MLB 14: The Show Review
For the record, I waited to review the PlayStation 4 version because I knew it’d be the definitive edition of MLB 14: The Show. I also knew the differences between the PS3 and PS4 versions would be entirely graphical, so it was unnecessary to pen two separate analyses. The bottom line is that this is undeniably a fantastic experience for fans of our national pastime, and it gives us a hint of what Sony’s new machine is capable of. The new title has the requisite depth to satisfy any hardcore baseball fanatic, and that’s that.
The upgrade's visuals really do take center-stage, as the team at SCEA San Diego rebuilt all 30 stadiums for the superior PS4 iteration. They’re unbelievably detailed and authentic, as realistic lighting and gorgeous textures take the graphical presentation to a new level. The crowd models are markedly better, the player characterization and animations are sharper and smoother, and in brief, this is what virtual baseball should look like. As always, graphics don’t dictate the experience, but if you’re seeking a believable baseball environment, the PS4 version is head-and-shoulders ahead of the PS3 version.
The sound even seems to be better, although both versions feature the same excellent commentary and stellar in-game effects. If someone walked through the room and you were playing, the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd might convince that person that you were watching the real thing. Then, if that person turned and saw the dynamic, TV-like camera angles, heard the spot-on broadcasting (complete with some appreciated humor), they’d probably be awfully impressed. The soundtrack is too much on the generic side, with some unnecessary licensed music, but that’s more of a subjective complaint. On the whole, the technical elements are a big highlight, as you might expect.
Know why baseball aficionados will appreciate the latest effort in this acclaimed franchise? The feel. While it’s true that this year’s iteration doesn’t offer a lot of new features – a definite drawback – the general experience is what matters. The physics are realistic and rewarding, as absolutely every movement on the field feels just about right. Whether you’re trying to stretch a double into a triple, chasing after a tough fly ball, or playing mind games with the pitcher, this feels like baseball. I played competitively for a while and I’m always surprised at just how accurate each The Show entry is, at least in terms of physical realism.
This game rewards the knowledgeable and skilled, as any good sports simulator should. It rewards the player who spends hours at the plate, correctly – and incorrectly – guessing pitches and learning from the results. It rewards the player who wishes to drink everything in and ingest the finer details of the game. There’s a ridiculous amount of depth, from the many available modes to the dozens of customization options. Honestly, you might want to tweak a few difficulty sliders when you first start, unless you believe in sticking with a steep learning curve. The best part is that you can alter these sliders however you see fit, whenever you like.
So, go at your own pace. Play how you want to play. Is that not one of the core goals of a simulator? You should be able to adjust the experience appropriately; as a newcomer or someone who hasn’t played a sports game in a while, you’ll probably want to make some changes so you don’t feel overwhelmed. And as there aren’t any arcade-style baseball games out there (which sucks, by the way), if you want a more accessible, pick-up-and-play experience, you can almost get it by toning down the complexity and challenge. I enjoyed playing both ways, and was astounded at just how different the game was when I significantly altered the sliders; it was night and day, which is, of course, the epitome of “choice.”
Again, I’m forced to admit there aren’t as many new features this time around. It’s not like they subtracted any previous features; there just isn’t much in the way of new mechanics or systems. This is why I can’t quite see fit to give the game a full 9.0, because I believe an annual franchise has to implement at least a few significant features each time out, or else it feels like a simple roster update. Furthermore, while I know this game wasn’t made specifically with the PlayStation 4 in mind, it’s still the first entry that’s available on a next-gen console. And when it comes to the world of next-gen software, our expectations are inherently higher.
And yet, it’s not like there’s nothing new in this year’s effort. Player lock isn’t new to the world of sports but it is new in The Show, and we have the added bonus of being able to turn it off and on in various game modes. Then there are the quick counts, which simulates the first few pitches (taking into account the stats of the pitcher and hitter), and then you gain control. It drastically cuts the overall play time and therefore lets you progress through a season that much faster. Of course, if you want to see every pitch, that’s your prerogative. The cool part is that if you’re pressed for time, you can rip through a game in record time.
As for the online portion, there’s Home Run Derby and a few other online modes; plus, we get the Community Challenges and these add even more customization to the game. Create your own scenario and see if your friends can conquer the challenge; it’s a lot of fun, and it works extremely well. My favorite aspect of this feature is that before you can offer the challenge to other players, you have to complete it yourself. Hence, when a challenge is issued to the gaming populace at large, it’s like saying, “I did it…can you?” It’s the sort of feature that will keep dedicated gamers coming back for more, and greatly enhances the appeal of multiplayer in general.
Combining all the positive facets of this production results in a very favorable analysis. It has just about everything you could want, and perhaps even a dash extra. When you pick up the controller and jump into a game, the colorful, sometimes even raucous crowd, beautifully detailed atmosphere, highly authentic physics and gameplay, and bevy of options and customization…it all comes barreling at you at top speed, demanding to be recognized as a fully robust, rewarding experience. No, it doesn’t have a ton of new features, but we shouldn’t nitpick.
MLB 14: The Show on PlayStation 4 is certainly the version you’ll want if you’re a hardcore baseball fan. It’s achingly pretty (with only a few minor drawbacks), it sounds great, and the gameplay is top-notch. There isn’t a lot to complain about, unless you don’t really care about the quick count feature, and online multiplayer isn’t your thing. Then, you might not see as many upgrades as you’d like, and that’s understandable. Even so, there’s just no getting away from the fact that this is an accomplished production that should satisfy even the most demanding baseball fanatic.
The Good: Beautifully detailed stadiums. Excellent and entertaining commentary. Realistic physics and general movement. Quick Count really speeds things up if you’re pressed for time. Online community challenges are well-implemented and addictive.
The Bad: Not a lot of new features. Some minor balancing issues.
The Ugly: “It’s baseball and it’s gorgeous. Where’s the ‘ugly?’”
5/19/2014 Ben Dutka