Review: MLB 14 The Show (PS3)

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Title: MLB 14 The Show
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (20.8 GB)
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony San Diego Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
MLB 14 The Show is also available on PS Vita and PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 3 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS Vita coverage of MLB 14 The Show.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 365 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
So, historically I’ve always written pretty long-winded reviews for The Show. This time I’m first going to point you to my review of MLB 13 The Show (PS3), because this year I want to focus on the changes made under the hood. There aren’t any new types of hitting, fielding, or pitching this time, but the changes that have happened (which are numerous) affect the core gameplay and address many of the concerns communicated by fans.

One key issue that many gamers voice frequently is the amount of time that it takes to get through an entire game. Even with “quick mode” active, it can take over an hour to get through a complete game, and when playing through a full season, you can invest an immense amount of time. To alleviate these concerns, the team has devised a couple of different options, both of which can be used separately or together.

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First is Quick Counts. When you start the game, you’ll see an option to activate Quick Counts or not, and how it works is pretty compelling. Basically, you still play as every batter, and you pitch like you would in a normal game. The difference is that every at-bat starts deeper into the count. So you may see 3-2, 1-1, 0-2 etc. In my experience so far, playing with this cut my game times by 1/3rd to half of what a normal game would take, but there are a couple of things that could be improved (if possible). First, the unique situation of using your pitcher to bunt a runner over isn’t as possible, since you’d never bunt with 2 strikes, which can happen here. There’s already been talk of adding this option next year, so at least they know it will come up.

Second, when batting, I would love to see what pitches had already been thrown at the batter (using L3 to pull up the histogram on screen). It’s valuable to see if the Pitcher is throwing me low to try and force a grounder, or if the pitches may have all been out of the strike zone so far. I would hope that since the game is “simulating” those pitches and swings already, that we’d be able to get that information. Other than that though, Quick Counts allows a much quicker traversal through your season, and it’s really fun. Plus, the anxiety factor is definitely increased since you’re not the one working the count all the way through. It’s a nice feature, and I’m glad they finally cracked the code on it.

Another feature, Player Lock, is taken from the venerable Road to the Show mode of the series, and allows you to use only one player throughout an entire game. This already can speed the process up quite a bit, depending on the defensive position the player is in. Used in conjunction with Quick Counts though, and you can get through an entire game in mere minutes. It’s a proven system since it’s been the core of RttS for years, and it can be a blast to control your favorite Baseball player.

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For Road to the Show (the way I play about 90% of the time) some minor tweaks have been made along with a pretty major one. No longer will you need to stress over your Advancement Goals, because they’ve been completely removed. You’ll still earn Training Points as you play through your season, and they will still be applied to your player, but even that mechanic has been changed. Unlike previous years, you won’t simply apply points to different abilities in a linear fashion. Now, each item has a “cost”, and the further you increase each individual item, the more points each step up will cost you. It’s an interesting proposition now, because you don’t have anyone telling you what to do, so it’s now up to you to work on what you think you need to and the result will be tangible in direct relation to how well you perform for your team. As usual, I don’t really focus much on the finesse of the game, so I never really worry about my bunting abilities. Now, if I don’t pay any attention to bunting in my training, the ability will actually decrease over time, leaving the decision to you as to whether or not you’re comfortable with that. It’s a bit jarring to not have to look at the goals any more, and I’ll even admit, I hit Triangle a few times when assigning training points. Old habits and such.

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Another change in RttS is the Topps Amateur Showcase, which has new prospects play in a 3-game series in front of the scouts. The game will then predict where you’ll go in the draft, and will even play that round of the draft out. You’ll then, based on your age and experience, be given the choice to sign a deal with a team or go back to college and try again later. It’s a pretty interesting way to handle the start of your career and I love the idea. It was so incredibly nerve-wracking though, so I think they captured the experience pretty well. Past that, the presentation in RttS remains unchanged, so you’ll feel right at home this year.

When it comes to Franchise, online or not, I’m not the person to talk to. I’ve never played Franchise, and I honestly never will. What they have added this year though is the ability to take it online to be shared with your friends. I know this is something that many have asked for, so it’s nice to see that they’ve addressed this request. Also something that I don’t play simply because I don’t understand it is Diamond Dynasty. It’s been explained to me a few times, but I still just don’t get it. Apologies if these are modes you wanted info on, but I wanted to be honest instead of ignoring them.

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One of the additions that seem to be the most intriguing is the new Dynamic Difficulty system, in which the game will account for your gaming prowess and adjust the difficulty accordingly. The game indicates onscreen when the difficulty is being altered, but I’ve either never had it happen, or I simply never noticed it. It’s a great idea if it works, but in over 40 hours of gameplay, maybe I’m just playing at that perfect level?

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One of the more interesting additions for me is the new Community Challenges. As you play through any mode in the game, you are awarded XP for doing well. The XP will add to your pool of “Stubs”, a kind-of in-game currency that you can use to attempt these challenges. The challenges highlight specific situations ripped from Baseball history, but you’ll be able to adjust things in that situation, then allowing you to challenge the community to achieve the adjusted goals. I tried a few, most of which were created by community members. Unfortunately, the servers aren’t very responsive right now, so load times were quite long for an event that doesn’t seem to last very long. A couple of the challenges were outright broken, not even allowing me to control anything. The others were decent, but an explanation of what I was supposed to actually achieve wasn’t very evident. It’s a fantastic idea, I’m just not sure the implementation is going to work this year. One note about the Stubs, yes you can purchase additional Stubs with real money on the store, but that’s your choice. Thy aren’t required for anything significant, and if you plug-away at the game, they’re pretty easy to earn on your own.

My last item, and probably the most awesome, is the fact that starting with MLB 14 The Show, you’ll be able to carry your saved games over to the next in the series! No longer will you need to recreate your RttS player every year, no longer will you need to start a new Franchise, as it seems that just about everything will carry-over to MLB 15 The Show. Even better, it covers all 3 platform versions. So if you only get the Vita version this year, you’d be able to move everything to the PS4 version next year. Also, as in the last couple of years, MLB 14 The Show supports cloud saves and transfers between all 3 games. Work on your Season during a flight, then move it to the cloud so you can continue the same season on the PS4.

Visuals:
Visually, the game hasn’t really changed at all this year, but that isn’t a bad thing. MLB 14 The Show still looks fantastic, running a wonderfully smooth framerate and displaying a level of detail that’s tough to beat. What has changed however is the interface, which has been completely overhauled. The new menu layout is much simpler than in the past, and quite easy to navigate. It may take veterans some time to get used to it, but I’m pretty sure that everyone will like it.

Also, the new Dynamic Broadcast presentation is pretty great. The flow of the game is much more like that of real Baseball games on TV. It’s an extension of what they’d already implemented over the last couple of years, but if you played 13 enough, you’ll easily notice the difference. One other upgrade of note is that base runners definitely seem to act more authentically when approaching the bases, and how they act in other running situations. This is a pretty welcome change, I just hope they can do the same things with throwing next year. It still seems like they’ll do things like face 3rd before throwing to 1st.

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Audio:
Again, the audio design will feel very familiar. A focus has been made on the commentary this year, with an attempt to make the presentation aspect even smoother and it’s definitely noticeable. Unlike previous years, they won’t simply keep talking until someone hits X, but instead, they’ll say their piece and then the game moves on. You actually need to pay attention to notice the difference though because it feels so natural when compared to watching a real broadcast. Obviously, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely an improvement. I’m a fan of the commentators that they use on The Show, so I’m very happy to see (or hear I guess) that all 3 have returned again this year.

Online/Multiplayer:
Now that I’ve had a few shots at playing online, I hate to report that it still seems less than acceptable. I played 4 online matches, 2 ranked and 2 unranked. All 4 were pretty terrible experiences, with bugs galore (freezing for multiple seconds at a time) and rubber banding throughout the entire nine innings. Pitched balls will teleport on the way to the plate, making hitting the ball impossible without dumb luck. I’m not sure if my random opponents had microphones or not, but none of the matches I played in offered any talk from the other side, and the way that the game was playing, I doubt it would be very good anyway. Yes, I guess we should just expect that online would be like this, but why should we when they’ve had so many years to fix it? It’s frustrating that my favorite sports game, and probably one of the best sports games available on any platform, still fails so miserably in the online space.

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Conclusion:
My biggest fear is that people may not realize how much has changed in the game this year, simply because the visuals are the same as last year. The truth is that a lot of what’s underneath has been tweaked and in some cases changes have been significant. Removing the Advancement Goals in RttS was a huge change, but the move to making you manage yourself instead of having your Manager loom over your shoulder keeps the tension up and at the same time makes you feel like you’re more in control of your destiny.

The tools they’ve provided to speed gameplay up definitely work, even though there are a couple of flaws in the implementation. They’re a welcome addition to the series that I believe will change the way a lot of people play Baseball on PlayStation, and since Player Lock is born of the RttS mechanic, it will feel very comfortable to fans of the series.

Yes, online is still a broken mess (I’m not exaggerating), but the game itself is still fantastic. Also, since we’re used to online not working, it’s tough to hold that against the game more than I have in the past.

But with the PS4 version looming coupled with the fact that it looks like Sony won’t offer an upgrade path, what do you do if you own a PS4? The fact of the matter is, the PS4 version will obviously be a much more visually impressive experience, and since it’s feature-complete with the PS3 version, I can’t recommend buying it on PS3 when it’s hitting PS4 in a few weeks. If you don’t own a PS4 though, by all means get this game. It’s a fantastic evolution of the series, and playing it has been a treat.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Elgato Game Capture HD screen capture feature.

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Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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