MLB The Show has maintained the reputation of creating the most realistic sports simulation season after season. The PlayStation 3 release of MLB 14 The Show had many welcome additions but was just a slight upgrade from MLB 13, and it seems the series has tapped out the system’s capabilities. With the power of PlayStation 4, MLB 14 The Show has stepped its game up.
The next-gen version of this year’s baseball sim is truly an upgrade from it predecessors. The power of the PS4 allowed San Diego Studios to make a number of improvements without cutting down, offering a handful of new features as well as offering the same features from the PS3 version of the game.
Character models and stadiums have been upgraded to utilize the vast power of the PS4. Stadiums are the most impactful upgrade. Starting from the ground up, each stadium is designed with authentic fields detailed down to individual blades of grass. It may seem like a minor improvement but it impacts everything from visual depth to how the ball bounces.
The amount of variety to crowd models has been scaled up from 42 to 1,000. Occasionally, you will see duplicates in the stands due to less-than-perfect spacing, and traffic jams behind home plate are still quite regular. However, crowd models are more realistic than ever. Baseball is a family-friendly sport so the addition of child models is important for the authentic feel of a ballgame.
Stadiums feel like authentic, living environments built for each team. Signature stadium traits combined with high-definition crowd cheers and jeers leave players feeling as though they are actually in the confines of an MLB cathedral.
With each new season, players must start their career modes from scratch. All of the failures and successes, minor league prospects and development of professional players become an afterthought upon upgrading to the most recent installment. New features and updated rosters provide enough incentive to purchase the game, but the grumbles over lost save data remain. This is the problem that sports video games face but that will all change with year-to-year saves.
Beginning with MLB 14 The Show, players can keep their save files forever. Every career mode can be saved to the almighty cloud, allowing files to be accessed on other devices and future releases of The Show. This feature is even useful now as players who have started careers on PS3 or PS Vita versions of the game can carry their saves over to the PS4.
The ability to carry over save files also allows for players to take their game on the road. With MLB 14 available on multiple Sony platforms, players can use the cloud to continue their careers on any of the three systems. No longer do players have to redo their fantasy drafts or create new characters in Road to the Show mode each year.
The Power of One
Road to the Show (RTTS) has always been one of the most popular features in MLB The Show. The mode, which allows users to create and control a single player, returns this year with a few new options inspired by EA Sports’ Road to Glory and NBA 2K’s MyPlayer.
For the first time ever, users are allowed to choose between an MLB player’s DNA or create a player completely from scratch. This means that players can essentially play as their favorite real-life star while maintaining their own personal swag. Choosing an MLB player will only transfer that player’s attributes, tendencies, swing and throwing-motion; users have complete control over the player’s appearance. The swing and throwing motion can be changed as well, if desired.
In addition to the ability to recreate current superstars, players now have the ability to take control of a single player outside of Road to the Show. The Player Lock feature gives players the same in-game experience offered in Road to the Show in the game’s various other modes.
While Player Lock allows users to play through a game in as little as 10 minutes, it suffers from some of the problems found in RTTS. Opposing defenses have a tendency to commit errors, even at the major league level. Of course, errors happen in real life, but they occur too regularly on All-Star difficulty and lower. Users will also encounter the occasional blowout when controlling a positional player instead of a pitcher–blowouts that sometimes reach 20-run margins and players will not be able to do anything except wait until their next plate appearance.
Blowouts don’t happen often and are seen most regularly in the Topps Player Showcase, where the talent isn’t as vast as at the major league level. The Topps Player Showcase is a new three-game series that players go through immediately after creating their RTTS player. This addition is huge as it allows players to earn a spot in the draft as opposed to simply choosing a team to play for (although this is still an option).
After being drafted, players are given the option of going to school for one to four years. Should users not like their draft position, they can return to school for the remainder of their college eligibility with the option to re-enter the draft each year.
There are risks and benefits that come with staying in school. Users will receive additional Skill Points to spend on their player, but there is the possibility that their player’s draft stock can fall if performance declines. A minor flaw in this feature is that the draft order never changes. Regardless of how long players remain in school, they will still enter the league in 2014. It’s not the most logical outcome but it certainly works; keeping the player current rather than propelling them a few years into the future.
Addressing the games biggest issue, MLB 14 offers a new feature that shortens the duration of matches. Unlike other sports simulations, baseball does not have a set length. Without the ability to accelerate clocks, MLB 14 takes a new approach with the optional feature Quick Counts. Quick Counts throws the player into at-bats with a random ball-strike count. The feature cuts down on wasted pitches, allowing users to complete matches in a more reasonable amount of time. Counts that batters start with are determined by batter and pitcher tendencies. It isn’t impossible for a pitcher that struggles with control–such as Carlos Marmol–to get ahead of the count, especially if the batter tends to swing and miss at pitches out of the zone–like slugger Adam Dunn.
Quick Counts isn’t perfect. As intended, the random count affects swing selection. Hardcore players may find this frustrating as they will sometimes start at-bats with an 0-2, 3-0 or 3-2 Count. While this does present a new challenge, players are thrown into at-bats blindly. Users can check where the previous pitches were located, but Quick Counts does not allow players to see any pitches that occur before taking control of the player at bat. Imagine stepping into an at-bat with a full count with no idea what the pitcher has been throwing. The feature can be toggled on and off at the start of games to allow players to make the decision at the last possible moment.
MLB 14 The Show is a fantastic game that sets the bar high for all next-gen sports games. Each ballpark represents a new experience. A day game at Wrigley Field with the ivy in full bloom and the sun shining on the historic manually-operated scoreboard is as accurate as can be. The only thing missing is the fans singing “Go Cubs Go” at the end of a win. Going on the road provides unique experiences for every stadium, whether it is in the minors or majors.
New features that speed up the game aren’t without a few downsides, but they are optional. Quick Counts and Player Lock not only speed up games, but require players to adapt various skills such as patience at the plate and identifying pitches. Online servers still have problems but single player modes and overall gameplay make up for the few shortcomings in MLB 14 The Show.