Improving on a well-regarded sports experience is an arduous task for just about any studio, but it's a challenge that Sony San Diego relishes with every new iteration of its hit franchise MLB The Show. The challenge is even greater this year, as MLB 14: The Show marks the series' debut on PlayStation 4. But Sony San Diego looks to be up to the task, not only taking advantage of the new console's power, but also implementing some new ideas that will enhance the overall gameplay experience.
Even the most avid baseball fans will admit that the game can get pretty slow. On average, a baseball game will run about three hours with more marquee matchups (Yankees/Red Sox, for example) exceeding the four-hour mark. A baseball video game is no different, but Sony's San Diego studio is going into this year's The Show with some new ideas to help America's pastime move just a little bit faster.
MLB 14: The Show will debut a brand new Quick Count mechanic that cuts the overall game time significantly. By analyzing batting stats from past seasons, the game will be able to generate pitch counts for players to jump directly into. For example, a player will take control of the next batter and immediately find himself with a 2-2 count, based on that batter's stats. The same will apply on the other end, with player-controlled pitches facing batters at an accelerated count, based on stats. With this feature, games are now estimated to run at a far quicker pace.
Games will run even faster with the new Player Lock feature, which brings elements of the series' signature Road to the Show mode across other modes. Players will be able to lock onto a single player and allow AI to control other teammates across all phases. For instance, I could take control of Angels phenom Mike Trout and take his three at-bats, while skipping everyone else's and allowing the game to simulate AI at-bat outcomes. With the time it takes to play Trout on defense and complete his three or four at-bats, the total nine-inning game time will amount to about a half-hour, making full seasons a much more feasible idea.
Obviously, the PS4 version of The Show will look the best. Grass physics look far livelier and players will boast more realistic features. For example, Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli's Duck Dynasty-like beard was on full display on PS4, as opposed to the flat texture shown on PS3. Also, crowds will exhibit more animated behavior. In fact, the PS4 version's crowds will feature the same number of animations as the PS3 version's players. Likewise, team stadiums will be rebuilt from the ground-up and display greater detail than the PS3 version.
While the PS4 version sounds like the clear-cut version of The Show to own, it will also be the last version released. SCE San Diego's Ramone Russell attributes this to the studio wanting to give the next-gen version some additional polish, while also having the PS3 and Vita versions ready for MLB's Opening Day. But those baseball enthusiasts that aren't ready to make the leap to PS4 this year will still have the benefit of utilizing the game's year-to-year save feature, which allows them to take their MLB 14: The Show save file to future installments of the franchise.
Despite the fact that The Show faces little in the way of competition, it's clear that SCE San Diego is not content to rest on its laurels. And with its significantly faster pace, The Show may very well draw in some new fans with this year's iteration.
MLB 14: The Show will throw out its first pitch on PS3 and Vita on April 1, with the PS4 version coming to the ballpark sometime in May.