When 2K Games announced that they would no longer be continuing their MLB 2K franchise, it appeared that it would be 1994 all over again and baseball season would be cancelled for non-Sony platforms. Enter MLB Advanced Media and R.B.I. Baseball 14, which is now available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and iOS. However, unlike Sony’s MLB: The Show franchise, which prides itself on realism, this rebooted series is promising a more arcade-like experience.
Much like its old-school namesake, R.B.I. Baseball 14 features a simplified control scheme. Batters can either swing or bunt using the “A” and “B” buttons respectively, while pitchers have three pitches to choose from, all of which are controlled with one button and the directional pad. There is a bit of strategy that comes with these positions, though, as batters can move around in the box in order to better position hits and pitchers have the option to alter the direction of their pitches mid-flight, as if they were straight out of a Tex Avery cartoon. While I would have wanted to see more variety injected into the basic gameplay, like what happened with fellow reboots NFL Blitz and NBA Jam, the core battle between pitcher and batter is still fun.
The big problem here, though, is that once a ball is in play, the gameplay falls apart. Fielding balls is unnecessarily difficult, as pop flies are frustrating to track due to a camera system that focuses on the ball rather than the player. So while you know where the ball is heading, you won’t be able to see where your fielder is heading until it’s too late. Attempting to corral ground balls is just as bad, as the lack of a dive button often leads to slow rolling hits passing right by everyone.
Things aren’t much better for the offense, either, as baserunning issues flare up right from the get go. My biggest issue with the system here is that players won’t automatically advance bases on big hits. I can blast a would be double with Mike Trout, but instead of him automatically running to second, I have to mash on the “X” button and hope he decides to move.
R.B.I. Baseball 14 only provides two basic ways of playing the game, exhibition and season mode, and both of them suffer from baffling issues. The big problem with the exhibition mode is that the game offers no online options at all. I can’t think of the last time a sports game featured no online play at all, and the fact that this game doesn’t is quite frankly, inexcusable. If you don’t have a friend around for local play, you can go to bat against an A.I. opponent, but they don’t exactly play fair. On the other hand, season mode offers a full 162 game schedule, complete with the All-Star game and postseason options, but doesn’t keep track of in-season stats or offer the option of trading for players or signing free agents. So, you’re basically playing 162 different exhibition games in a row, which seems kind of pointless when you really think about it.
Things aren’t much better on the technical front, with the game looking about as attractive as Randy Johnson’s ugly mug. Players don’t resemble their real-life counterparts at all and pretty much all look the same, outside of skin color. They all move around awkwardly as well, with players speeding off into the dugout upon being called out and pitchers and batters not moving their legs when they move around on the pitcher’s mound or in the batter’s box. Sound effects are limited to the umpire calling plays, the sound of a roaring crowd and the always classic, slide-whistle effect for fly balls. Considering how unimpressive the game looked and sounded, I was also genuinely surprised at how often R.B.I. Baseball 14 crashed on me.
This may just be nostalgia speaking, but there could be a good game at the core of R.B.I. Baseball 14. The old-school batting and pitching interface remains fun, and the idea of a more arcade take on the sport could make for an enjoyable experience. It’s just that everything else in the game feels remarkably dated. The graphics are stale, there are no online options and the fielding controls feel like they came right out of the series’ old NES cartridges.
While writing this review, I tried to think of an apt real-world baseball team to compare this game to. If MLB: The Show is the St. Louis Cardinals, always good and near the top of their class, then this is more like the lowly Miami Marlins, a calamity prone team with an owner that is more interested in making money than fielding a good product. That’s what R.B.I. Baseball 14 feels like: a cheap cash grab from a company looking to exploit the lack of other baseball products on the market.
This review is based off the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
R.B.I. Baseball 14 could have been a fun throwback to old-school sports games, but a lack of online play, ugly graphics and troubling on-field issues ruin the experience.