The pipeline of titles hitting PlayStation 4 keeps getting hot as more of them land on Sony’s flagship platform, and the newest AAA title carries the torch of the best baseball games for eight years running. For good reason, MLB The Show has yet to be dethroned, but as most gamers know, the tendency for high-fliers is that the quality of the franchise can flatline. Even with the technical competition that 2K Sports offered with the MLB 2K games, MLB The Show has maintained a level of excellence that appears to be unflappable. However, the worst can always happen to the best, and a new generation of consoles means that more will be expected of developers like San Diego Studios.
Mechanically, the PS4 version plays above what the PlayStation 3 version was capable of doing. In particular, I noticed that player reactions to the ball were much more fluid. Where players tried to make a play out of position on the ball, they will no longer blatantly stop or execute robotic movements while making the play. If players have the time to set their feet in order to make the play, the players will do so exactly like real baseball players; in contrast, when players have to attempt awkward throws in order to make a play, they will do so to the best of their ability more often. Even the umpires feel more finicky and subject to observation rather than objective fact: more than ever, I had pitches in the strike zone called as balls and an equal amount of pitches outside the zone called strikes. Flawed umpire judgment makes the game even more dynamic than it already is.
Additionally, the horsepower of the PS4 shines through, and this sports simulation inches ever closer to reality. Even the cityscape backdrops are exquisite. The realism factor can also be seen with the fans in the stands, who have begun to take on more detail and animations. After you've played a few games, their animations will become a visual routine, but even the mundane food and drink vendors that roam the stands have their own spurts of livelihood every now and again. It's nowhere near perfect, but this sudden leap between consoles inspires new immersion--MLB The Show sets a new standard.
On the initial load of the game, the main menu takes nearly three to four minutes to finally appear. This is, in part, due to the installation process that has been native to the franchise for a very long time. However, unlike past installments, the PS4 undergoes game installation in the background, leaving the menu side of the game available in the foreground. The installation process takes about 25 minutes or so, and actual games of baseball cannot be played until the install completes. This doesn’t put a hold on the entire game, since Road to The Show players can be created and any menu-level part of the game can be navigated. Still, even creating a player during the installation leaves out a few key components to the creation process, such as the ability to hear previews to songs and names as they’d be broadcast. The wait isn't game-breaking, by any means, and it doesn’t even last very long in hindsight, but the first PS4 appearance of The Show is not without its hiccups.
Another blatant issue carries over from the PS3: the online components. Navigating through the menus takes a great deal of time, and getting into a game takes an even greater deal of effort, attempts, and patience as most invitations never complete the process of creating games between players. Still, after actually getting into a game, the network is surprisingly stable and much better than the PS3 instalment.
There aren’t any new modes that differentiate the PS4 and PS3 versions of The Show, but the overall presentation is what makes the biggest difference. Though PS3 is no slouch, PS4 boasts a butter-smooth framerate and overall clarity that PS3 is simply not capable of emulating. The visuals are crisp and clean, and edges are no longer pixelated at all, leaving player models looking nearly broadcast-worthy with their specific movements as well as their known swing and pitching routines. A cascade of new animations accentuate the presentation even further, and the only thing really keeping this game back visually is a loss of realism in faces, especially regarding created players. Though facial details don’t take away from the absolutely beautiful overall presentation, they begin to stand out the longer the game is played.
The finer points of what San Diego Studios has created all work together in a tandem that’s another major benchmark for future next-generation titles, featuring a graphical prowess that’s as visually smooth as it is awe-inspiring. The online frustrations continue, but the games themselves aren’t affected—getting into the games is the hard part—making the networking in the PS4 version, compared to PS3, a step in the right direction. Some small growing pains don’t hold back what is essentially a new milestone for gaming’s best baseball franchise.
-The Final Word-
Not much keeps MLB 14 The Show on PS4 from being the very best it can be on almost all levels. Though some uncommon visual and network discrepancies linger, San Diego Studios raises the bar that it's set for the last eight years in baseball simulation.