The tagline for MLB 14 The Show has been Baseball is Better. Surely that's designed to be a catchy slogan the public will remember and associate with the product.
In this case, it's a pretty spot on reference to Sony's baseball franchise. The MLB The Show series has been better than many of the other sports gaming brands out there.
Where other series have stalled or taken a year off, The Show has been the Cal Ripken Jr. of the sports video gaming world.
With the launch of the PlayStation 4, the time has come for The Show to take things to the next level. The PlayStation 3 version was what most of us expected.
The gameplay was sharp, the graphics were solid—but quite honestly, the console had been pushed to its limits in regard to visual performance.
There were some interesting gameplay options and modes, but with the next-gen systems wowing gamers worldwide, fans of the series were waiting on the day The Show's developers got a chance to deliver on the latest hardware.
I've had game in hand for five days, and I'm ready to give a detailed review in nearly every aspect.
Because of the limited number of people online, I can't be a judge of the stability of the game's online servers. I'll revisit that in a few weeks.
For now, the online aspects will be evaluated conceptually.
Here's the Chris Sale—aka the skinny—on everything else.
Graphics and Animation
In a word, the graphics are: stunning. This is easily the best looking baseball game ever made, and one of the prettiest games of any genre.
There are times when I was left gazing at the screen as if Jessica Biel was in a movie, but speaking directly to me.
NBA 2K14 on next-gen was previously the gold standard for visual excellence in a sports game. I'm not going to say The Show has surpassed it, but it's definitely in the same ballpark.
The forthcoming EA Sports UFC also looks to be a strong contender, but that doesn't come out until June 17. This is The Show's time.
It isn't just the stills that are sharp in this game. The animation is almost equally as stellar. On PS3, players in the game already moved naturally in most instances, but that's been taken to another level on the PS4.
The player movements, facial expressions and everything about them bring the game to life.
I found the flight of the ball and progress of grounders to be more natural as well. On the PS3, there were times when I had issues picking up the ball off the bat.
That's not the case on PS4. The clarity is impressive and helps to add even more value to the visual quality of the game.
Most of the player faces are greatly recreated, but there are some you can tell weren't rendered with as much detail as others. That's to be expected in the first year the game appears on the PS4.
Also, with so much movement within baseball organizations, it may be difficult to get a complete scan of every player's face.
One of the things that jumps out most about the players' heads is the lifelike hair.
For example, players like the Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen and Cincinnati Reds Johnny Cueto have the most realistic looking dreadlocks ever on a sports game.
As good as the players look, the ballparks may be the best aspect of this part of the game. Each venue is rendered with ridiculous detail, and the increased variation of fans in the stands only enhances the quality.
It's like a living, breathing baseball environment.
San Diego Studios deserves a hand for doing a bang-up job overall in the graphics department. There's barely any room for improvement in the way of eye candy.
Gameplay and Realism
Perhaps the best thing I can say about the gameplay is that it's not much different from the PS3 version at all. Because the gameplay on current-gen was already tight, there was no need to alter anything major on this front.
Doing so would have put the franchise at risk of tinkering with a proven formula.
I did notice the flow of the action was a bit smoother, specifically on ground balls in the infield.
There are still the inexplicable slow downs from infielders transitioning from fielding the ball into throwing it to the desired base.
I'm sure gamers who have played The Show over the years can relate to my frustrations with infielders who won't attack and throw the ball with urgency.
Billy Hamilton could be tearing down the first-base line, but at times, your infielder doesn't seem to recognize the situation.
This still happens, but not as much as it used to. There are ways to curtail this occurrence, but quite honestly, the gamer should have a little more control over this sequence.
That's a noticeable thing, but not a deal-breaker. In the same vein, there are times when the bat looks to have connected with a pitched ball, but there's no contact.
Granted, you'd have to replay the pitch and zoom in to see this kind of thing. Still, I'd like to see the game tune its bat-to-ball physics to a point where this doesn't happen.
I'd also like to see the base-running mechanics simplified. I've been playing the game for years, and I still get a bit confused at times on the base paths. It's especially the case when multiple runners are on base and there's a sacrifice fly situation.
Some of the issues are user error. The other half could be improved with easier controls.
As I mentioned, the good still outweighs the less-than-ideal.
Sony has done a great job giving gamers of every skill level a way to play their game.
There's a variety of skill levels and even the useful dynamic difficulty setting that grows with the gamer. I've seen other games try this approach in the past, and it's always been a sensible way to endear the game to new fans.
It's great to see The Show continue to develop the concept. Here's a look at three different videos showing off the gameplay, visuals and presentation of the game.
Sound and Presentation
The worst thing I can say about the commentary in MLB 14 The Show is that it's exactly like the PS3 version. Sometimes a change is necessary.
The commentating made some strides since MLB 13 The Show, but it's still not on par with some of the best speech-stitching threads in sports video games.
It's not as if the commentary is the worst of the genre. The PS4 version just doesn't bring anything new to the table.
Where this version does shine is in some of the areas that relate directly to gameplay. The Japanese-style swings are in for players like Ichiro Suzuki. Also, players will lose their helmets as they round the bases, or slide.
Those may sound like small details, but it's just part of the machine that works together to make the game look great.
For what it's worth, the music is outstanding again this year. I especially appreciated "Ain't No Future in Your Frontin" by MC Breed. If "Gotta Get Mine" with Breed and 2 Pac was included, I would have really been impressed.
The Show has also begun to make its mark with dynamic intros.
You'll probably only watch it once or twice, but anyone who gets their hands on the PS4 version of the game should take a gander at one of the best game intros you'll see.
Game Modes and Options
Almost all of the goodies from the PS3 version have been ported over. Love it or hate it, Quick Counts is a different way to play the game. In most instances, it does speed the game up a bit. However, the slight-to-moderate condensing of the game comes at the expense of some strategy.
Those who have played the game on PS3 are familiar with the mode, and its pros and cons.
For those who aren't, Quick Counts was designed to speed up the game for gamers who don't have the time to invest in playing an entire traditional game. A nine inning affair with all the presentation whistles can last well over an hour to complete.
In Quick Counts, an algorithm generates a deep count for every batter. At bats can be as quick as one pitch, but pitch counts are still being calculated.
Maintaining realistic stats was one of the main objectives for this mode.
On the downside, Quick Counts takes away things like first-pitch swinging hits or outs. It also handicaps a gamer who may want to play small ball. If you have designs on bunting in a situation, you could be issued a two-strike count that discourages the strategy.
Ultimately it's a compromise every gamer has to decide if he or she is willing to make for the sake of time.
Either way, there's something to be said for attempting to add some variety to the usual stock of options.
Also new this year is the use of Player Lock. In any mode in The Show, gamers can control one player in the field and at bat. It's just like the Road to the Show mode, but on a one-off basis.
It opens up so many cool opportunities. I've chosen to go through a franchise mode playing a mixture of Full Counts, Quick Counts and Player Lock games.
Speaking of the franchise mode option, there's a huge new wrinkle added to the old favorite.
Online Franchise has arrived and there are no limitations—at least none that I've discovered to this point. You're able to take full control of any organization. Ticket prices, scouting, drafting, trading and signing free agents are all up to you and your online buddies.
It's pretty awesome, conceptually. As I mentioned earlier, it could be derailed by faulty servers. Let's hope the technicalities don't get in the way. On a small note, in relation to franchise mode and other relevant gameplay options, it was kind of a bummer to see that all the classic stadiums were removed from the PS4 version.
Call me a sucker for nostalgia, but it was cool playing in the old ballparks with all of their funky dimensions.
It will be great to see a create-a-ballpark feature finally added to the series. Let's keep our fingers crossed for next year's version.
Equally as dependent on the consistency in the servers is the Diamond Dynasty mode. This is of course The Show's version of the concept that has become amongst the most popular in all sports video games.
Madden, FIFA, NHL and NBA Live call it Ultimate Team. NBA 2K calls their version My Team.
It combines collectibles and fantasy draft concepts.
The shining light of the Diamond Dynasty mode is the fact that it lets gamers customize the uniforms of their fantasy team. No other series allows this at the moment.
This seemingly small detail gives the whole experience more personality. DD could stand to add a few modes to vary the actual playing experience.
But aside from that, it's maximizing what it can do with the theme and the sport of baseball.
The RTTS mode is back with a new spin on its presentation. To better simulate the experience of being in the field, the commentators have been removed.
You only hear the sound effects from the field, and player chatter. It's a cool departure and further individualizes the mode.
Last but certainly not least, MLB The Show has wisely allowed their game to be enjoyed across all of Sony's platforms and into future versions of the series.
You can start a franchise or RTTS on the PS3, transfer it to the PS Vita, and even take the saves from the current-gen platform to the PS4.
All the stats, rosters and such are kept intact. It's pretty awesome. If you need a tutorial on the process of transferring your saves from PS3 to PS4, check out the video below.
If you're like me and you're reluctant to ditch the alternate universe you've created every time a new version of the game is released, you'll love the fact that you can carry your franchise and RTTS saves into MLB 15 The Show and beyond.
That's Mike Trout, AKA awesome.
The Bottom Line
No game is perfect, but this is an epic introduction to the next-generation of sports gaming for one of the best franchises in the genre.
Behind the beautiful visuals is a game with solid gameplay values, and a full complement of modes and features. I like it...a lot.
Graphics and Animation - 9.5
Gameplay and Realism - 8.5
Sound and Presentation - 8
Game Modes and Options - 9
Overall - 8.8
Follow me. I like sports and video games...a lot.