MLB 14 The Show Review

As with any popular sport known to man we have an annual baseball game in our glove. It is fairly safe to say that any sport enthusiast that plays video games is going to buy literally every seasonal game, if not stagger their purchases every other year. Some developers bank on that fact and game improvements take a backseat to updating the roster and calling it a day. Other developers either have a huge feature list up their sleeve or reach out to the community to see what they would like implemented. It seems that SCE San Diego has partially done their homework on this one and falls into the second group. MLB 14 The Show is up to bat, bottom of the ninth, 2 outs, the count is at 3-2, it's the last game of the World Series, and the heat is on.

In an attempt to take baby steps when starting the game I took a stab at what I thought would be a friendly, casual, easy exhibition game ... boy was I wrong. The first beast I had to tackle was pitching. I am used to positioning the pitch and using single button controls where The Show uses a system called pulse pitching. A pulsing circle highlights where the ball will go and also indicates the accuracy of the pitch. The key is timing; the smaller the circle the better. The larger the circle the more wild your pitch; ending anywhere from in the dirt to just outside the strike zone. Not only that, the pulse also varies in speed depending on the type of pitch and on player fatigue.

Batting is slightly different and is partially like a guessing game. There are parentheses to mark your aiming point and you can also guess which quadrant of the strike zone the pitch is headed. Guess correctly and your accuracy is increased, although your ability to connect is also heavily reliant on your aim. If your target area swing is nowhere near the ball, then you will more than likely whiff. Further complicating things are the fact that each player has specific areas in which they are more likely to hit the ball the various types of swings: normal, contact, power, and bunt. At first I always went for power and after each swing I looked like a five year old swinging at the tee. After several at bats it became evident that each type of swing had its advantages and disadvantages, as well as an appropriate tactical situation - do you just want to get on base or do you need to advance a player on base by attempting to swing for the fences.

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Fielding had to be easier right? Follow the ball and throw it to the correct base. Pop fly and stand underneath the ball indicator. For the most part fielding was easy except when throwing. Once you fielded the ball a meter pops above your head and indicates the accuracy of your throw based on the amount of time you hold the button. End up slightly under or over and you have yourself a wild throw resulting in extra bases for your opponent. Not as difficult as batting, but still a slight learning curve if you aren't used to it. Once perfected it becomes second nature, though. All of the position nuances have their share of difficulties and frustrations, but that is all a part of the immersion and realism. In real life baseball players are by no means perfect and neither is the game, and that's a good thing.

Don't like the idea of so many variables playing a part in the success of your team? Then no worries, MLB 14 has your back. Each aspect of the game has a level of difficulty that can be selected. If you think that you have the skills, then select the veteran or higher level to experience everything that I described above. If you want to stick to something a little easier like arcade-style single button mashing for pitching and hitting, then lower the difficulty to rookie. You can even mix and match in order to make one aspect of the game easier than the other. The new mode which I highly recommend is dynamic. This mode will start you on rookie difficulty and as you get better and the game will get harder, basically molding you into a better batter, pitcher, and fielder. In most cases these options can be changed at any point during the game, so experiment with the settings and find your sweet spot.

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Roughly a half an hour into my first game I realized that I had only been through about four innings. Even the video game takes just as long as the real thing! Thankfully there is also a setting for that called quick count. Enable this handy feature and you start each at bat or pitch at a randomly generated count, meaning you could start your at bat with a 3-2 or 2-1 count and in most cases you'll be given just a single pitch or swing opportunity to make a play. This greatly decreases the length of time it takes to complete a game, but also adds a certain level of excitement, tension, anxiety, and difficulty. Even though I had still been on a learning curve I loved this setting. It was not only a saving grace for time management but also mitigated the damage that could be done by my botched pitching. This may not be a mode everyone enjoys, but when in a time crunch it is the only way to go.

With my exhibition game experience basically being a bust for me, the plus side was that I had learned what settings worked for me. Feeling confident and moving forward with my dynamic batting, fielding, and pitching settings, I was ready for something with more depth. As with every sports game there are the regular season and franchise modes, except this year MLB 14 also has an online franchise mode. Much like a fantasy league other players choose their team and manage it from the General Manager's perspective, except that in this online mode there must be a human player for each team, literally providing a top to bottom dynamic baseball experience with not only one opponent but 29 others. Sadly I had been unable to participate in this mode as it requires all team spots to be filled to play, but it sounds like a lot of fun.

If you want to take a more personal approach to the season create your own character and embark on an RPG style adventure in Road to The Show (RTTS) mode. This mode starts your character in the minor leagues and requires you to perform well enough to be drafted into the majors. Continue to do well and get points to put towards your character's ability to play. The great part about this mode is you that only play your character in the field when they are involved in a play and only at their turn to bat. This allows the game to fly by and only focus on building your character.

At this point if you are tired of grinding your way through a season of baseball, then you can try your hand at the online community challenges. Anyone can create a unique challenge and upload it for anyone else to play. Create a single at bat to rob someone of a game winning home run or get three strike outs in a row when the bases are loaded with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The other mode I gravitated towards was The Show Live. Any game that is being played in real life you can play yourself. Nationals vs. Baltimore and it's tied 2-2 in real life? Hop in mid game and try to turn things around and pull out a win for your favorite team. This mode has no apparent bearing on anything else in the game, but is a welcome distraction from the norm.

To be honest I tend to lean towards arcade style over simulation in baseball games. There are usually just a couple of modes in an arcade style game, yet in MLB 14 The Show there were more than I knew how to handle. I had no idea how much baseball simulators had evolved over the years. Let's just say I had to take a few walks and strikeouts before I started to hit homeruns. For me toggling between the various modes kept me highly entertained and wanting me to progress more in each one. The only faults out of a handful were experienced during online play. I would attempt to connect to a player and it would fail, and if I did connect with someone it would be severely laggy. Even when I joined an almost full game room to increase my chances of getting into a game, everyone had seemed lifeless and wouldn't respond to my challenges for a game. Hopefully there is a patch in the works, but until then leveling up my RTTS character will suffice. Another downside is that the PS3 is starting to show its age especially with the next gen systems being released. Load times are long, and while graphically the players are as sharp as always, their surroundings are starting to look like paper cutouts. After seeing a gameplay video of MLB 14 on the PS4, I would say hang tight and make the most of it by getting this game on next gen. If you happen to be someone still holding out on next gen, then this game is still a home run.

Final Rating: 82%. Showing some age, but still a solid home run.