Sony’s MLB: The Show games are among some of the most widely celebrated sports sims in the industry. Boasting pitch-perfect play mechanics, and deep, rewarding baseball management-based extra modes, with the series’ trademark ‘Road to the Show’ mode being a key draw, PlayStation gamers have enjoyed the best way to play virtual baseball for many years now.
It’s a shame then that the complete lack of competition in the baseball sim arena appears to have made Sony complacent, if this year’s release is any indication. MLB 14: The Show maintains the awesome additions of MLB 13: The Show, but has almost nothing new to contribute itself, beyond the obligatory roster update. This is a particular disappointment in the case of the first-ever PS4 offering for the series, which saunters onto next-gen hardware with a shrug.
The fact remains that this continues to be the only way to play virtual baseball this year though, and fundamentally, the key hooks that made the series so highly acclaimed are intact here. It’s just a disappointment that the series doesn’t seem to have budged this year, even in the graduation to new hardware.
MLB: The Show as a series has always been a visual treat on Sony’s devices, and MLB 14: The Show is no exception for the most part. Incredible amounts of detail exist in the player animations and real-life stadiums, with all sorts of neat little visual touches that effectively demonstrate players interacting with each other in dynamic response to plays. As expected, there’s a whole lot of production value behind the graphics, which have an outstanding, broadcast-level quality on PS4 especially.
Naturally, the visuals get especially beefed up overall in the PS4 edition. Rendering beautifully at native 1080p resolution, and featuring even more detailed player actions and crowd responses, MLB 14: The Show on PS4 is a contender for one of the most gorgeous sports games ever made to date at the very least. Sony San Diego even completely remodeled the stadiums for the PS4 edition of the game, and they just look incredible!
With that said though, it’s bizarre that even the PS4 version of MLB 14: The Show seems to have some surprising technical hiccups. The framerate gets oddly jittery during certain passive sequences between plays most noticeably. Thankfully, this at least doesn’t happen during actual gameplay, which consistently demands that players think quickly and react even quicker. On top of the jitters though, the game’s load times are unacceptably long, even on PS4, with initial loads taking over fifteen seconds, and loads between games stretching out to around the same length. This is a pretty irritating issue for a sports sim that’s supposed to be taking advantage of the vastly improved processing power of a next-gen console!
If you can sacrifice some visual fidelity, the PS3 version of the game still looks quite good, and makes quite a valiant effort to stand alongside its PS4 sibling. There’s a smidge less player detail, and stadiums don’t look nearly as dynamic or well-realized, not to mention that the game caps at 720p resolution on Sony’s last-gen console as well. You’re still getting one mighty fine-looking game of baseball if you haven’t yet upgraded your hardware however.
The same framerate jitters appear to be in place in the PS3 build though, and the load times are at their worst in this version. Players have a choice between an express install or a full install on PS3, and trust me, you want the full 10GB or so install, where the load times are about as sluggish as they are in the PS4 version. With just the mandatory express install, the game takes a small ice age to get going in most of its play modes!
As if that weren’t enough, the PS3 version also has some pretty severe online lag at times. More complex processing modes, namely things like franchising, appear to really tax the console’s connection quality at times, making these modes a chore to take online on Sony’s last-gen hardware. The PS4 version performs a bit better online, even if it can still get a bit sluggish itself at times, but the laggy and tedious online gameplay is one of the most blatant ways that MLB: The Show is starting to appear a bit aged on the PS3.
If you’re opting for the handheld PS Vita edition, the visuals look solid, but they don’t impress nearly as much as they do on consoles. Stadiums and crowds look acceptable, and player likenesses at least look pretty sharp and lifelike for a handheld sports game. The actual character models of a good chunk of players sometimes look comically off though, especially when you have to stare at them after taking a batting position. Playing the PS Vita build on PlayStation TV doesn’t help matters at all either, only serving to highlight how much better-looking the dedicated console versions of the game are, especially the PS4 version.
Oh, and, naturally, the load times are pretty lengthy on PS Vita as well. This hurts the appeal of taking a baseball session on the go, since you’ll have to wait longer than you should to actually get into a game.
All in all though, MLB 14: The Show is well-produced, and contains plenty of visual polish, even if it’s best appreciated on the PS4 in that regard.
The small handful of licensed tracks in the game aren’t anything special. They just give you something to listen to while fiddling your way through menus. It’s about what you would expect from most sports sims.
As for sound effects, they’re at least done quite well. The incredible amount of authenticity in the stadium design is done beautifully, with faithful fanfares, crowd noises and other such elements that make you feel like you’re at an actual baseball game. The satisfying crack of the bat and snap of a glove sound exactly as they should, and the high quality of the production value really sings if you play either of the console builds on a cutting edge surround sound system!
If you’re opting to play on PS Vita, the sound work naturally takes a small hit compared to the console versions, but still mostly stands neck-and-neck with them in the audio department. You can also achieve a special kind of immersion by playing the PS Vita build with headphones plugged in too, which helps to best appreciate the hefty amount of authentic detail in the audio.
Perhaps the best element of the audio is the stadium commentary, which is very well detailed and fun. Some of the comments can be pretty amusing, depending on how you and the A.I. play, and it’s remarkable how well the artificially intelligent announcers and commentators respond so cheekily to even the most minute of play details. It helps to make every game you play feel unique. Sure, if you take the same teams through the same play modes, the commentators will begin to repeat their quips more than you would like, but if you stretch yourself evenly across all of the game’s play modes and teams, the experience effectively feels very personalized, thanks to how well the commentators keep up with even the most unexpected of actions.
There’s a certain feel to how your ears perceive sports, but MLB 14: The Show effortlessly captures the audio beats of being taken out to the ball game.
If you’re a returning baseball fan coming to enjoy what MLB: The Show has always done best, you won’t be disappointed with MLB 14:The Show. It maintains every great innovation and level of detail that the series has achieved up to this point, and it still blends an impressive level of realism with an intricate and very satisfying degree of strategy. All in all, it’s still one of the best sports sims available not just on PlayStation devices, but on any gaming hardware!
You won’t be disappointed with MLB 14: The Show… But you won’t be impressed either, at least beyond the initial novelty of gawking at the beefed-up graphics of the PS4 edition, should you have gone that route. MLB 14: The Show just mostly goes through the motions. They’re great motions for baseball fans, but they don’t really differ significantly from last year’s offering in most respects, especially considering all of the strides that MLB 13: The Show took to improve the gameplay and make it more interesting.
If you just want to jump right into a baseball game, you’ll notice that the usual pitch-perfect batting, pitching and fielding mechanics all make a return. All three of them feel as satisfying as ever to execute, with multiple control options available, depending on your perceived level of skill. You can heavily simplify the pitching and batting controls to mainly just be done with the X Button if you’re a more casual player, though more advanced control schemes are available that allow you to dictate your batting swing and pitching style with the other face buttons as well, should you be a baseball expert that wants the most out of the experience.
As usual, it’s difficult to describe exactly what makes MLB 14: The Show so effectively realized, but it just feels right. No matter what position you’re currently controlling, it just feels right. It plays like a baseball sim should, with all of the flexibility and smoothness that it should demand. You just have to play it to appreciate it.
Outside of standard exhibition matches, you have the usual helping of play modes to amuse yourself with. You can make a franchise, enjoy the series’ highlight Road to the Show mode, or perhaps take either your management or play cravings online to compete against other players over PlayStation Network. If you just want to unwind with something simpler, you can also practice your batting and pitching at your leisure, or perhaps participate in a Home Run Derby with oneself, or with other people, whether locally or online.
Be warned however that the PS Vita version is almost entirely missing online play for some reason, only allowing you to play Home Run Derby. It comes with the same fundamental gameplay and play mode selection as its console counterparts, but for the most part, it’s single-player-only, so bear that in mind if you enjoy real human competition, or were thinking of saving a few bucks to try and play this version on PlayStation TV.
Another potential issue with playing the PS Vita version of MLB 14: The Show, which isn’t so much a problem if you are playing on PlayStation TV with an actual Dual Shock 3 or Dual Shock 4 controller, is that the handheld’s rigid analog sticks don’t handle well here. Sony San Diego appears to have tried to compensate for the less flexible analog sticks by making them super sensitive, so it takes only a small slip of your thumb to have a player bolting away from a ground ball or a pop fly that they should have been able to easily get their mitt around. Overall, the PS3 and PS4 versions both handle a whole lot more reliably.
As a series first however, MLB 14: The Show supports cross-save (though not cross-buy) between its three platforms. Thus, if you own multiple versions of the game, you can freely share your custom players, roster data and rankings between them. It’s a small thing, but it’s no doubt appreciated for die-hard baseball enthusiasts who want to play the game on their home entertainment system as well as on the go with their handheld, or perhaps originally owned the PS3 version, then later upgraded to the PS4 version, and don’t want to lose all of their valuable data that they accumulated when playing on PS3.
One of the other small all-new additions to MLB 14: The Show is Player Lock, which allows you to choose whether you want to control just one player, or an entire team, and thankfully, you can switch it on or off between games. Unfortunately though, you can’t toggle this during an actual game, even if it does prevent you from a long commitment one way or another over the course of an entire season.
Quick Counts is probably the most compelling new addition though, even if it’s still a pretty minor one. If you choose, you can simulate the first few pitches of a count, based on a player’s stats and abilities, which can really help speed up the process of playing a session. This is especially appealing in the PS Vita version, since it means that you don’t have to constantly put the handheld in Sleep Mode when you’re suddenly indisposed, since your baseball game is taking too long to complete. Even simply for impatient players that are pressed for time, it’s a smart new mechanic.
The only potential drawback to Quick Counts is that it compromises plays, so micromanagers and trophy hunters will probably turn their noses at it. Really though, trophy hunters probably won’t think that MLB 14: The Show is worth it if their love of baseball is anything less than fanatical, because the trophy conditions of this game are absolutely absurd! The trophies demand such pinpoint, isolated events, and will consume untold amounts of hours to attain even a single one of in many instances. Less than 1-2% of players have earned most of the game’s trophies, according to the PS4 and PS Vita standings, and I can’t say I’m surprised by that. The trophies just aren’t worth it for the most part, and you’re better off ignoring them, which is a shame for people who enjoy amassing as many trophies as they can for their PlayStation Network profile.
Another solid new addition to the game is custom community challenges, which allow you to create your own player-made scenarios, and challenge the PlayStation Network community with them. These can be anything that your imagination can conjure up, within any inning, with any base conditions, and thensome! There’s just one wrinkle; You have to be able to complete the challenge yourself before you can post it online. It’s a cool way to get around abusing the system with faulty designs, and it also adds in endless new ways to keep enjoying the game, even when you’ve grown weary of your usual game of baseball, at least, until MLB 15: The Show inevitably comes out next year.
Beyond these small optional tweaks though, MLB 14: The Show suffers from a real lack of novelty, and it just really feels phoned in this year. This feeling is at its worst in the debuting PS4 version, which doesn’t do very much to take advantage of next-gen hardware, and is completely identical in every way to the PS3 and PS Vita versions, loading issues and all, beyond having especially pretty graphics. MLB 13: The Show may be a tough act to follow, and its improvements may be maintained in MLB 14: The Show, but there just isn’t enough here to entice less devout baseball fans to a purchase of this year’s offering if they’re still enjoying last year’s, and don’t mind the outdated roster. This is even true of the PS4 version, and that’s very unfortunate.
Still, everything that’s good about this series is technically here. It’s still rewarding to develop your own custom player from draft scouts to the major leagues in Road to the Show, and it’s still gratifying to see you accumulate EXP with every play session you see through, building a persistent career level that helps you dictate online matchmaking in the case of the console versions. It’s also still just as satisfying to play virtual baseball with such effectively fine-tuned play mechanics, even if the gameplay is fundamentally untouched from last year’s game, even on PS4.
Any bells and whistles on MLB 14: The Show are ultimately only skin-deep, even if this still remains a very polished and rewarding baseball sim series. It’s fundamentally sound, and it at least tries to have a couple of new ideas, but it just should have done more to stand apart from its predecessor.
MLB 14: The Show is a weak next-gen debut for the series, and feels largely rehashed from last year’s offering. There’s enough minor improvements and maintained highlights to still make the game recommendable if you’re so inclined, but this year’s offering is nothing special, so be sure to adjust your expectations accordingly.
It may have amounted to a time constraint, but it’s both puzzling and disappointing that Sony San Diego didn’t ultimately do more with such a pivotal entry in their acclaimed baseball sim series. The handheld version on PS Vita feels even more downscaled and compromised than usual, particularly with its glaring omission of almost any online play, and the fact that the PS4 version is identical to the seemingly aged PS3 version beyond a small cosmetic boost is a pretty huge let-down.
That said, it’s not like Sony has competition with the MLB license, which may have contributed to the fact that MLB 14: The Show didn’t feel the need to swing for the fences, even in the graduation to a new console. What works about these games works as well as it ever did with the latest offering, but MLB 14: The Show is definitely not the revolutionary upgrade that many baseball enthusiasts no doubt hoped it would be.
MLB 14: The Show continues to deliver a polished and well-realized game of baseball, but for the series' next-gen debut especially, it feels disappointingly phoned in, and is very sorely lacking in novelty.