MLB 14 The Show PS3 Review: A home run
Sony’s MLB The Show franchise prides itself on being the most authentic MLB gaming experience there is. With no competition from 2K Sports this year, that statement couldn’t be more true. But as is the case with most annualized sports games, one must question whether the improvements made over the past year warrant another $60 purchase. And, is it worth picking up on PS3 or Vita if you have a PS4, which is getting its own version in about a month.
To put it simply, MLB 14: The Show, for better or worse, is more of the same. Yes, it’s seen some improvements, but the core gameplay is largely the same. The new additions, like Quick Counts, are certainly welcomed as they breathe new life into the game and make for a more realistic experience, but the basic mechanics of the game are largely the same. That means Pulse Pitching, which I absolutely loathed in last year’s version, returns. Thankfully, MLB 14: The Show offers various options to suit your playstyle, so I quickly switched to the metered pitching; but, even then, I find the ball tends to go its own way when pitching.
The biggest changes to this year’s game are Quick Counts and Player Lock, two features that look to speed up the game. Everybody knows baseball can drag on, so one of Sony San Diego’s focuses this year was on pacing. Quick Counts now lets you play a full nine-inning game in less than 30 minutes by starting off each at-bat with automatically generated count. The result, aside from shortening the gameplay length by about half, are more realistic stats. Player Lock is another feature aimed at speeding up the game by allowing you to lock-on to any single player for an entire game. It’s basically the Road to the Show gameplay mechanic, now playable in any mode.
The game’s signature Road to The Show has also seen some improvements, for the better. Now, when beginning a RTTS career, you first play in the Topps Amateur Showcase, a series of games against other draft prospects, that ultimately determines the start of your big league future. Once you complete the series, you have the option to do a live draft or just pick a team. This year though, if you’re not happy with the draft scenario, you can opt to go back to college to improve your skills and hopefully your draft stock as well.
The most welcomed change to RTTS is the departure of goals you need to achieve to make your organization happy. Instead, you now have training points that you can allocate to mold the player of your liking. Though I found it to be harder to actually improve my player in the new system, I actually enjoy it much more than the previous goals-based system. If anything, it’s a more realistic experience, improving little by little each day, rather than having to hit a specific number of home runs in a series. That’s just not what coaches want in real life; they want to steady improvement.
Offline franchise returns as well, also with some improvements. You now have a notifcation system that acts as an assistant GM, informing you of important news like what’s going on in your minor league system and players that have been placed on the waivers. The biggest turn-off for me when it comes to franchise is how hard it is to keep track of everything -- there’s a lot going on in baseball! The assistant GM presents the vital information in an easy-to-understand, non-intrusive notification system. This year, Sony has also expanded franchise mode to the online realm. As someone who primarily plays sports games with friends, I took full advantage of this mode which includes most of the features as the offline version.
Online franchise is just the start of the connected online options MLB 14: The Show delivers this year. There’s also online exhibition, Homerun Derby, Challenge of the Week, Diamond Dynasty , and the new Community Challenges. Most of those modes are returning from past games, but Community Challenges is a brand new mode that lets you create a scenario and upload it online for others to play. Similarly, you can browse through other user-created scenarios and try to complete them. It provides a nice getaway from the traditional 9-innings of baseball and you can play out some pretty intriguing setups.
Visually, MLB 14: The Show the best the series has ever look on PS3 -- from the overall presentation to the player animations to the general graphics. Lighting has always been the series’ strong point, but now animations are smoother, players are crisper, even the crowd seems improved. As is the case with most sports games though, it doesn’t take long to start noticing repetitive commentary and animations, even with the 50 additional new fielding animations and 30 new pitching motions. Maybe we just take it for granted, but my biggest hope for the future of this series is a less predictable presentation.
If you love baseball, then MLB 14: The Show is an absolute must buy. Gameplay-wise, it remains the best baseball game on the market -- and really the only one now that 2K has canceled its baseball series. But with it only available on PS3 and Vita right now, it leaves PS4 owners in an awkward situation. Do you go out and get the PS3 version just to upgrade to the PS4 version in about a month? It helps that GameStop is holding an upgrade promotion, but it’s still an additional $20. For those with a PS4, I’d recommend waiting. The game may look much better on PS4, with each individual hair follicle accentuated, but I don’t think the upgraded graphics justify the additional cost. Having said that, PS3 owners will certainly enjoy this year’s changes.