(Editor's note: The following three paragraphs refer to the PlayStation 4 version of MLB 14: The Show.)
Where its standard features are concerned, MLB 14: The Show on the PlayStation 4 is identical to its PS3 counterpart. Nothing has been removed in the move to PS4, nor is anything added, so if you're already enjoying the excellent PS3 version, know that you're not missing any gameplay experiences.
What you are missing, however, are the significantly upgraded visuals. All 30 MLB stadiums have been completely rebuilt, and they look incredibly detailed. Realistic shadows and textures bring the stadiums to life like never before. Given the drastically boosted crowd audio and models which make the stadiums feel like real places full of baseball fans, it's no exaggeration to say that The Show has set the bar for stadium authenticity.
What's nice, and unique among recent sports games, is that the jump to the new generation did not lead to a drastically different feel. Both Madden 25 and NBA 2K14 played slightly differently on the PS4, making for an awkward transition if you made the leap between versions. In The Show, the timing and controls work exactly the same on the PS4 as they do on the PS3, so the timing you've been working so hard to get perfected is still spot on. Swing away. - JD, 5/6/2014 12:01 PDT
MLB 14: The Show is in a tricky position. It's got no competition to speak of now that 2K Sports has canned its long-running baseball franchise. The Show hits a last-gen console and won't see a PlayStation 4 release for another month. And so for the first time in memory, The Show feels like it's somewhat resting on its laurels. Or maybe like cover athlete Miguel Cabrera, it's confident in its Win Above Replacement, even this late in a console cycle. Because when there is nobody else stepping up to the plate, you don't have to swing for the fences.
Nevertheless, MLB 14 is the most robust, gorgeous-looking baseball simulation to date. There's a satisfying weightiness to MLB 14, a physicality to the crack of the bat or a diving catch for a line drive. The Show makes you earn every on base, every double play, and every strikeout, and it creates a sense of elation when you succeed, the intensity of the joy matched only by the intensity of the devastation you feel upon botching a play. Getting on base requires a keen eye and quick calculations: guessing the pitch, adjusting your aim, picking a swing type, and getting the timing just right all happen nearly simultaneously. If you're playing in the outfield, it's your job to make a split-second decision. Can you chase down a line drive, while picking the direction and power for the throw to second to stop the runner? There's a tension that comes with every pitch because once the action moves, it moves fast, and it's do or die.
MLB 14 is not an easy game; at its default settings, it requires perfect timing and lightning reflexes. Happily, Sony San Diego has included so many customization options that you can create the baseball experience that suits you. Praising difficulty sliders and tweaking options sounds weird, but they're worth commending because they work so well. I can fine-tune The Show to make any aspect of it easier, or more difficult, in a way that doesn't breaks the game. Though cranking everything down lets a skilled player rack up some huge leads, it's still very much an enjoyable and entertaining baseball experience.
While MLB 14 is hardly just a simple roster update, it contains noticeably fewer new features than MLB games from previous years. Last year's game boasted an entirely new adaptive difficulty mechanic to ease new players in, and expanded the franchise to be a baseball nerd's dream come true. Of course those features remain, and nothing substantial has gone missing, but the new additions to MLB 14 don't feel as important to the core of the game like a revamped Franchise mode, new swinging mechanics, and modified difficulty system do. This year's hooks aren't as substantial, given the series' reputation for reinvention.
There are certainly additions to this year's ballgame, however, most noticeably player lock. The concept of player lock has been featured in other sports games: you pick one athlete and control only him through the course of the game. What makes MLB's player lock different from Madden's or NBA 2K14's is that it can be turned on and off in different game modes. If you want to play a full nine innings as the entire Blue Jays lineup for a month, then switch midseason to focus on shortstop Jose Reyes, and then change back to the full team for the playoffs, you can do that. You're not locked into a separate game mode or full season, and you have the freedom to jump around as you see fit. It's a level of freedom that becomes increasingly satisfying through the course of a season, especially in Franchise mode, because the experience of playing different fielding positions is unique and different from other team sports. Taking the mound and controlling the pitches may be the classic way to play baseball, but there is a nerve-racking excitement to taking an infield position and making those split-second decisions that mean the difference between a double play and losing the lead.
Thankfully, the presentation in The Show remains stellar, offering lively, informative commentary that holds more humor than you might expect. If you're playing one team through an entire season, you're going to hear a lot of the same stuff. But there are different chunks of dialogue for everything, from the showcase, to minor league games, to the post-season. The lighting in the stadiums and the camera angles used can often make MLB 14 look like an actual MLB broadcast. The all-star players look incredible, clearly getting the most love, though every player in the game looks close to his real self, better than most of the sports game competition manages.
The presentation in The Show remains stellar, offering lively, informative commentary that holds more humor than you might expect.
Focusing your attention on a single player has long been central to the Road to the Show mode, and that mode returns as well. Creating a brand-new player, taking him through the minor leagues and into the majors, and earning that spot on the lineup is a long, tough journey that comes with a sense of accomplishment far greater than jumping into the cleats of an already established slugger. This time around, Road to the Show borrows elements from games like NBA 2K14, with a three-game showcase to start you off. Play well in the showcase, and your draft stock rises. Players still have the option to choose which team drafts them, but they have to work extra hard at their position if there's already an all-star filling that slot.
The other new feature, quick counts, solves a major issue with The Show: video baseball takes forever to play. A game of football or basketball takes about half an hour, but you can get into pitcher-dominated standoffs for hours in MLB 14. Quick counts jumps you in deep in the count, simulating the first few pitches based on the players' stats and abilities. It cuts the game time in half, allowing you to get further into a season, and finally makes The Show a game you can play at your leisure, without having to invest a substantial block of time.
Online players can use quick counts to speed up player-versus-player matches, though I found full games of baseball to be the least interesting offering online, when compared to the shorter, more multiplayer-friendly matches like Home Run Derby and the newer online modes. Community challenges add a new customizable minigame aspect to The Show. Kind of like in a massively multiplayer online version of HORSE, you can create scenarios and goals and then challenge other players. Set the game up to have bases loaded, a deep count, two outs, and two runs down in the bottom of the ninth, and dare the rest of the world to do anything, from striking out the last batter, to hitting a grand slam. Creating the challenges can feel a bit like being MLB's devious Jigsaw, but the challenges come with a caveat: you have to be able to complete them before you can post them. So not only are they a fun addition, but they serve as a badge of honor in the community, and a sort of backward version of sharing replays.
Community challenges and player lock might not be enough to make MLB 14 feel like a brand-new ballgame, and with a PS4 version on the way, it would not be unwise to hold off to see how the game improves in the jump to the next generation. But The Show is still a fantastic representation of baseball, capturing the thrill and grand scale of the national pastime.