Review: MLB 14 The Show (PSV)

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Title: MLB 14 The Show
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (3.2 GB)
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony San Diego Studios
Original MSRP: $39.99 / $35.99 (PSN)
ESRB Rating: E
MLB 14 The Show is also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.
The PS Vita Game Card 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 PS3 coverage of MLB 14 The Show.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 366 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/PSV), 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.

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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.

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. 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.

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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.

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, I’m not the person to talk to. I’ve never played Franchise, and I honestly never will. 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.

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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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 and 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 an overall great framerate (with a few hiccups during walk-ups) 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.

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As always on the Vita version, the presentation doesn’t include all of the features that give the full “Broadcast” feel. They say this decision was made since you’re on a handheld and players don’t want a game to last an hour or more. There’s still enough present to make the game enjoyable and I’d have to agree on their take on this aspect of the game. When I’m on the Vita I mash the Cross button to skip ahead all the time. An upgrade of note is that base runners definitely seem more authentic when approaching the bases and how they act in other running situations. This is a pretty welcome change and I hope they can do the something similar with throwing next year. It still seems like the players will do things like face 3rd before throwing to 1st. A major problem that I’ve brought to the developers attention is the fact that in its current state, throwing via the meter is just plain broken. The meter takes way too long which prevents you from ever pulling off a double play. I’m not sure why they slowed the meters down on the Vita but I do hope they patch this soon. This is the only instance of this type of issue that I encountered, but it’s pretty bad right now.

Audio:
Again, the audio design will feel very familiar. More dialogue has been recorded for this year, and the focus has been on making the conversations more natural than before, and they’ve succeeded. Obviously, it’s not perfect, and on the Vita there’s not as much content as the PS3 version, 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 three have returned again this year.

Online/Multiplayer:
The online features are the majority of what hasn’t moved over from the PS3 version this year; no Community Challenges, no online play, and no online Franchise. You can still use Cloud Saves though, and MLB News and the Vaults can be accessed in the “Community” section as well. Vault access is pretty significant if you want to share a created player or download the custom rosters that the community builds every season.

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 the changes have been significant. Removing the Advancement Goals in RttS was a huge change, but 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.

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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.

A lack of online modes may upset some, but overall the move to the Vita is still pretty great. It really is impressive that they’ve moved such a large game, so close to the PS3 version, to a handheld. Batting seemed a bit more manageable this year and I’ve actually been working on my Road to the Show season quite a bit on the Vita so far. It’s a fantastic evolution of the series, and having the game available on the go while still being able to work on the same Season and RttS player is something that’s not only rare, but almost spoils me for other sports titles.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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