baseball 20 Review — The Bottom Line
- New pitching and batting mechanics, though still flawed, are the best they've been
- Player models look really good with a newfound commitment to detail
- Broken, buggy animations make every moment totally unpredictable and inconsistent
- Virtually no element of presentation
- No depth perception when batting means lots of strikeouts and fouls
- Feels rushed to prey on MLB fans lacking licensed games outside of PlayStation
The best aspect of the game is its new pitching mini-game, which features the real-life repertoires of pitchers around the league and takes into account confidence and ability, which change as fatigue grows more impactful. This is unlike in previous years where you released a pitch and then cartoonishly spun it toward the plate with the control stick.
Along with player models that try to look more lifelike than past years' somewhat featureless players, these changes are building blocks for the series moving forward, but I wonder if this may just be the end of the line for RBI Baseball. It may be too little, too late.
For the seventh consecutive year, RBI Baseball has put forth a buggy, messy game for sale, and I genuinely feel bad for most everyone involved. I worry about the sports gaming fans that pick this up because they love baseball and don't know any better. I feel sorry for the developers who probably wish to be working on a different series. I feel some self-pity for taking the assignment, but I guess I was going to be stuck inside anyway.
While the series makes some overdue strides for the better, there's still a lot of work to be done, and this time next year, the choice will be much clearer for MLB fans. This may be the last of RBI Baseball, and if so, it will finish with an on-base percentage of 0.00.
[Note: A copy of RBI Baseball 20 was provided by MLB for the purpose of this review.]