Still a winner.
Weather’s getting warmer; the smell of hot dogs and old beer invades your nostrils. Thousands of boorish diehards all around stand and cheer for their favorites. Its either family reunion season in my home town or baseball is back baby! As we all know, if baseball is back that means it’s Show season again. Not content to simply coast, MLB: The Show 2014 evolves the series in a bunch of great new ways, ensuring that even those who don’t have “next gen” capability will get their money’s worth. In this review we’ll take on both the Vita and PS3 versions, and discuss the differences between the two.
As most of you who have read my Show reviews in the past will know, I’m a huge fan of Road to the Show. It’s easily my most played mode every year, and the primary reason I anticipate each new entry. I’m pleased to announce that this year’s version is the most updated in a long time, and a fantastic step forward. The first of the noteworthy changes pops up as soon as players begin the mode. Instead of creating a player and then selecting “Enter Draft” or “Choose Team”, they will instead be dropped into the Topps Amateur Showcase, and get an opportunity to show off the player’s skill for the scouts. Players will be given three games to impress or distress the guys watching their every move to determine if they will be a boom or a bust.
Depending on the performance, draft positions will change. Perform like an all-star and players increase their likelihood of being drafted high in the first round. Bomb, and they’ll drift into the middle of the pack with the also-rans. Not all is lost if players fall into the later rounds though. They can still select a team if they have their heart set on a hometown club. Those looking for the real draft experience who aren’t happy with their position or the team are also given the option to go back to school to hone their skills. This option will age the player by the number of years chosen to go back, but will also reward the player with additional training points and another shot at the amateur showcase. This method of beginning a player’s career is infinitely more engaging than the old method, and sets a great tone for the changes to come.
Perhaps my favorite update to the Road to the Show formula is the elimination of Advancement Goals. While these goals may have served the purpose of “filling out” a player like a big leaguer, they also stripped away some of the freedom to choose my own path. In addition, even strong producing players could see themselves held back from promotion or even demoted due to missing them. The new system in place for tracking advancement seems to work pretty well and runs mostly behind the scenes. Players have a chance to compare their player with others on the team, as well as see how coaches view them. A quick reference will allow players to determine if they are pacing at, above, or below expectations. This makes for a much more organic and less “gamey” feel.
I also really like the way that training points are utilized now. The system that has hung around for a while now is one where players choose the number of training points that they wish to spend (minimum of 40) and have to kind of close their eyes and hope that it’s enough to get to the next level in that particular skill. Thankfully, that system has been replaced with a new mechanic that has players adjusting the actual levels of the skill, and being told how many points that will cost. If I didn’t have enough, I was immediately prompted to purchase additional points. With this new method there is no minimum amount of points, so I could increase skills on the low end (in the 30’s and 40’s) by spending around 20 points. Likewise, there is no improving skills halfway; players either have enough points to upgrade it a full level or they don’t. This simple adjustment is a huge game changer for this mode, and I think it is substantially more graceful and intuitive than the past method.
On the field, players will notice some improvements as well. Those who either haven’t played The Show or have never quite mastered it can choose to start on the beginner difficulty level, which features one button pitching and hitting. From there they can progress the difficulty manually as normal, or turn on Dynamic Difficulty which will judge a player’s progression and fluctuate for them. I messed around with this for a while and found it did a pretty admirable job of adjusting to my skill level, but still needed some minor manual tweaks to suit my style.
There is a lot of rumbling around baseball about speeding up the game.
Thankfully for fans that agree with that line of thinking, they have multiple options at their disposal for doing just that. The first option is Quick Counts. An option that has existed in a limited way for Road to the Show at bats not featuring the player, this takes a chunk of pitches per at bat out of the player’s hands and into a simulation. While there is a ton of data crunching running behind the scenes to make these counts seem real, what players will notice most is how much faster the game moves along. Essentially, the game takes into account real MLB data and the status of the current game to generate the count that players will be dealing with when they take over. During my experience with Quick Counts I didn’t come across any situation that I felt was out of place, but to be fair I also didn’t use the option for very long. I prefer to play the whole at bat and battle it out, but I can understand that some just don’t have the time or inclination to do so.
Another option which I think is very cool and long overdue is the “Player Lock” feature. This option allows players to lock in to one player Road to the Show style in any mode they wish. This is another great way to speed up the action, but also allows players who enjoy one aspect of the game (one particular position for example) to enjoy a much wider variety of modes.
The biggest news for a guy like me that devours this series every year is that now saves from this year’s game will carry forward into next year. For someone like me who has started a new Road to Show character (or two…or three) every year since the mode was introduced, the fact that I don’t have to worry about losing my progress when next year’s game arrives is huge. This, along with returning cross-saves, builds a tremendous amount of attachment to my player, knowing I won’t have to just toss him to the side next April.
Let’s spend some time discussing the differences between the PS3 and Vita versions. Vita first – as expected the handheld port is a substantial visual downgrade from its big brother. The game manages to look about the same as last year’s title. With the exception of a couple minor frame rate stutters and some strange clipping hiccups, I had no real performance issues during my time with the Vita version. There are some things I miss going from the PS3 to the Vita version with respect to the presentation of the game. One thing is the visual representation of the quality of the at-bat during RTTS. On the PS3, players get the amount of points they earned as well as some specifics about what they did right or wrong. On the Vita they only get the points.
As it relates to how the game plays, I continue to be impressed at how little is lost in translation. The only thing that is a little off, just like last year, is the Pulse Pitching mechanic. I believe that for next year Sony should go back to the drawing board a bit and design a pitching method that is built from the ground up for the Vita. Despite these minor setbacks from the PS3 version, the fact that the game manages to be so close is impressive, and cross-save means just about everyone that gets one version should really consider picking up the other as well. Oddly enough, I think I like the pitcher/batter match-up screen better on the Vita than the PS3, but that’s really the only thing that stands out as stronger on the smaller machine.
In addition to its obvious visual superiority (the game looks fantastic by the way, with a host of slick new animations) the PS3 version gets some additional mode updates. From the “long time coming” department Franchise mode can now be played online with friends. On the flip-side, they’ve added the ability for Diamond Dynasty players to build up their teams offline.
I’ve already mentioned how much of an upgrade the PS3 version is over the Vita as it relates to presentation, but the improvements over last year are also strong. The only thing that I don’t feel like has made a nice step forward year over year is the commentary. I think it’s probably time to switch up the team again, and while I like Matt Vasgergian I think The Show really needs a new Play by Play voice. I’ve read and been told that the style has changed this year, but I don’t even notice because I’m too accustomed to this team by now. I would prefer more limited dialogue options from a wider variety of announcers (preferably home team specific, but I’m probably asking for a bit too much) than expanding the variety of words coming from this group.
Lastly, my favorite addition to the PS3 version is the Community Challenges feature. In this mode players take on creative situations built by fellow players. The customization here is intense, and players can literally recreate just about any situation imaginable. As is generally the case with user created content, the quality ranges from weak to incredible, and I had a blast playing several very challenging scenarios. This mode has a ton of legs and I’m very curious to watch it evolve.
Once again The Show stands out as a must own for sports fans looking to dive in at home or on the go. While I won’t get the chance to try the PS4 version for a while, they’ve once again built a nice base to build off of for the next several years. Year to year saves is a revelation, and has me even more excited for the future of the series than usual, something an old fan like me wouldn’t have expected.
PS Vita version also reviewed: 8.0 (Great).
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.