Baseball is back. Hundreds of players and millions of fans dusted off their jerseys, oiled up their gloves and met up at the ballpark for Major League Baseball's opening week.
This week also saw baseball's return to the Sony PlayStation. "MLB 14: The Show" hit the PS3 and PS Vita on Tuesday. The highly-anticipated PS4 version will not be out until May 6.
If you are an avid baseball fan and don't own a Sony device, you are pretty much out of luck. Rival 2K games announced that its baseball series has been cancelled indefinitely. However, "RBI Baseball" will be out pretty soon and should be a decent low-budget alternative.
If you do own a Sony device, then you are in for a treat. The latest incarnation of "The Show" appears to be Sony San Diego's finest work yet (we won't know for sure until the PS4 version hits). The game adds some great new features to a rock-solid franchise and cleans up some of the messy presentation issues that nagged at the previous releases.
Screenshots of the upcoming PS4 version are beautiful, but the PS3 version's graphics are identical to last year's game. This was to be expected though, as the series' developers already had stated that they had maxed out the PS3's potential.
Sony San Diego's team instead set about updating every other feature of the game.
The menu screens have been redone and allow for easier navigation. The game has a ton of different game modes and a lot of customizable options, so a simplified menu means a lot.
The game features new sound effects, such as the sound of your player's feet while he runs. The in-game commentary has been updated and now offers an even more authentic and realistic experience.
Play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian will cut off the color commentators if something important happens on the field like a home run or stolen base attempt. The commentator dialogue doesn't repeat itself much and remains witty and informative.
One of my favorite additions to "MLB 14: The Show" was the change to the catcher position. Catchers now have to catch the ball by moving the left stick to the ball marker's location. It is such a simple idea, yet somehow nobody thought of it until now. It is a little tricky at first, but it makes for a much more interactive and rewarding baseball experience.
The most significant upgrades to the game are found in its flagship mode: Road to the Show. This mode allows players to create and control a single player and carry him all the way to Cooperstown.
Road to the Show begins with a brand new showcase series in which your player plays three games as part of a regional all-star team. Your performance in these games dictates the player's beginning attributes and draft stock. You can then choose to be drafted by any team, drafted by a specific team or forgo the draft entirely and come back to the showcase next year (your player will be better but will have aged one year).
The attributes section of Road to the Show has been completely remodeled. You no longer are required by your coaches to level certain attributes, so the customization options are unlimited. You can create a 5-foot-6-inch 150-pound power hitter or a 6-foot-5-inch 300-pound speedster. Shoot for the moon, people.
The purchase and cost of each attribute also have been simplified. Now, if you click an attribute, it will simply tell you how much experience — which is earned by playing or simulating games — it costs to upgrade that attribute by one point. Each attribute also has a precise description of what it will do specifically for your player.
I have been playing the game for a decade, and now I finally know what the difference between base-running awareness and base-running aggression is.
The individual games also fly by much faster. You can now skip plays, so players can get right to that next at-bat if they don't feel like fielding at that moment. If you don't feel like fielding or running the bases at all, those portions of the game can be simulated and you can just focus on hitting. The controls and on-the-field experiences are basically identical to previous versions, but that's OK because those games got it right.
"MLB 14: The Show" does have some flaws.
The online modes are a little buggy. Games occasionally freeze up and the Challenge Modes occasionally have errors that keep players locked out of them.
Some of the new features, like the Quick Counts option for faster games, are absent from the single-player modes on the PS3 version. I imagine they will be integrated into the PS4 version, but this leaves the thousands of last-gen players out in the cold.
The first roster update won't be available until Tuesday. This is kind of a pain in the neck for all of the die-hard fans who purchased the game at launch.
The out-of-date roster doesn't include many of the player movements in Free Agency and doesn't use updated attributes for each player, so your favorite team in real life does not match your favorite team in the game. This will be fixed on Tuesday, but anyone who started a game before then will be stuck with inaccurate rosters or have to recreate.
These are just minor issues in the grand scheme of things. The game is another home run offering from an established and unchallenged franchise. Sony San Diego could have rested on its laurels now that it has basically no competition, but instead it made a great game even better. I hope the PS4 version takes our breath away in May.
Final Score: 90/100