I’m not much of a baseball fan. I love movies and books that have their stories based around the sport, but to sit down and watch it? It’s just so bleeding boring, to borrow a phrase.
David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox at the plate in Sony’s “MLB ’14: The Show.” — Submitted image
However, seeing as the only place console gamers are going to see a Major League Baseball title this year is on Sony consoles, and that their in-house franchise has picked up quite a head of steam in its eight years of existence, I was intrigued enough to put aside my indifference toward America’s pastime and picked up a copy of “MLB ’14: The Show” this week past for the PS3, which will enjoy a month’s exclusivity before being released in early May for the PlayStation 4.
Apparently, I’ve been quite the fool to have ignored Sony’s MLB powerhouse, because “MLB ’14” is an electrifying specimen, exuding charm and incredibly solid gameplay on top of a few twists that make it unlike any other baseball title I have ever played.
The biggest of these twists is the implementation of a new “dynamic difficulty” system. Essentially, players start out in a simpler rookie setting, but are judged every half-inning of play based on the stats they accrue. And it is not simply a case of the game becoming more difficult, more like a case of a child discovering that they can swim deeper and deeper.
Slowly, “MLB ’14” unfurls its depth of gameplay, expecting players to grow with the game. It works spectacularly, and shouldn’t take more than a couple walks or outs before one gets back into the swing of things. This blurs the divide between newbs such as myself, and sports game elites that have regularly laid waste to my hopes and dreams for the better part of a decade.
Of course, “MLB ’14” gives players near limitless rein to make the game their own. Some of the more tedious aspects of baseball can be set to automatic, which performs, again, based on statistics. I can’t get a handle on fielding, so I selected for the game to handle that for me so I could stop humiliating my professional players with my own personal suckiness at their field position.
Some may complain that with other options that have the computer taking over pitching duties, or a “Player Lock” that sets gamers in the role of a single player of the team for an entire season, that the game is essentially being played for you. As a gamer who finds even playing two or three full games utterly exhausting, and the idea of playing a full season all the way to the World Series completely unfathomable, this is a huge step towards making this baseball simulation a more accessible venture.
Plus, Player Lock allows one to switch between players as easily as opening up a menu and, as I mentioned above, this is all completely optional. Without any tinkering, the entire game is entirely at players’ fingertips.
Picking up a couple of controllers and playing a few games of ball locally with friends is amazing, but unfortunately, at this point playing online is a mess. Without performing a 10 GB install, the game is nigh unplayable. After installation, it’s merely riddled with stuttering frame-skip and lag issues, leading to no shortage of missed pitches and hits. I’m hoping that this can be resolved by the time the PS4 version launches.
Visually, it’s on par, if not a step or two ahead of last year’s offering. The player models are clean and impressive, but it’s the animation that impresses the most. Every movement is smooth as silk and measured for impact, and it all has a delicious sense of weight. I’d like to reserve judgement until I see the PS4 version, just to see if this is a case of an asset dump on older hardware. If that’s the case, at least it’s a good looking asset dump.
“MLB ’14: The Show’s” ability to completely customize the ebb and flow of the game makes it a tantalizing offering for fans of the boys of summer. As much as the anemic online play sours the overall package, there is so much nailed execution in the local play, and the game-changing new modes are a welcome addition that smooths out the wrinkles that come with a franchise lasting as long as this one has.
Dare I risk a cheesy baseball cliché? Yes. I think I’ve earned it. The sloppy online keeps this hit grounded, but it’s got the speed and tenacity to leg it out and still make it to home plate to send the crowd home happy.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: SCE San Diego
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Rated: E for Everyone.
Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via firstname.lastname@example.org.