Baseball. It is America’s favourite game apparently and The Show has long been the best of the best for showcasing the sport on games consoles. Whilst the NBA 2K series has been the darling of gamers for how a sports game should be presented, it is the this series that has probably been the bench mark for a simulation of its chosen sport.
The thing with The Show, is that it just isn’t for casuals at all. In fact, if you have little to no knowledge of Baseball, then getting to grips with this game is extremely difficult. It throws statistics, sayings and more at you like you should already know what they mean and despite having various options of difficulty, unless you know how Baseball is played, you will become lost very easily indeed.
From the outside looking in, Baseball appears to be a very simple sport. A pitcher will throw a ball and the batter will try to hit it. They will either hit it well enough to get to a base, or hit it so well they get a home-run. Failing that they will get struck out, caught, thrown out, etc. Yet Baseball is a much deeper game than that, with a lot relying on understanding how you opponent will react to certain situations.
Will the pitcher you are facing deliberately throw a pitch out of the strike zone when ahead in the count? What pitch will they throw if they have thrown two balls and two strikes. Will the current batter try to drive runs home if there are guys on base? Will they bunt to advance a runner into a scoring position for the next batter to do the damage? Much of the game is played in the mind, or against the statistics, rather than hit and hope.
Whilst there have been other games that allow for this more simplistic idea, such as The Bigs or the now very retro RBI Baseball. The Show unashamedly recreates the game of Baseball to almost perfection. It doesn’t hide the fact it wants its players to have an understanding of the real game and if anything it basks its difficulty.
There have been attempts made to speed the game up, such as the quick count mode, which starts each at bat deep into the count. 3-1, 2-2, 2-1, etc, which then see you as the batter pretty much having to decide on a hit or taking a ball. It does away with a lot of the early pitch mind games usually involved with each at bat. This is a nice way to maybe get through some regular season games in quick time, but it does take away from some of the more in depth areas of the game. For newcomers too, it doesn’t really help them understand how to get to that point. But for playing on the Vita, maybe during a lunch break at work or on a small journey, it does allow for some on the go Baseball and does make it a nice addition to the series.
The Vita version is cut down from the PS3 and upcoming PS4 releases though, but does contain the more important modes. Road to the Show (RTTS) is included and feels a lot more rounded than in previous years. You start as a rookie and the idea is to become the best player in the majors, just like in NBA’s My Player, or NHL’s Be A Pro modes.
What is different and what we actually liked, was that the scenarios you would get from each at bat, or fielding moment have gone. Rather than getting specific tasks, you are simply rewarded on how your at-bat has gone. Get struck out in three pitches and you will have a bad at bat. Get struck out, but force the pitcher to throw plenty of pitches and you’ll get a better rating. Drive in a home-run with the bases loaded and you be rewarded even more.
Now whilst it may be argued that having individual tasks at set moments may be more realistic, having this freedom works. One of the biggest issues we found with previous versions was that you would be to work a full count, but the pitcher would then throw the sort of pitches that made this either very difficult, or nigh on impossible, resulting in a negative rating. So here, if you are walked in 4 pitches, you aren’t then punished for not being able to drive a run home at the request of a coach.
Other modes are all intact, such as the franchise and season modes, along with a Homer Run Derby mode. The HR Derby can be played either offline or online and is a nice distraction from the main modes, yet this is the only online mode on the Vita release which is a tad disappointing.
What is nice is that RTTS and both the season and franchise modes are cross-save, which is perfect for a game like this. Being able to play the bulk of your games on the home console versions, but then carry on a couple of games out of the house, or in bed works really well. Especially as there is so much content on offer in sports games like these and should really be the benchmark for all future releases of any sports game.
We felt great playing our pre-season games on the Vita whilst away for a weekend, before playing the opening day on the PS3, before playing the next couple of games back on the Vita whilst the main TV was taken up for other activities. The cross-save works really well too, with you saving the games as normal, then choosing to upload to the cloud to pick up on the console of choice.
Another thing that impresses here is the dynamic difficulty, which adjusts the game’s tendencies based on how you play. In previous released it was difficult to find a balance, especially for someone who kind of gets the sport, but isn’t exactly an expert. With dynamic difficulty the game works out across a number of games how you play and how well you perform and adjusts the sliders as needed. This meant that at no point was the game too difficult or even too easy. It felt like it was balanced right all the time, a slump was a slump and hot streak was a hot streak, with none of this being because we had adjusted the sliders ourselves to help.
MLB 14: The Show will not be for everyone, it isn’t a game for the casual gamer. It is a game for fans of the sport and for those it is the perfect game to have, especially with the cross-save features that mean you are never away from the action for any longer than you need to be. As good a sports simulation as you can get.