With MLB 14: The Show, that’s precisely the quandary that was faced by SCE San Diego Studio – do they attempt to reinvent the wheel on the PlayStation 4 or simply work on porting over the established gameplay mechanics of the PS3 series and fancy it all up with some shiny new visuals? While they’ve opted for the latter option here, however, they’ve still managed to craft what is easily the best baseball game ever created, and with incredibly strong foundations to build upon for next year’s installment, things are certainly looking very promising for the series’ future.
It might disappoint some to learn that the differences between the PS3 and PS4 versions of MLB 14: The Show are practically non-existent in terms of gameplay modes and features but, for me, that would be unfair criticism, particularly given the quality of the last-gen version of the game. What the PS4 has allowed San Diego Studio to do is vastly improve the quality of the game’s visuals and presentation, and for a sport like baseball, that can make a genuine difference in the overall experience.
It only takes a quick glimpse at each of the games to realise that there have been huge strides made here on the visual front. The PS4 version’s character models contain a level of detail that would be unthinkable on its predecessor, while the various stadia and crowd models are flawless in their execution, with more diversity than the series has ever managed to offer in the past.
Improved animations make the on-field protagonists look incredibly realistic, while transitions between various states are much less jarring than we’ve grown accustomed to in the past (although, it must be pointed out, that they’re still not flawless, and some work will undoubtedly have to be done before we reach the verge of the uncanny valley).
Unfortunately, the underlying similarities between the PS3 and PS4 versions cause a few issues, particularly with the game’s online play. Although it’s not a huge issue most of the time, occasional latency can ruin online sessions, particularly while batting, and this is something that’s really going to need to be patched out as soon as possible, lest the game’s online community run out of patience.
So, enough of the comparisons between the two versions of the game and let’s take a look at what players can look forward to in MLB 14: The Show, whatever console they’re playing on.
As you might expect, all the established gameplay modes make their way over to this year’s installment, with Road to the Show once again proving the star attraction. Here you’ll create a custom player and attempt to take him into the big leagues courtesy of gradual improvements, bought using the training points gained from your on-field exploits.
As someone who is only starting to find his feet when it comes to baseball, I was impressed by just how intuitive the gameplay mode is. Everything is easily accessible and clearly defined, meaning that newcomers will have few problems in figuring things out with a little exploration through the menus.
A range of difficulties, including the dynamic mode which tweaks the game’s difficult in an ongoing manner as you improve over time. Having first decided to tackle things in veteran difficulty, this change in pace was certainly welcome, and it allowed me to get to grips with the nuances of the game’s mechanics.
Since Road to the Show follows your progress as a single player, there are times when you’ll be waiting around for the game to simulate through to your next interaction, which actually works out quite well. Rather than having you stand around in the field waiting for something to happen, this ensures that you’re able to keep a razor sharp focus, making it less likely that you’ll screw up and cost your team at a pivotal moment in the game – although it might be a little off putting for some not to be quite as involved.
Following an initial trial event where you get to strut your stuff in front of visiting scouts over the course of three matches, you’ll find yourself in the game’s draft, where you’ll learn your immediate destiny. If you excelled during the trial matches, you’ll likely be a hot property and find yourself at the top of the draft list, but even if you struggled initially, you’ll find a home. From that point it’ll be up to you to accept the offer or chose to go back to school (literally), in order to try again with improved stats, at the expense of being older and having less of a career to look forward to.
If you prefer the idea of a more traditional sports game experience that sees you in control of the whole team, then there are plenty of options available here, including the series staple franchise mode, which is available in both online and offline modes.
Like the real thing, your success in MLB 14: The Show will depend on a number of factors; preparation, skill, conditions and luck. If you manage to tick the box on all four in any give game, then you’re going to be in for a real treat, otherwise things aren’t quite as easy going. Fortunately, the entire gameplay experience, despite being a realistic simulation, exudes fun.
Whether batting, pitching or fielding is your forte, you’ll be able to focus on your strengths, and even relinquish control of the other aspects of the game to the AI. Striking your opponent out is every bit as satisfying as knocking a pitch out of the park with all the bases loaded, which makes for a refreshing change when, typically, it’s the big money hits that draws players into baseball games.
Your choice of strategy will play a big part in your success here, and players who are less than flexible in their approach will quickly learn that adaptation is essential. Throwing the same pitch over and over will only work for so long before the batters cotton on to you and start dispatching you to far flung areas of the stadium without breaking a sweat, while knowing how to spot a loose pitch ripe for the taking and when to stand your ground is equally important.
I may not be the most knowledgeable when it comes to baseball as a whole, but I know good video games, and MLB 14: The Show is exactly that. There’s a huge array of gameplay modes for players to get stuck into, and whether offline or local play is your preference, you’re more than adequately catered for. Those who want to get engrossed in the tactical and strategic side of the game will find plenty of depth, while more casual players can simply dial back the difficulty and settle in for an enjoyable day at the ballpark!