America’s national pastime has never been one to lend itself to a video game. With complex rosters, long game times and an enormous number of games in a season (and that’s before the playoffs), baseball hardly sells itself to a casual gaming experience, and that’s why many baseball games fall foul. But “MLB 14: The Show” (Sony) might just be the clean contact fans are looking for.
The first thing you will notice when encountering “MLB 14: The Show” is how many options are available to you. This is definitely its biggest strength: You can play baseball any way you want.
If you want to be the franchise owner, sitting in your plush chair and trading your players like the big dog, you can. If you want to be the manager and yell orders from the bench, you can. If you want to play as every player, or guide just one player through a season -- perhaps Derek Jeter through his final year -- you can do that, too.
The mode I spent most of my time in was the signature “Road to the Show” mode, where you create your own slugger , fire him up in the minor leagues and take him to Major League glory. I’ve been playing the game for weeks now, and I have just gotten young Adam Shaw from the Trenton Thunder to sign up with the New York Yankees in his third season as a professional.
In “Road to the Show” you play your character’s involvement, both at bat and in the field -- meaning the games zoom by like a fastball, with training “mini games” interspersed. It allows you to see the sport as an individual player, and it feels like an entirely new game.
Another fun mode is “The Show Live.” Basically, the game’s roster updates continually with real-life statistics, and you can play a game that will actually be taking place. So if the Mets are playing the Cubs and Zach Wheeler has had a few bad outings recently, you can play that game. His recent performances will be reflected in his stats, and they’ll affect how he plays for you. It’s a lot of fun to play along with your real-life team this way.
Other modes I can’t go into – online games, online franchises, Diamond Dynasty (almost like a baseball MMORPG), Home Run Derby, Post-Season -- all add up to more than any baseball fan can hope for. Plus, the promise that we’ll be able to transfer saved games to MLB 15 invites players to begin investing time in lengthy careers.
One new feature that makes all these modes more palatable to casual gamers is the concept of “quick counts.” When on, this feature speeds up games by putting each at-bat at a certain place in the count. So instead of an at-bat starting at 0-0, it may put you at 2-2, meaning the innings fly by much faster. Hardcore players may want to leave the feature off, but if you’re in a pinch when it comes to time, it makes your game time more productive.
The game looks good on a PlayStation 3 and sensational on the PlayStation 4; it’s probably the best-looking sports game on the market right now. The PlayStation Vita version is a little glitchy and looks very blocky at times, but it holds up, considering the amount of data it is dealing with.
One wonderful feature is that you can transfer your saved game via the cloud between your home console and your Vita, allowing you to play at home until it’s time to go to work, and then continue on the Vita during your commute. Too bad it isn’t cross-buy; you’ll have to shell out around $100 for two versions of the game if you want this feature, so it’s nice for hardcore fans but a swing-and-a-miss for everyone else.
Speaking of which, fans who own MLB 13 may be a little disappointed here. While the new version has new additions, it’s more of an upgrade than an overhaul. What 14 does is update and tweak an already solid game and make it even better.
“MLB 14: The Show” offers the best baseball experience to date. With high quality graphics, excellent presentation, a whole roster full of in-depth modes and an easy gateway for casual gamers, MLB is everything a baseball fan could want from a game. Home run.