Baseball season is in full swing, which means another version of MLB: The Show is upon us. While there is only so much a company can do to improve upon an annual title the folks at Sony have outdone themselves with this year's title. The few complaints that were screamed about from fans of the game in last year's version have been addressed, and while there are still a few problems here and there, MLB 14: The Show is still the robust baseball experience that stands above all.
To be clear, this review covers the PS3 version of the game. Graphically speaking, even with it being the previous generation's build, models still look amazing. The big stars of the game, while they admittedly look better on the PS4, a player would not know the difference when enjoying it on their PS3. I went through about 50 of the top stars of the game to see how closely they resemble their real-life counterparts. Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish, Mike Trout...all of these players would be happy with their in-game renderings. The stadiums also would be quite proud of the experience as they are extremely detailed and gorgeous to look at, as they always have been since The Show made the jump to the PS3. There are some minor blips in the game, mainly when making a transfer from a live pitch to fielding that does cause a little bit of distortion on the field and players if using one of the zoomed in cameras, but this is nit-picking. Zoomed out, there is no lag or distortion, and the game looks fantastic.
The meat and potatoes of MLB 14: The Show comes in the ever popular Road to the Show mode, which received it's biggest update of any yearly upgrade. Possibly my biggest gripe with previous versions was creating my player and then just getting drafted with no real say on how good I was going to be other than using my experience points and letting the CPU pick the franchise's Double-A club I would start out at. Now, there's a mode called Amateur Showcase, which is exactly what it sounds like: A player will get to play in front of scouts and, depending on how well this goes for a player, will lay out starting points for the player. It ends up being three games no matter on the position, though I have always chosen to be a pitcher because I get the most enjoyment out of making batters look silly chasing curveballs and changeups in the dirt. The real beauty of this mode is just how closely the draft result is tied in with the performance. My player had three solid outings as a pitcher, resulting in being drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cubs. I went through this again with another player and deliberately bombed the performance, finding my player sliding farther than the middle rounds of the draft and getting stuck with some rough starting stats.
Another fantastic update to RTTS is the elimination of those annoying advancement goals that seemingly meant absolutely nothing except whether a manager gave you a scolding or not. Because of the elimination of this mode, there's no pressure to work on very specific skills on a player's career. If I felt like trying to build up the power on my fastball, then I could pump all of my experience points into that without getting yelled at about why I wasn't able to build up my BB/9 stat. This gives far more enjoyment in a career mode and, thankfully, this is really the last title out of all of the major sports franchises to finally eliminate this. It's long overdue, but I'm happy it's finally happened.
Switching to Franchise mode, the biggest change comes with the new UI, which is a tile-based menu and not that clunky system that felt like it was on a first-generation laptop. I liken this move to when the FIFA franchise finally eliminated their "computer-style menu" and went to the smooth menu that is now in the game. It's easier to navigate through this menu and find exactly what you need to look at.
Inside the game itself, what has always been the best experience in any baseball game continues to make slight tweaks to improve it. The difficulty has really balanced itself out. In the past couple of modes, I found it easy not only to mow down batters with a dominant pitcher over and over again, the game really punishes you for making mistakes or becoming predictable with pitch sets. For example: In last year's mode, I could go with the same rotation of pitches, such as a fastball away, slider away, and then a fastball inside, multiple batters in a row. So long as I hit my mark, batters would flail at these pitches and not stand a chance. This mechanic has been improved, so showing any type of consistency with the type of pitch that is used in certain parts of the count will result in the CPU hitters picking up on this and teeing off. It has become more vital than ever to learn to mix up pitches, even if your player of choice has a full five pitch arsenal to choose from.
Hitting has also receive a similar boost. While the addition of Quick Counts speeds the game up, I wasn't a fan of using it because I like to play the game as is, start to finish. Quick Counts definitely helps speed things along, but it wasn't for me. What I did enjoy, however, was the balance to hitting that wasn't present in the last couple of versions. Last year, once learning the timing of pitchers in a game, it was very easy to tee off on just about any pitcher, much like it was easy for me as a pitcher to mow down lineups with no problem. Hitting can still result in some big innings, but pitchers seem to adjust better, and their pitches are far less predictable. Also, enjoy trying to hit the best pitchers in the game like Verlander: There has been a noticable upgrade to the difficulty that the game's aces bring to you. Hitting that 100+ MPH fastball became harder this year, and I love Sony for it.
Sony decided to also bring a little bit of RTTS to the standard franchise mode by including a player lock option, meaning that a player can decide to just play as one particular player for any length of time until they opt to turn it off. I dabbled in this a little bit by using just Jeff Samardzija with the Cubs and let the fielders do all the hitting and fielding for me. Sadly, because the Cubs aren't very good, I didn't really get too high up in the standings. I would recommend avoiding this mode unless there is a great hitting team at your disposal. After all, Samardzija knows this all too well with a sub-2.00 ERA and nothing to show for it this season.
Franchise mode can finally be brought online and cross-saving between the PS3 and Vita returns again, giving more options yet again to take a console franchise on the go if a player is going to be away from home for awhile. Cross-saving may be the best thing that Sony has brought to the world of gaming in awhile, and it needs to be utilized by more franchises. Gamers are willing to pick titles up for both if it means they don't have to run two separate career/franchise modes at the same time.
All in all, I have enjoyed my time with MLB 14: The Show, as I always seem to do. The graphical issues were only minor and the hitting and pitching has really been revamped to offer better balance and enjoyment. RTTS and Franchise modes are deep as ever, and with a cleaned up UI, there really isn't much to gripe about. MLB 14: The Show is pennant-worthy, and is definitely a World Series contender.
I've been writing about games and entertainment since 2006 after starting out at Xbox Ohio. Since then, I have made the jump to Gaming Nexus and have enjoyed my time here. I am an avid gamer that has a solid old school game collection that includes the likes of Final Fantasy games, Earthbound, Gitaroo-Man, MvC2, and a whole slew of others. I have a primary focus on Xbox 360 games and PC peripherals and accessories. If you ever want to game against me, you can look me up on XBL with the gamertag GN Punk.