This review covers the differences between the PS3 and PS4 versions of MLB 14: The Show. Gameplay remains largely unaltered, so you'll find our original PS3 review after the break.MLB 14: The Show share all of the same features. The upgrades made to MLB 14 as it enters the next generation are cosmetic, though not insignificant and certainly not unnoticed, such as the game's improved stadiums that house each team. The skyline at Petco Park in San Diego features more buildings in the background, and the four flagpoles just beyond left center field actually have flags now, flapping in the breeze.
The PS4 version of MLB 14 is much crisper in its details, thanks to much sharper textures. Hair now stands out on players' heads, and close-ups of their faces show more freckles and blemishes. While players' overall facial structures haven't changed, Sony San Diego wasn't afraid to bring the camera closer to players on PS4 to show off the details, as seen in post-game celebrations, for instance. The camera is also pulled a little tighter to the batter's box by default when hitting, though that may be a bug in the camera options (as the "catcher" and "catcher 3" batting angles look identical).
More striking are the diverse character models and animations for the crowd in every ballpark. I spotted spectators walking through a distant hall past right field, beyond a sea of people that appeared to move more independently than on PS3. Even without the same visual fidelity found in the athletes themselves, cut-scenes featuring fans looked more natural and (dare I say) "human." The crowd's booming cheers and hastened quieting sounded a bit more reactive and pulled to the front of the game with its bump in volume.
MLB 14: The Show (2/13/14)
Again though, MLB 14's improvements on PS4 are cosmetic, and it shows in the continued problems with online play. Whether with those on my friends list or random matches, at-bats were frequently met with latency issues and dropped frames. My opponent's fielders skipped and stuttered across the field to catch fly balls, and pitching a complete game with nearly 20 strikeouts seemed all too easy, given the improbability of hitting when the game slowed down. What's more, the PS4 version seems to have worse load times, as I simultaneously booted up the same offline exhibition game on both systems and was well into the PS3 version's later opening sequences when the PS4 version had just started.
In all, the transition to PS4 proved to be a healthy one for MLB 14: The Show. Continued online issues and increased load times aside, the visual boost provided by Sony's new hardware adds to what is already a solid baseball sim, making it the best version of the game available.
PS3 MLB 14: The Show review by Mike Suszek (images from PS3 version):
Yet much like the faithfully-recreated and wildly differing batting stances of hitters in the game, MLB 14: The Show truly makes its mark in the baseball sim series by being one thing: dynamic.
Among this year's improvements, developer Sony San Diego introduced a new difficulty system. By switching to "dynamic" difficulty, which can be enabled independently within separate gameplay segments like pitching and hitting, players begin at an easier "rookie +" mode and gradually work their way up with each half-inning of play. Over the course of two successful career mode games, I graduated to the veteran difficulty level and instantly walked more batters and missed the strike zone more regularly, just as a minor league prospect might. After a few at-bats I became accustomed to the new difficulty settings, which felt much more in tune with my abilities as a player.
One way to ease gameplay is through MLB 14's myriad tuning options, accessible on-the-fly during games. Don't like baserunning or fielding? Set those actions to automatic and focus on pitching and batting. MLB 14 offers enough methods of play in every category that I achieved maximum comfort with the game within a few hours of tinkering. The term "dynamic" also applies to one small, but noticeable improvement in the game's default cameras when hitting and fielding. Now, instead of physically following the ball, the camera "watches" the ball from a fixed position. It's a slick, albeit minor change that makes the action more pleasant on the eyes and places the player more or less "in" the game.
MLB 14: The Show also picks up the pace this year with two brilliant options: Quick Counts and Player Lock. With Quick Counts enabled, you no longer throw every pitch, instead jumping directly to a algorithmically-generated count during every at-bat. For example, I entered a 2-2 count when using Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum and managed the one-pitch strikeout on my own. Even if the occasional circumstance (like a 3-0 count) put me at an aggravating disadvantage, every pitch felt that much more important and true to the abilities of the player I was using. The increased speed of the game outweighed any feeling that I wasn't impacting every pitch of the game.
The even speedier method of playing is to use Player Lock. This option allows players to use just one athlete at any moment in any single-player match, with MLB 14 simulating and skipping any part of the game that doesn't involve said athlete. In one case, I jumped into a game as Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and paused the game in the seventh inning to switch to Edwin Encarnacion on the fly. I didn't play every moment on defense either, as MLB 14 only stops simulating when it knows you'll be involved in the upcoming play. While it's not well-stated that you need to head to the "substitutions" menu to select your locked player, the option instantly livens up the game on both offense and defense, and it makes a sub-15-minute match a definite possibility.
Player Lock builds off MLB's popular mode, Road to the Show (RTTS). Career modes in sports games are at their best when your player's development is defined in grander terms than leaderboards and burgeoning abilities but, unfortunately, that's the extent of my experience in RTTS. It's enjoyable to climb my way into the MLB through a franchise's minor league system, beginning with a new three-game amateur showcase to impact my player's draft position. However, without pieces of dialogue to tell your player's story early in his career, something that series like FIFA attempt through generated news clips, RTTS is like any other empty, stat-grinding RPG. It's fun – if all you want is to improve the numbers that represent your skills.
The other career option in MLB 14: The Show is franchise mode, in which players take over an organization and run it top-to-bottom. This year's addictive, strategic franchise mode cleans up the interface with a helpful notification system. It might be a little overwhelming for newcomers, so the developer has also included a pleasant number of options that can be toggled to "auto" in the event that you'd rather play ball instead of micromanaging your double-A minor league players. The bigger change this year is the addition of online franchise, which is accompanied by an endless combination of options. MLB 14: The Show allows players to manage teams with up to 29 other friends (enough to cover every team in the league) setting custom schedules and league formats as they see fit. While it's markedly similar in many ways to offline franchise mode, it's a solid addition to The Show's feature lineup.
MLB 14 has a few smaller issues as well. When playing "Live" matches, games that mirror the day's real-life MLB matchups, I noticed an instance of incorrect commentary – specifically, commentators calling out the first-ever Major League hit for the Milwaukee Brewers' Mark Reynolds, despite the fact that he's played in the majors since 2007. Stats for Live matches were also off the mark, or missing entirely, even several games into the season. Additionally, sacrifice bunts seem a little too easy to pull off – not fun when your online opponent knows as much.
The Vita version of MLB 14 serves as a good companion piece to its big brother. Transferring my RTTS and franchise saves via the cloud has been a seamless process, though it's worth noting that the Vita version lacks online play. The joysticks on the Vita are pretty touchy when pitching too, and aiming changeups took much longer than it would on PS3. The handheld generally offers a fine presentation – with a nice touch-based UI – though the crowd behind the batter looks awkwardly pixelated. Overall, while the ability to transfer saves is a nice feature, I wouldn't recommend the Vita version by itself.
On the whole, MLB 14: The Show is as dynamic as it's ever been; if any aspect of a mode isn't to your liking, you can tweak it to your heart's content to find your own sweet spot. The execution of online offerings is the biggest letdown this year, souring the addition of online play in franchise mode. Still, while Road to the Show is starting to show its age, MLB 14 picks up with novel methods of play like Community Challenges, Quick Counts and the game-changing Player Lock options. MLB 14 might have its rough edges, but it lives up to the term "simulation" in the truest sense, offering players the means to realistically succeed any way they choose.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS4 version of MLB 14: The Show, provided by Sony. The PlayStation Vita version was also tested. Images: Sony.
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