CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For years, one of the most vocal complaints levied toward Major League Baseball has been the length of games, which regularly top three hours. That same complaint has been made about baseball video games, including Sony’s flagship franchise, “MLB: The Show.”
While playing a full nine-inning game of “The Show” doesn’t approach three hours, it can push a solid 60 minutes, depending on your play style and affinity for watching replays and cutscenes. And for time-strapped gamers, like myself, that’s a big investment to make, especially if you’re wanting to knock out a full 162-game season in franchise mode.
“The Show” has always offered alternatives for those looking for a quick fix, such as eliminating those cutscenes and replays, but the most efficient way to play has long been the Road to the Show mode, which focuses the action on only one player and the plays directly involving him. I could easily get in 5-6 games within Road to the Show in the time it would take me to finish one full nine-inning game in my franchise. As a result, I tended to spend more time in that mode — and I doubt I’m alone in that respect.
With its latest offering, “MLB 14: The Show,” the development team at Sony’s San Diego Studio aims to pick up the pace by incorporating some of the time-saving features found in RttS into season and franchise modes. But the real game-changer is the addition of quick counts, an optional feature that allows users to begin each at-bat, whether hitting or pitching, with a predetermined count, such as 2-1, 1-0 or 3-1. The quick count you see is based off of the real-life tendencies of the pitcher and batter involved, so it’s not some random roll of the dice.
Not only do quick counts reduce the time it takes to play nine innings by as much as 50 percent, but it adds even more drama to each at-bat. Stepping into the box already down in the count makes each pitch you see that much more precious. And staring down Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count eliminates any margin for error with your next pitch. As someone who strikes out way too much, this renewed focus on each pitch proved to be a huge benefit as I was forced to be more selective at the plate. I struck out less, but most importantly the game retained its balance, which is huge because I doubt many gamers would be willing to sacrifice the simulation style for which the “The Show” is known in order to shave a few minutes off a game. But for those die-hards, quick counts can be ignored altogether, putting the success or failure of every pitch in the players’ hands.
The combination of quick counts and the RttS player lock makes it possible to complete a full nine-inning game in as little as 15 minutes, a far cry from the hour-long marathons I’ve endured in seasons’ past. Yet “MLB 14” doesn’t just offer a faster game, it offers a better one. There have been numerous small improvements and additions made, ranging from the inclusion of new animations and dynamic camera angles to the introduction of online franchise mode, a first for the series, and a host of tweaks to Road to the Show, beginning with the new Topps Rookie Showcase, a series of games against other prospects that is used to establish your draft status.
Whether you’re playing “MLB 14” on the PS3 or a shiny new PlayStation 4, the overall game play experience is going to be practically identical. The next-gen version of “The Show” contains all of the features found on the PS3 edition, but greatly improved visuals and some additional animations make the PS4 version the most complete version available.
The graphical leap from the PS3 to the PS4 is evident right from the get-go. Stadiums have been rebuilt from scratch to take advantage of the new console’s processing power, with an emphasis placed on lighting and small details like the inclusion of ball boys. At times, the new lighting and improved crowds make it hard to tell “The Show” from an actual broadcast. Only the occasional slowdown during cutscenes spoils the immersion.
Regardless of console choice, “MLB 14” delivers the same great hardball action fans have come to expect from Sony’s San Diego Studio. It would have been nice for the PS4 version to contain a few more exclusive features for its debut effort, especially given its later release date, but there’s a solid foundation in place upon which to build next season. And if “MLB 14” is any indication of what’s possible with the PS4, baseball fans could be in for a real treat next year.
“MLB 14: The Show”
Developer: SCE Studios San Diego
Available for: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 ($59.99)
Rating: E for everyone