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MLB 14: The Show Preview (PS4)

February 13, 2014 Written by Anthony Severino

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Even though Sony’s going head-to-head with a lot less competition in 2014 now that 2K Sports won’t be renewing the MLB2K series, the team at SCEA San Diego didn’t get complacent and have improved and finely tuned nearly every feature for MLB 14: The Show. Better yet, they’re determined to release on three PlayStation platforms with full parity across all of them, refusing to sacrifice quality to meet that goal.

MLB 14: The Show is still months away from an April 1st release on the PS3 and PS Vita, and slightly further away from an expected May release on PS4, but the team was still confident enough to show members of the press what The Show has to offer in 2014. Rightfully so, as it’s easily one of the most impressive sports games I’ve ever seen.

You may notice that the April 1st release date is later than the early-to-mid March date the game normally drops—Sony is looking for the release to more directly coincide with the baseball season to draw from the excitement and buzz of opening day. The PS4 version is launching later because it’s a new platform with a new engine, needing slightly more time to ensure it’s as fully featured as the legacy PS3 version. It’s worth the wait, because nothing is worse than getting a next-gen version of a game that’s missing half the features of the current-generation counterpart, simply to meet deadlines.

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Along with all the great features you’ve come to expect from past iterations, such as Home Run Derby and Road to the Show, all versions of MLB 14: The Show will feature three new additions: Quick Counts, Road to the Show Anywhere (otherwise known as Player Lock), and a Community Challenge feature that Community Manager Ramone Russell wasn’t yet ready to talk about, but says will let fans create their own special moments

One thing the team recognized about The Show versus other sports games, was just how long it takes to get through a whole nine-inning game of baseball. Both Quick Counts and Player Lock modes were created with the intent of getting users through a game faster. Player Lock, for example, lets you play as one selected team member for the entire game, simulating all of the rest of the players. So if you’d rather just slug it out as Big Papi the whole time, you can opt to do so. Should you decide halfway through you have more time than expected, Player Lock can be toggled on or off at any given time so you can resume playing as the whole team. Since it’s separate from Road to the Show, even though you’re tied to just one player, you still have responsibilities to the team as a manager, which Road to the Show lacks. It’s one more way that MLB 14: The Show gives you complete control over the experience.

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Quick Counts makes for equally faster game times, but is all the more impressive due to the amount of data and research San Diego Studios used to create an algorithm that realistically emulates actual MLB pitch counts that players encounter depending on the batter and what pitcher they’re up against. Rather than stepping up to the plate with an 0-0 pitch count, Quick Counts simulates a true-to-MLB pitch count to force users to occasionally take a ball on a 2-2 count, rather than striking out. This new Quick Counts feature was designed as a result of the development team’s response to the fact that the majority of past MLB players strike out at each at bat, swinging at every pitch that’s thrown and not being patient enough to pay attention and let pitches outside of the batter’s box through for the walk.

These features are coming to each version of the game, however, thanks to the added processing power of the PlayStation 4, it’ll have unique design and graphical leaps that just can’t be replicated on the PS3 and Vita.

At just a glance, the PS4 version is brighter and more detailed. Upon closer inspection, it’s the subtleties that make the next-gen version the best-looking sports title yet. On top of an all-new lighting engine that lends to natural shadowing and realistic light reflections based on what material the sun is shining on and the direction it’s coming from, Russell used a side-by-side comparison of a Mike Napoli player model as an example of the differences between the two. The entire facial structure is more human, especially Napoli’s beard. On the PS3, the beard was flat to the face, mapped over polygons. The PS4 beard was hundreds upon hundreds of individually drawn geometrical hairs that pop from Napoli’s face. It was enough that I let out a genuine “wow” in appreciation of the striking comparison.

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It’s not just the players that have received these graphical improvements, the stadium and the crowd in attendance have as well. Grass is no longer a flat plane, instead having depth that the ball and player’s cleats can sink into. Grass also effects the way the ball rolls now. The scoreboard on the Green Monster at historic Fenway Park was also used as an example (as can be seen above) of how the PS3 version is simply a flat surface that’s been drawn on, compared to a fully-designed scoreboard with layers that pop and stand out on PS4.

The oft-overlooked crowd is more diverse, ranging from 42 different crowd models on the PS3, to well over 1000 on the PS4. It’s not just the numbers, either, but the look, that really is shocking. To put it into perspective, crowd models on the PS4 boast the same polygon count as the player models on the PS4. There are even unique team and player crowd signs created by the friends and family members of the development staff.

All of the new features and visual improvements will make for the most compelling sports game ever when it launches. MLB 14: The Show aims for the bleachers this April 1st for the PS3 and PS Vita, and some time in May on the PS4.