Add another asterisk to Major League Baseball's latest boast -- this time, its belief that, compared to other sports video games, "Baseball is better."*
*Statement applies only to offline game modes. Online experiences may vary.
Of the five major sports games presently available for PlayStation 4, only NBA Live 14 performs worse online than MLB 14: The Show.
Even NBA 2K14, a game that's still suffering from server outages, network errors and input lag, is currently more fun to play over the Internet than MLB 14: The Show.
As of this post, The Show's primary problems are latency during at-bats and synchronization issues while running the bases. There have also been reports of online games randomly crashing, freezing, disconnecting or encountering server errors, causing all in-game progress to be lost.
Simply starting an online game can be difficult in the PlayStation 4 version of MLB 14: The Show. Direct challenges to friends often do not show up in your opponent's inbox, regardless of how many times they are sent or how many times both players have restarted their consoles. Even after accepting a challenge, there is no guarantee that the process will complete successfully, as you are just as likely to be kicked back to the lobby screen by a server error.
Once you finally get into a game, lag becomes a major issue for the hitting side. While batting, there is a significant discrepancy between the time the ball crosses the plate on your television and the time that the game is actually registering. Hitting is already hard enough in The Show's offline modes, but when you cannot trust what your eyes are seeing at the plate, timing your swings becomes extraordinarily difficult. My PlayStation 4 friend list has become full of people batting in the .100 to .200 range online, with few extra-base hits besides the occasional lucky solo home run.
If the offense can manage to put the ball into play, it is further handicapped by visual synchronization issues. Fielders, baserunners, and even the ball itself will frequently teleport around the field, leading to unnecessary baserunning mistakes. Input delay can also cause your players to continue running past a base, long after you've let go of the "advance" button and slammed on the "stop" button.
Somehow, pitchers in MLB 14: The Show are unburdened by these latency and synchronization issues. Skilled hurlers can easily record 15 to 20 strikeouts per game, aided by the unseen lag that lies just 60 feet away. Timing your pulse or meter throws is just as easy online as offline, though the ball does tend to skip animation frames once it's out of your hands and headed towards the catcher's mitt. Aside from a slight input delay while maneuvering your fielders, everything looks and plays normally from the defense's camera, which is odd, considering the circus act that commonly occurs on the offense's screen.
It seems to make no difference whether you're playing MLB 14: The Show against someone 30 minutes away or 300 miles away; the end result, thus far, has been the same crippling lag in all 25 of my online games, which were played with the maximum "three green bars" connection, over an even mix of wired and wireless Internet.
The situation could improve in the days and weeks ahead, but right now, I cannot recommend purchasing MLB 14: The Show if you plan to spend most of your time competing online.
New to MLB 14: The Show is the ability to play user-created scenarios, which can be as brief as a single at-bat or as long as a normal nine-inning game.
The shorter challenges are perfect for those times when you only have a few spare minutes, but at the moment, the mode has major issues with its reward system.
To play a scenario, you must first pay a set amount of "stubs," which are MLB 14: The Show's virtual currency. For some reason, about 75 percent of the available events cost just as much to enter as they award for a win, giving gamers no financial incentive to risk their stubs.
It's unclear whether or not entry fees are supposed to be refunded after a win. A bug could be preventing that from happening. Or it could just be that the mode was intentionally set up so that the majority of challenges offer zero chance of winning any stubs.
A minority of challenges, however, have opened up opportunities for "stubs farming," which involves replaying fail-safe challenges that reward thousands of stubs for completing simple tasks like making one out.
Getting in and out of challenges also takes far too long, as you will often spend more time looking at loading screens than actually playing some of the simpler scenarios.
If you enjoyed playing cooperatively with friends in MLB 13: The Show, you'll be disappointed to find that the online co-op feature did not make the cut in this year's game.
According to SCEA community manager, Ramone Russell, the feature "was taken out, [because there was] not enough time to implement it again with the new online [system]."
Given the popularity of Sony's Road To The Show mode, it's a shame that there's still no way for your created character to meet up with friends inside a virtual sandlot.
As a very menu-heavy mode, slow loading times are currently diminishing much of Diamond Dynasty's fun factor. Navigating the marketplace and managing your roster have become more tedious than usual, thanks to the menus' delayed response times.
Completed Diamond Dynasty games can also take up to two hours before they are processed, which means you sometimes get stuck waiting for your budget rewards to be deposited into your team's account before you can make your next marketplace move or start a new training session.
The effects of "stubs farming" are already being felt in Diamond Dynasty's marketplace. Prices for top cards have skyrocketed as more owners are discovering how easy it is to balloon their team's budget through certain Community Challenges. Likewise, the amount of 99-rated "super teams" continues to grow at an unnatural rate, as team-building progression that should take months of normal, dedicated playing is being achieved mere days after the game's release.
Home Run Derby
MLB 14: The Show's lone online success is its eight-player simultaneous Home Run Derby. Even with a full field of competitors, the online performance feels identical to an offline game, with no noticeable latency. The mode even supports cross-platform play, as PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita users can all join the same session.
If the rest of MLB 14: The Show's online modes can be brought up to the performance quality of Home Run Derby, then Sony could truly say, without an asterisk, that "Baseball is better."