My favorite time of the year is upon us. Spring means the boys of Summer are hard at work either toeing the rubber, fielding baseballs or applying pine tar to their bats and swinging away. That also means it’s time for MLB 14: the Show. While the PS4 release is still a month away, the PS3 and Vita versions arrived on my door step a few days ago and I’ve already started my march to the Majors (actually I have a pitcher that made it to the Show pretty quick).
Sony’s flagship sports title has been one of the top rated sports games ever year since 2006, and they have always tried to make improvements with each annual release. The first question on my mind, and probably most of you sports gamers out there as well, is, “Did they add enough bells and whistles to warrant another purchase or is it just a roster refresh from last year’s release?” and that has to be answered by looking at what San Diego Studios brings to the plate with MLB 14: The Show.
I have been a fan of baseball since the early 70’s and even got to see Nolan Ryan strike out a dozen in a game at the old ballpark in Arlington. It has always been my favorite sport and even though my Texas Rangers haven’t always been a great team, I’ve always cheered them on and as a kid I dreamt about playing for them someday either in right field or on the mound. Life happens though and our dreams change as we get older, but in the back of my mind I always have to think about the what-ifs. MLB 14: The Show lets me dive into someone’s farm system and answer those what-ifs, albeit virtually.
Road to the Show (RTTS) mode is a staple of the series and this years edition adds a new layer to the process. Once you’ve created your player you’ll have to show off your skills in a three game series to determine your draft stock. Scouts and front office personnel will watch you play and determine which round you’ll be drafted in. You can select a target team prior to entering the draft and while there’s no guarantee they will draft you, knowing the needs for each team might just expedite your journey to the Major League. I went with the Cubs as a starting pitcher and everyone knows they are in dire need of pitching right now.
The developers understood that real world fans wanted as close to a true-to-life experience as they could muster and created a system that uses current real world info as a foundation. If an organization is weak in pitching in real life, the game mimics that. You could look through the roster and depth charts in the game to decide your fastest path to the show, or you could just start Googling for that info and your results would be just as accurate as the in-game info. While this isn’t something new for the series, it is something worth pointing out.
Once you’ve completed your showcase and have went through the draft process, you’ll have another decision to make. If you are drafted by a team you really don’t want to play for you can opt to go to school for a year or more and are given some training points to improve yourself. No longer are forced to play for a team you aren’t a fan of and you can better yourself, and hopefully in turn improve your draft stock, then re-enter the draft the following year and target a team you really want to play for. The RTTS experience had already been pretty complete but these new additions to the system work great and really add to the overall RTTS experience.
A few other tweaks to the RTTS system help to enhance the overall experience as well. Gone are the advancement goals and the entire menu system is now revamped. You can easily see how you compare to your current teams depth chart and can see how those other guys are doing at their level in regards to how you are faring. Applying training points is also a little different and the system keeps track of how much you have improved over the course of your season, which lets you know what needs work and what you worked on previously. All in all, the RTTS system is a step up from previous editions and seeing how you can carry your game saves on to next year’s edition, a big step in the right direction.
Gameplay has a few new additions as well this year. Regardless of the mode you are playing, you can use the new Player Lock feature to always play one player in the field as if you are playing your RTTS player, even in Franchise or Play Now modes. Couple that with the new Quick Count feature, and you can play through a season in rapid time. Quick Counts will allow you to fast forward to key moments in an at-bat and not have to play every pitch. Using real life stats, you’ll jump into an AB with the count already established and then you’ll have to play it out. This feature can speed a game up and allow you to play a full nine inning game in thirty minutes or less.
New to MLB 14 is the Community Challenges section. Here you can create a challenge freely, using teams and players of your choice, and create game situations where the pressure is on to achieve the goal(s) of your choosing. Bases loaded jam with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth in a tied ball game? Could you strike out the side or at least get one strikeout and an inning ending double play? Create and share your own challenges or download someone else’s on the PS3 (not available on the Vita).
Online Franchise mode allows you to play with friends around the globe, and you can even manage your league at TheShownation.com. Almost everything that was great about the offline franchise made it to the online franchise (PS3/PS4 only). You can draft your teams, trade players around, and even have the CPU make trades as well. Commissioner options include divisions, season length, post season length and scheduling, among other things. This is a great addition that should help everyone enjoy the game beyond just our own console and couch.
The PS3 graphics for the game seem polished some, but last years edition already looked great on the PS3 so there really wasn’t much to be done there. San Diego Studios had already pushed the PS3 to its limit and this years game follows that same path to visual greatness. One noticed improvement is in player interactions. It actually looks like the players are making contact on high fives now. The PS4 release is still a ways off (May 6th), and I will revisit the game again once it hits my doorstep. RTTS and offline Franchise saves will carry over from the Vita/PS3 to the PS4 so there’s no need to hold off on starting your journey now.
MLB 14: the Show brings with it some welcome changes and the game save advancement on to 2015 alone is enough to warrant a step into the 2014 edition and the new RTTS features enhance that mode to a new level of realism. If you own a PS3 or a Vita and are a baseball fan, you won’t regret picking this title up. If you own a PS4, you may want to wait for May 6th for the console version.