Review: MLB 14 The Show (PS4)

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Title: MLB 14 The Show
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (37.5 GB)
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: SCE San Diego Studio
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
MLB 14 The Show is also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best Sports Game (PS4)

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS3 review of MLB 14 The Show.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 370 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.

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.

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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.

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 seems 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?

One of the more interesting additions for me would be 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, allowing you to then challenge the community to achieve the adjusted goals. I tried a few, most of which were created by community members. 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. They 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 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:
I’ve laughed at people stating that “not much seems different on PS4” because the game looks amazing now. The problem lies more in the fact that it’s looked so great on PS3 in detail and framerate that at first glance, you may not see the differences immediately. Every stadium has been rebuilt from scratch and now everything in those stadiums is completely built-out instead of the flat surfaces that have been present for years. Scoreboards and signs actually have a full structure and depth, the Green Monster has all of the metal plates instead of flat textures and everything is lit in real-time correctly, day or night. Even the field itself is now rendered with individual blades of grass and the infield has its own particle system so chunks of dirt and sand can be kicked-up.

Players have also been completely redone, all completely lit correctly and using a new system for the hair, each strand is individually placed on the player for facial hair and on top of their heads. It looks good most of the time, but it doesn’t really “flow” well yet so sometimes it can look pretty stiff. Over 350 animations have been added so movements flow together much better now and even a couple of hit types have been added. This is because the PS4’s power finally allows them to blend animations well enough to include a Japanese-style slap hit which wasn’t possible on PS3. Uniforms actually look like material now and eyes move freely which is even visible when the player is wearing sunglasses which is a great touch. Motion is much smoother and going from catching to throwing is practically seamless now.

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The interface has been completely overhauled as well. 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 MLB 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 in other running situations. This is a pretty welcome change as it serves to make the game seem that much more authentic. Framerate too, is very solid, with the occasional dip during a transition scene. It stays fantastically smooth during actual gameplay though and the dips I mentioned aren’t even that bad really (the same dips occur on the PS3 version too.)

The star of the game though, is the new Dynamic Camera. No longer will the game cut to the field after a hit when you’re in a catcher view. Instead, the camera flows to the field after the ball is hit and never “cuts” to a different camera. This is present on PS3 and Vita as well, but its impact is much greater on PS4. The more I play this game, the more I’m blown-away by this new camera functionality and it really does change the entire flow of the game and how it’s presented.

Audio:
Again, the audio design will feel very familiar, but everything has been re-recorded in full High Definition and all of the audio is uncompressed now. 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 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 three have returned again this year.

Online/Multiplayer:
It actually works! Online isn’t perfect yet, but I am happy to report (and we’ll have a video on our YouTube channel later today) that online actually seems to work on PS4. The game played very well, with any hitching happening only in non-gameplay moments, and even then it wasn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, voice doesn’t seem to be working, so you’ll be forced to use the PS4’s party chat if you want to talk. But seriously, I played three online games and all three went very well. I’m doing my best not to exaggerate here because it’s still not, and probably never will be, exactly like you’re playing a local multiplayer game, but this is the best it’s ever been for an MLB The Show game online.

Conclusion:
My biggest fear is that people may not realize how much has changed in the game this year. The truth is that a lot of what’s underneath the hood 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 many fans of the series.

Online finally works (mostly) and it’s actually fun to challenge someone and complete a full game over the Internet. Let’s just hope that they continue to improve it and add voice support at some point.

This is seriously one of the best sports games I’ve ever played, and the fact that this is what we’re getting on their first attempt on a new console speaks volumes about what’s to come in the future. Except for “Sounds of the Show” obviously, this is feature complete with the PS3 version, which is a pretty amazing feat when you think about it. Having MLB 14 The Show so early in the PS4’s lifecycle is tremendously satisfying, and the fact that it doesn’t feel like a mere port like when the series hit PS3 feels even better than expected.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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