Baseball fever is back in play, at stadiums and for "MLB 14: The Show," with Sony's exclusive baseball simulator bringing some new tricks to the PS3 and Vita versions. "The Show" is always a highly anticipated title, but this year's version is more of an appetizer for the next-gen PS4 version that comes out May 6.
Price: $59.99 for PS4; $39.99 for Vita..
Rated: E for everyone.
Yet the PS3 and Vita versions are as solid as ever and feature improvements to the marquee mode, Road to the Show. In this mode, players get the virtual thrill of being an up-and coming-player. It captures the journey of climbing the ranks in a team's AA and AAA farm system and trying to reach the goal of starting in the Bigs. For the first time in the series, that journey begins in an amateur showcase, prior to the draft, when performance decides a player's draft position.
This mode is as strong as it has ever been. Role-playing games are usually reserved for fantasy or science fiction-based realms; Road to the Show combines a rich RPG experience with America's pastime.
Road to the Show mode is more accessible this year thanks to dynamic difficulty that changes on the fly. The game will automatically dial down the difficulty for players who are struggling or increase it if the game is getting too easy. "The Show" has always had a steep learning curve for newcomers, but dynamic difficulty is a good step toward leveling the playing field.
A common complaint of the sports game model is that one comes every year, and any work that was completed in a previous year is lost when the new version comes out. "MLB 14" rectifies this issue with a year-to-year save feature. Now game saves will carry over to next year's version of a game. If a player spent dozens of hours taking a team to the World Series in Franchise Mode, that team's journey can be continued in next year's "MLB 15." The same goes for created players in Road to the Show.
While dynamic difficulty and year-to-year saves are innovative additions to the series, the introduction of "stubs" is a questionable one. Playing games online or in Exhibition Mode grants stubs that can be redeemed in Road to the Show to advance a player. Advancement points are traditionally earned by good in-game performance, specifically in Road to the Show. What breaks this system is that stubs can be purchased for money on the PlayStation Store. If the option is there to buy your character into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it takes away the incentive to perform well on the field and earn advancement points. Shortcuts like these make stubs the virtual equivalent of Major League Baseball's performance-enhancing drugs.
All of these features, the good and the bad, will be present in the PS4 version next month, along with a hefty graphical upgrade. This is yet another solid entry in Sony's stellar MLB series, but PS4 owners are better off waiting to see what "The Show" looks like on its next-gen platform.
Max Parker is The Game Guy at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com. Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.