"Baseball is better." That's the slogan for this year's MLB The Show baseball simulator. It implies the game is competing with the other major sports -- which makes sense because The Show is the only option for anyone who wants to play an MLB licensed game this season. No PlayStation? No baseball for you. It's this or it's nothing.
Running unopposed usually ignites fears of stagnancy. We've seen it happen before in other sports franchises that don't face any competition.
In the case of MLB 14 The Show on PlayStation 4, developer SCEA San Diego has honed in on a brag-worthy feature-set sure to attract the eyeballs of hardcore baseball loyalists.
So does this make for a worthy title in its own right? Or is it an undeserving default purchase?
In the realm of next-generation sports games, MLB 14 The Show gets the same facelift the other sports are enjoying. Having played all of the next-gen sports games (FIFA, Madden, and NBA 2K14), what you're getting is a boost in overall presentation, some gameplay enhancements, and significantly better player modeling. We still think NBA 2K14 is the best next-generation sports game with FIFA coming in at a close second.
So where does MLB 14 The Show stack up in all of this? It's pretty easy to say it's the best looking baseball game ever made (it has no competition, of course), but the fundamental gameplay hasn't changed much. Everything just looks better -- the stadiums are jaw-droppingly realistic, the players have a mostly natural gait, and even the fans, who are now rendered in HD almost never repeat.
We liked the new interface -- everything seems zippy on PS4 except for the initial install of the game, which took well over a half hour. The sound has improved -- that goes for the ambiance of the ballpark as well as the commentary, which is more varied and diverse, though it's not without the occasional out-of-context screw-up.
Nothing's perfect, however. While there's a lot more detail in player models, sometimes fine detail (like Josh Reddick's beard) aren't rendered quite as well you'd hope. Sometimes you'll notice a pitcher's moment of release isn't as natural-looking as it should be. After hitting a ball off the top of the wall at Wrigley, we replayed it and noticed that none of the fans in the bleachers were actually looking at the ball (the problem with adding more detail to a game is that your expectations are ramped up, so when something is a little off it seems really off). Another time we were called out on a check swing, only to go back to the replay and discover our batter didn't come close to crossing home plate with the bat.
The developers have done a good job giving you a lot of flexibility to play the game how you want to play, but we found that the game play still needed to be tweaked around our individual play level and skill. Pitching remains a little dull and some of the control schemes make it unnecessarily difficult to control your pitches and throw strikes. At the default setting, it's incredibly hard to pitch aggressively. Striking out the computer is a rare treat.
We liked the new Player Lock and Quick Counts features, which are designed to shorten up games significantly (yes, baseball games take too long to play). Quick Counts jump you ahead in the pitch count and helps shorten games quite a bit. Player Lock allows you to lock on one player during a game -- like in the Road to the Show mode -- and just do his at bats and plays in the field.
We didn't get a chance to play through a whole season, but the franchise mode's interface has been overhauled and online play added, so you can set up a multi-season league with your friends (online play had its hiccups at launch, but will hopefully improve with time).
Like most people, we ended up gravitating toward the Road to the Show mode, where you build your own player and work your way up through the minors. There's a new Topps Amateur draft where you "tryout" in a three-day showcase and your draft position changes according to how well you do. The graphics enhancements make the whole Road to The Show that much more fun to play. It's the most addicting part of the game, and if you happen to own the Vita version (or PS3 version) of MLB 14, you can save your progress to the cloud and swap between consoles. That goes for franchise mode as well.
In the end, while it may not reach the pinnacle of other next-gen sports games, MLB 14 The Show is a solid effort that brings just enough new exciting bits to the PS4 experience. There's room for improvement, but nevertheless, baseball's future on the PlayStation 4 looks bright.
Check out GameSpot's coverage of MLB 14 The Show.