The PS4 version of “MLB 14 The Show” is the best sports game ever made. Yeah, I said it. I’m on that journalistic limb, living the hyperbole, embracing the melodramatic exclamation. It’s the BEST. I love everything about it and, honestly, it makes the PS3 version of the same game look even more disappointing by comparison. I called that game little more than a “roster update” and was really just expecting the PS4 version to be a graphically improved version of the same title. Yes, it looks AMAZING with 1,000 different crowd member models in the stadiums, comprised of 10,000 polygons (6 times the PS3), and the kind of muscle and shadow definition in the gameplay that I didn’t know was possible. But there’s more to it than a new coat of next-gen paint. The actual game is better. The input lag that sometimes plagued the game in the past? Gone. Odd, undefined errors like players overrunning the ball or throwing to the wrong bag? Gone. Even the controller feels more intuitively designed, creating the smoothest sports gameplay to date. I adore “NBA 2K14” but this is the sports game to buy when you get a PS4. Given the success of 2K and this title, I can’t wait to see what happens with “NCAA Football” and “Madden” later this year.
As for “MLB 14 The Show,” the foundational updates have been well-recorded by now. The biggest is “Quick Counts,” a menu option that allows full seasons to go by more quickly by allowing you to start at-bats mid-count. I still kind of hate it. It’s definitely for hitting fans only as it eliminates any chance of a one-pitch out, putting strain on a pitching staff if you’re really going to try to use it for a whole season. When I do my seasons, I sim some games, trying to get a taste of the whole year, managing one game out of each season, making moves between games, etc. In other words, there are ways to increase the speed of a full season if you’re crazy enough to play one that are better than “Quick Counts.”
Other new additions to the 14 versions of “The Show” on both systems include “Year-to-Year Saves,” “Online Franchise,” and “Universal Profile.” Once again, the game is deep with modes and ways to play, including standard exhibition games, franchise modes, season modes and a rich “Road to the Show” mode, in which you can customize and craft your own player to take from obscurity to the All-Star Game. You can play the Home Run Derby or try your luck at a series of Community Challenges—specific game situations in which players compete online to get the most runs under certain circumstances. I played through a variety of modes in both the PS3 and PS4 versions and every one feels more refined here like the Blu-ray version of something you once saw on VHS. It may be the same intrinsically but it also feels brand new at the same time. (For the record, my PS4 team of choice has been the Orioles. Chris Davis has 17 HRs in mid-May.)
The overall impact of both the year-to-year and gen-to-gen enhancements to the gameplay of “MLB 14 The Show” are difficult to put into words. It’s the way Nelson Cruz holds his bat. It’s the pitching rotation of Justin Verlander. It’s the fact that Ryan Braun gets booed more than other players. It’s the way the light turns from dusk to dark at Yankee Stadium. The details combine to add to the realism and the perfectly-mapped controller and responsive gameplay blend to make for a sports game that beats all others. It’s a fluidity we haven’t seen in gaming before, although “NBA 2K14” is close. If these two games are the signposts for where sports simulations are going in the next generation and we can only IMPROVE from here? It’s almost hard to believe.