MLB 14: The Show
I’ve been a fan of The Show franchise since it first hit the baseball gaming scene. The presentation has always been slick, the gameplay engaging, and the career mode a blast to play through. It’s always interesting when a repeating franchise hits a new console, however – especially a sports franchise. We’re forced to go in with the realistic expectation that the first on a console is never going to reach “next-gen” potential. In my experience, the second installment on a new console is when we really get to see what the game can be. But for MLB 14: The Show, my hopes were higher than normal given the strong showing that other first sports games had last fall when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 dropped (re: Madden 25, NBA 2K14, FIFA, etc.).
This next-gen version of the game comes about a month after the PlayStation 3 version. The game is largely the same in terms of features, game modes, control mechanics, and the like. But where this game on the PS4 stands out and is very much NOT the same as the PS3 version is the visuals, so that is the most appropriate place to start. This game looks simply incredible. The all-new player models are amazingly detailed, and move with a fluidity and natural motion not seen, or even come close to, in any baseball game to date. Individual facial features on the players are seen when they turn to look at the umpire when you’re batting. Shadows and light reflect off of their helmets, uniforms, and bats. Sand and grass are ruffled when players run and slide. You can see every single blade of grass moving independently. When you first jump into a game, it is truly an eye-opener into what we have to look forward to in this generation of sports games. It can only get more impressive from here.
The game modes are what we’ve come to expect from the series, and there is plenty to keep you busy. The franchise’s staple Road to the Show mode makes a triumphant return, and is better than ever. In this mode, you start as a player coming out of college, about to play in a 3-game series of rookie showcase games. Your performance in these games will determine your projected draft placement. Once you finish the series, you can either enter the draft, or return to college for another year of development and go for a higher draft slot next year. It’s a nice addition that makes the scenario feel much more realistic and involved. Road to the Show has also tweaked the skill system. You can now upgrade any of your skills that you want to, at any time based on points that you’ve earned (or, of course, purchased with real money). This creates a much more organic player improvement process that forces you to make decisions – in a good way – regarding what skills you will seek to upgrade first.
Other than Road to the Show, Franchise is the other place where you’ll spend the most time. And this year, it’s deeper than ever. If you want it to be, Franchise mode is an incredibly deep and involved experience. You can take charge of every single aspect of the team – from contracts, to stadium prices, to concessions, to coaching staff, to scouting, and so much more. Playing the games can make up a very small percentage of your time. But the best part about Franchise mode is that it doesn’t have to be that involved. If you choose to, you can automate just about everything and just enjoy playing the games and heading toward the World Series. Either way, you can get a lot of fun out of creating your team from scratch, and leading it to success. Compounding the potential for enjoyment here is the Online Franchise capability, which allows you to join up with your friends online, each controlling and managing a team, and play through multiple seasons for bragging rights. If you have a bunch of friends with the game, this is certainly the way to get the most out of it socially.
The area of the game where I found the most frustration occurring was the online portion. When it works, it is a lot of fun, but whether I’m in a single game or an online franchise game, it has never felt stable. I’ve lost connection many times, and the issues are widely reported. When playing a sports game online, it’s important to have confidence that the connection isn’t going to just drop at any moment. Here’s hoping that Sony is working to shore this up as time goes on, because there is so much potential for online play if connection dropping and lag are out of the picture.
If you’ve played recent versions of the game, then you know pretty much what to expect from the gameplay and controls. When hitting and pitching, you’ll choose from control options along a spectrum of pure analog to classic button pressing. But new this year is what’s called a “Dynamic” difficulty setting, which starts you off with beginner controls, and as the game senses you improving and getting the upper hand, it’ll move the difficulty setting up a notch to introduce more advanced AI and control schemes. This is an excellent addition, because it lets you work up to the way the game is meant to be played without the intimidation of jumping in right from the start.
One of Sony’s most touted features this year is Quick Counts. This is frankly a feature that you’re either going to love or hate. I don’t have a ton of time to play at once, normally, so I tend to appreciate it. Before each game, you’ll have the option to turn Quick Counts on or off. When Quick Counts are enabled, you’ll start each at-bat, both as a pitcher and as a hitter, with a simulated pitch count. For example, 3 at-bats you have in an inning might start with the count at 2-1, 3-2, and 1-2 respectively. The idea is to speed up the game, and because baseball games can take a very long time to play, especially at 9 innings, it accomplishes that goal very effectively. However, baseball purists will argue that it takes away from the game, because shaping the at-bat from the get-go is a huge part of the mono-a-mono matchup that makes baseball so great. I personally love the feature, and it’s nice to be able to toggle it on and off before each individual game depending on your time frame.
MLB 14: The Show on the PlayStation 4 is about the looks. This is the same franchise as you know it with a next-gen coat of paint, and it looks incredible. Thankfully, it still plays wonderfully too, in large part to the same slick controls and gameplay features we’ve come to know and love. There is plenty of content and feature growth as well to make this not JUST a visual upgrade. If you are a fan of the franchise, or a fan of baseball games in the slightest, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.
Reviewed By: Dan Nielson
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
This review is based on a retail copy of MLB 14: The Show for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.