Everyone who plays sports games knows this game. This is the game that sits between generations of consoles. It’s the game that follows an amazing predecessor. The game that adds a few features, but really is setting up for next year.
This is the reality of MLB The Show 14.
Last year’s version was amazing, I even called it “the best sports simulation ever made”. And in many ways it still is. But in a large number of places it now feels a little rusty.
The graphics are the first thing that knocked me back a little. I’ve been playing games on the PS4, and now PS3 games seem … lacking. It’s a fallacy of course, the graphics are the same as they were last year; and some of the best on the PS3. The crowds react nicely (if a bit repetitively), the ballparks are recreated in exact detail and the players look just like the players.
There have been some good improvements in gameplay, and most are around speeding the game up. When you start a game you have the chance to have each ‘at bat’ (AB) start well in to the count (so your virtual batter has seen one or two pitches before you take control). This may mean you start an AB with two strikes, or maybe be sitting on 2-1.
In Franchise mode you can use the new Player Lock to breeze through games as well. You can either set the player lock during the season or before each game, doing so gives you control over that one player during the game. So you’ll only play their ABs, or pitches, or the few times the ball is hit to them. You can still manage the team while you do this and even sub out the player you’re controlling. It’s a great way to get through the 12 game season without simming lots of games. It’s essentially Road to the Show mode but with wider controls.
Speaking of Road to the Show - MLB The Show’s most popular form of gameplay - there have only been minor updates to this mode. The coolest one is that you can do a lot more with your player before they get drafted. You play a series of games to raise your draft stock and when you get drafted you can still turn the team down and choose to go to university instead and enter the draft after your skills have improved (something that happens a lot in real life). And when you do go into the draft, the game teases you by calling out all the selections as they happen, ramping up the tension as you wait your turn. (The first time through I was constantly thinking: “Please not the Twins! Please not the Twins! Please not the Twins!”)
The training has changed too. Annoyingly the game will let you add a lot more training points to your player than you have available. It will then prompt you to buy the extra training points from the online store. I don’t know what you think about this, but to me, it lowers a AAA game title to the level of some freemium crap. (There were similar options to purchase training point in The Show 13, but nothing as blatant as this).
The audio is still top notch across all the game modes. The commentary is bang on and always relevant to what’s happening on screen, unlike some games (looking at you FIFA).
The online modes are much the same as they were last year, with better matching. There’s a nice community challenge mode too, where other players set small tasks for you to do. As always there are online modes that only Americans can play.
MLB The Show 14 on PS3 isn’t bleeding edge gaming. It seems to be more of a stop gap before the PS4 version comes out in a month or so, which will blend the small improvements with the better graphics that come with the next-gen console. It’s flat out still the best sports game I’ve played though and still an infuriating challenge with excellent gameplay.