Publisher: Sony

Developer: SCEA

Platforms: PS3, PS4, Vita

Release date: Out Now (PS4 May 6th)

If there’s one thing a baseball purist hates, it’s anyone tinkering with their beloved sport. Remember the outcry when Major League Baseball decided to add wildcard playoff teams? Diehards moaned that it would ruin the game and take away from the excitement of a pennant race. Rule changes and innovation typically happen very slowly in the national pastime, and Sony’s MLB: The Show franchise has mirrored its sport accordingly by rolling out the same winning formula every season without drastically altering its core. MLB 14: The Show carries on tradition with the most robust, gorgeous-looking baseball simulation to date.

There is a lot to love about what MLB 14: The Show has to offer this year, though most of its more about improving on the established modes rather than reinventing or creating new ones. Visually it continues to be one of the most eye pleasing experiences on the PS3, and that’s saying a lot because the PS4 version of the game looks even better. Player models and mannerisms are captured beautifully, with individual batter and pitcher personalities easily discernible. New dynamic hitting and fielding cameras add a nice touch, and the major league ballpark sights and sounds remain top-notch. One of the biggest complaints casual fans have about baseball is that a typical 9 inning game just takes too long to complete. It can take you anywhere up to an hour to complete one full game in The Show. SCEA recognizing this, came up with a dope system called Quick Counts (QC). QC jumps you deep in the count, simulating the first few pitches based on the players' stats and abilities. You could come up to bat behind in the count 0-2 or with a full count of 3-2 or any of the other combinations. The same works when you are pitching as well with you starting each at bat with counts like 3-0 or 1-1. 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 without having to invest a substantial block of time. They’ve also added the ability to use player lock on any player that you desire. With player lock activated on the athlete you chose, you’re only on the field when he is, which speeds things up even more. Using either player lock or QC allowed me to get through a game in about 15 minutes.

Road to the Show (RTTS) saw its first real revamping in quite a while this year, including the introduction of the Topps Amateur Showcase. This Showcase lets you play in three games, regardless of your chosen position, which help to decide where you’ll be drafted. Another change this year is Sony did away with the advancement goals. In the past, you had random goals assigned that you will have to meet every few weeks or series. These goals were the deciding factor that determined if you were promoted to AAA or the majors, and could be a bit of a hindrance at times. Thankfully with them gone, you can just focus on your created player’s on field activities.

Franchise mode is more or less identical to how it was set up in MLB 13 which isn’t a bad thing since the Show’s franchise is one of the deepest career modes you will find in a game. This year was more about enhancing what was already in place with a few caveats. Now the mode has a notification system that acts an assistant GM. It informs you of important information such as what minor league players are doing well, areas of training needed for your players, injury notifications and a lot more. If you don’t want to read them all there is an option to skip past. I found this system better than the email system from year’s past as everything was more accessible. You also have the ability to channel your inner Steinbrenner and fire your manager or staff mid-season – something you had to wait until the offseason to accomplish in previous versions. In MLB 14: The Show franchise makes its debut online. Just about every duty that is available in the offline franchise mode will be available online as well. How everything has run on the online infrastructure has been a mixed bag. To their credit SCEA is aware that The Show has had less than a stellar online track record and they took some moves this year to try to rectify that. The first step was to scrap all the old online netcode and start over from scratch. This helped achieve 1:1 parity from the offline experience to the online one in the hitter/batter experience. All of the pitching/ fielding meters and swinging is as close to offline gameplay as it’s ever been. However all of the work that went into improving those areas unfortunately caused issues in others. In a test online franchise I set up, I encountered a few too many disconnects or had instances of games that I had completed not registering within the franchise hub. Load times even with the 10GB install were very long and even longer on the standard, mandatory 5GB installation. Hopefully SCEA can get the problems ironed out (especially by the time the PS4 version drops) because online franchise has so much potential.

Online franchise problems aside, there are plenty of other modes to keep you busy including the new Community Challenges which let you create and upload scenarios both realistic and improbable for others to play. Think of it as a baseball version of H.O.R.S.E. There are no limits to what kind of scenario you can create with the only rule is you must beat your own situation before you can upload it for others to take a shot at it. SCEA didn’t stop there and also added year-to-year-saves to the mix. This means whatever RTTS or franchise users start in MLB 14, they’ll be able to be carried over into future iterations of The Show if desired. For franchise junkies this is a big deal as they’ll be able to keep their seasons going for many years. Another cool addition is the cross-save feature, which allows you to transfer any modes you’ve started so far into MLB 14 PS4 when it arrives next month, as well as the Vita version.

The XXL Endgame

MLB 14: The Show captures the sport of baseball to perfection, with rock-solid pitching, hitting, fielding mechanics and presentation that you’ll be able to sink plenty of hours into. While there weren’t any new ground breaking modes this year, what SCEA has already established still holds up better than any sports game out there.—written by DJRhude (@DJRhude)

XXL Rating XL (Excellent)

MLB 14: The Show was reviewed on a retail copy provided by Sony for the PS3