Deciding whether to buy the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 version of MLB 14 The Show is a major dilemma for fans of the series, and owners of both consoles.
With more than a month separating the two versions' release dates, it's a legitimate question. The frantic virtual baseball fan will be compelled to grab the PS3 version, but the visual upgrades offered in the PS4 rendition will be difficult to resist.
The PS3 version released on Tuesday, April 1, but the new and improved one for the PS4 doesn't come out until May 6. What should you do?
I can't completely answer that question for you. But hopefully my rather in-depth look at the game on PS3 will help you decide if this version is too good to wait for it on the PS4.
Let's dive deep.
Graphics and Animation
This is PS3, not PS4
Let's keep this in the proper perspective. It would be unfair to judge the PS3 version of this game next to what it will be on the PS4. That said, on the current-gen console, MLB 14 The Show is still quite lovely.
There are some current-generation sports games that have better looking crowds, but on the field, the visuals are still in a league of their own.
It's Still Pretty
The player likenesses are still accurate, and for the most part, the animations are on point.
Excellent lighting makes the stadiums, the dirt and uniforms look authentic—as it relates to fit and flow.
You won't notice a drastic difference in this aspect of the game from previous versions, but considering the series has always looked good, this isn't likely to draw many complaints from logical gamers.
Gameplay and Realism
Not Much Has Changed, Thankfully
The game mostly plays the way it has in previous versions—which is a good thing. But there have been subtle improvements.
For one, the check swings are much more realistic and fair. In previous years, it always felt as if the verdict of the catcher's appeal to the first or third base umpire was almost random.
There's much more rhyme and reason involved now. You almost always know what the umpire is going to call, which is the way it should be.
Fielding without the throwing meter is still not advised. It becomes difficult to gauge when you should make the decision of where to throw the ball. With the meter on, it's much easier to play the field.
That said, I still had instances where fielders didn't throw to a base as aggressively as I would have liked. Also, the exchanges on double plays can still be a little more problematic than they should be.
Those are all small things that don't detract from the positive bottom line as it relates to gameplay. No matter what camera view you choose, the game offers you a solid virtual baseball experience.
The Show nails the simulation aspect of its sport better than every other sports gaming franchise—at least when playing traditionally. I'll get more into how the sim-style gets lost during the modes and options section.
Check out a few examples of gameplay:
Difficulty That Grows With You
Most of the aforementioned traits of the game cater to the hardcore fan, but The Show's dynamic difficulty is awesome for players who aren't experts. The game's difficulty grows with you in two of the most important aspects of the sport: hitting and pitching.
As you experience more success or failure at the plate or on the mound, the difficulty settings will automatically adjust. The fact that the hitting and pitching adjusts separately gives you the most customizable experience possible.
While there are a few small hiccups in this category, the prevailing thought about MLB 14 The Show's gameplay is positive.
Sound and Presentation
How Long Before You Tune Out Music in Sports Video Games?
The soundtrack for The Show is good this year, but you'll have to pardon me if I don't sound too overjoyed with this aspect of any sports video game.
Music in the menus is overrated. Unless, of course, the developers create the evolving soundtrack that exists in NBA Live 14. Otherwise, you ultimately get tired of hearing the same songs after a while.
Matt, Eric and Steve Need to Get Together
The same thing can happen to the commentary if there isn't enough variety from year to year. The Show has fallen into that rut. While Matt Vasgersian is excellent on play-by-play, and there are some cool references to certain situational events, there's still too much commentary left over from previous versions.
There are some new elements to the package, though. More conversational value has been added. Steve Lyons, Eric Karros and Vasgersian will actually answer each other, but it still doesn't sound as if they are in the same booth.
While the organic-sounding commentary is a move in the right direction, it represents only baby steps. It's not as if The Show's commentary was dreadful before, but it is definitely time for the series to receive an upgrade in this area.
Modes and Options
New Ways to Play
There are now four primary ways to play MLB The Show. Traditional full counts is what every fan of the series and video game baseball are accustomed to. Road to the Show is also back in mostly the same form as before.
This year's version of the game does bring two new game modes to the franchise. Both are designed to speed up the historically slow game of baseball.
The quickest way to put a baseball game on the fast track is the to shorten at-bats. That's essentially what Quick Counts is supposed to do.
When playing in this mode, the CPU generates a middle or late count for each at-bat in the game. You will see counts of 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2 to begin every pitcher-batter sequence.
An algorithm is used to establish the counts for each at-bat. The formula is based on the stats and tendencies of the man on the mound and the hitter at the plate. Playing this way, the amount of one-pitch at-bats are increased.
That said, you can still have five-plus pitch at-bats as well.
The pitch count for pitchers still rises, and stats generally remain accurate. A slight increase in strikeouts and walks occur because of the deep counts.
In testing the mode, I played an entire Quick Counts game in 20 minutes. But I also had one last as long as 44 minutes. The experience and enjoyment level varies. Here's four different takes on the mode from prominent members of the sports gaming community:
Just played a game with Quick Counts in MLB 14: The Show. 4-2 final, 12 total hits. 52 minutes to play. Not enough benefit there.— Bryan Wiedey (@pastapadre) April 1, 2014
1/2 way through my first game of @MLBTheShow with Quick Counts on, I think I'm a fan. Still took 25 min to get through 5 innings though.— T.J. Lauerman (@ThatSportsGamer) April 3, 2014
The more I play Quick Counts, the less I like the feature. Personal choice, I feel like the strategy of pitching is taken out of my hands.— Chris (@MillenniumOS) April 3, 2014
Playing my first MLB 14: The Show game with Quick Counts active. This game is flying by.— Andrew Reiner (@Andrew_Reiner) April 1, 2014
Here's a sample video of Quick Counts gameplay:
Personally, I like the feature, but only as a periodic departure from full-count play. It breaks up the monotony that can come with a long virtual baseball season.
Overall, Quick Counts accomplishes its goal of speeding up the game in most instances. That said, some of the strategy in baseball is removed. If you like to bunt runners over or steal bases, you may not like that CPU-issued two-strike counts impair this strategy.
While in Arizona for a preview of the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game, I asked Ramone Russell about this.
He said the team at San Diego Studios was aware of this dynamic, but to allow gamers the chance to temporarily disable the generated counts would sacrifice the point of the mode.
That's a true statement, but it means there's a definite compromise needed to enjoy the mode. Here's an interview I conducted with Russell discussing Quick Counts and other aspects of the game on both the PS3 and PS4 versions:
The Road to The Show mode is one of the most popular with the series, says Russell.
For those that are unaware of what the mode entails, RTTS allows you take one player on a journey (a created player until this year) through an entire career, beginning in the minor leagues.
You control only the one player in the field and obviously at the plate.
Player Lock is that same concept without the whole journey through a career wrinkle. You can use Player Lock in almost any mode in MLB 14 The Show and use any player in the majors. It's great fun.
I've played through an entire game in this mode in less than 10 minutes. Again, it's not meant to be a permanent replacement for the traditional way to play the game. However, as an alternative, it is one of the best new additions.
Here's gameplay using this mode:
Road to the Show
RTTS returns with a few new tweaks. For starters, the player creation has changed. You can now model your player after an existing major leaguer, or create a guy from scratch.
Once you have your legend in the making's base identity, you then choose what type of primary talents he'll have. Each player is rated based on the five tools that most prospects are evaluated on: speed, power, contact, arm and glove.
You'll have two points in each category by default, but you'll be given five flex points to further customize the abilities of your player. You could max him out on power, speed or make a well-balanced prospect across the board.
Here's a video of the creation process and brief gameplay within the RTTS mode:
The presentation in RTTS has changed. Instead of hearing the commentators, you now hear sounds as if you're actually on the field. It works pretty well.
Also, the training and promotion process has changed. Players can get called up at any time, its not just based on accomplishing specific and somewhat unrealistic goals.
Overall, an already strong mode simply got stronger.
I'm a franchise mode guy through and through. Online modes are cool, but franchise play is what sells a sports game for me.
MLB The Show has always been solid in this respect. The only changes needed were in the areas of trade logic and free agency. These things have been addressed extensively in MLB 14 The Show.
The scouting system is especially cool. As the general manager, you have to appoint scouts who are in charge of discovering players. The scouts are assigned regions and they can present players from all over the globe to you for review.
It's pretty slick. Mixing in a bit of Quick Counts and Player Lock play will really allow you to have a ball with franchise mode this year.
As a YouTuber, I love to recreate classic sports moments with video games. It appears the Community Challenge mode was created for gamers just like me.
You can use default or custom rosters to set up hitting, pitching or fielding scenarios in this mode. Create an objective for your scenario and upload it to the MLB The Show servers for others to try to complete.
When people attempt to complete your challenges, you earn Stubs (a universal in-game currency).
It's an excellent idea that functions as cool as it sounds, except for one thing: Presentation.
I completed a challenge that called for me to finish a no-hitter with the New York Yankees' C.C. Sabathia against the New York Mets. Instead of showing the type of on-field hoopla that ensues after a no-hitter, the game simply stops and says: "SUCCESS."
It's not much of a visual reward.
Secondly, there are no commentators during the gameplay, and that takes away some of the personality.
Most of the information about MLB 14 The Show has been positive. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of good things to say about most of the online components in the game. That would include Diamond Dynasty and Online Franchise.
I'm not sure baseball will ever offer an ideal online experience for a few reasons. First off, it's a long game. It's difficult to get two gamers locked in together for an hour or more consistently.
Do you play The Show primarily online, offline or both equally?
There's the Quick Counts option which is what online play on MLB 14 The Show is defaulting to, but that isn't quite as cool against a human opponent.
Then, of course, there's the potential for lag. MLB 14 The Show has had plenty of that in the early going. Perhaps this is something that will improve as the servers are strengthened to handle volume.
The slightest lag during a pitch is the difference between hitting the ball and missing it. This dynamic is more crucial in baseball than in any other sports video game.
The unpredictable servers made it difficult to enjoy any online games, thus it really hurt the impact of the exciting concept of having an online franchise. We can only hope the experience is better for the PS4.
As for Diamond Dynasty's overall structure, there are some good qualities.
The level of customization for uniforms is unprecedented in this type of mode. EA Sports' Ultimate Team and NBA 2K's My Team could learn from this aspect of Sony's model.
However, the mode is still too clunky and difficult to follow. Group that with the online play issues, and it's not the game's strongest point.
- Graphics: 8.75
- Gameplay and Animation: 8.75
- Sound and Presentation: 7
- Modes and Options: 8
Overall Score: 8.1
MLB 14 The Show is fun and a realistic representation of America's pastime. Instead of turning out a clone to MLB 13, the developers went out on a limb and added some risky game modes.
Some of them worked, some not as much. Still, no one can call San Diego Studios lazy.
The online issues kept the game from scoring much higher in my book. If this had been in order, the overall feature set would have come together and offered the most verbose set of options the series has seen.
Still, as it is, this is a great virtual game of baseball until the PS4 version comes out. Because the next-gen version will offer the exact same features as this one—and more—it's hard to advise owners of both systems to buy both.
This is probably why Gamestop announced a deal that allows gamers to trade in their PS3 version for the PS4 game for $19.99. There's some fine print to read, but it's still a good deal.
If you still haven't made the jump to PS4, there is no question you should be counting your change right now to grab a digital or physical copy of the game.
It's not perfect, but it's real good.
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