Sony was gracious enough to send a copy of MLB 08: The Show for the Playstation 3 in my direction, so this week’s article will be a look at the features of that game for those still on the fence.
For starters, the game’s presentation is very well done. When you start up the game, a random movie plays detailing a player milestone reached during the 2007 season, the “Year of the Milestone”, according to MLB 08. These are interesting looks back at the season that was as we prepare for the upcoming year, a neat way to pump up the player who is looking forward to baseball both real and simulated.
The menu system is easy to figure out and presented neatly, so no matter what game mode or options you are attempting to get at you should have no trouble in the navigation department. However, load times for games and in between plays in the Road to the Show mode can be considerable in length on occasion.
The music in the background comes from current and classic songs, and depending on your preference for musical quality, will be hit or miss. Interspersed within the musical tracks are another random 2007 feature, with famous play calls—think Red Sox winning the World Series or Alex Rodriguez walk-off homer—coming through your speakers every now and then. The good news for those who dislike the tunes: you can skip through them with a press of the right analog stick while navigating the menus. If you have the hard drive space on your console, you can also upload your own songs into the game for use.
The announcing team in the 2007 edition was my favorite from any past baseball game, and this year the same voices call the plays: Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler. Besides avoiding much of the obvious commentary the Madden football franchise has suffered from over the years, of the “a consistently effective defense is one that is both consistent and effective” variety, MLB 08 also avoids one pitfall that its competitor, the 2K8 franchise, did not: Joe Morgan. Not having Morgan involved makes this a +2 announcing team all on its own, but the fact that the three announcers seem to play off of each other despite being pre-recorded virtual versions of themselves is impressive.
In all seriousness, the announcing crew adds to the experience. When you make a mistake, they will let you know about it, and sometimes even give you hints as to how to change your strategy for the future. If there’s a gripe, it would be for Rex Hudler to stop telling me to “Shake it!” so often, but maybe I just need to play better baseball to quell that onslaught. Having the three announcers also helps, as it keeps the announcing fresh and full of variety relative to other sports experiences on your home console.
As for the gameplay itself, pitching and hitting have a learning curve, but if you’re familiar with previous editions of The Show or are willing to put the time into learning, it becomes very intuitive and simple to use. From the hitter’s perspective, you can guess pitches and location, and also chase after the ball with the left analog stick. Your power swing is best saved for those times when you guess pitch and location, but be warned that your chances of grounding out or missing go up when you hack like that. There’s nothing more satisfying than guessing correctly and making contact with the power swing, especially in the Road to the Show where your manager will heap praise on you for your efforts.
Pitchers have to select a pitch, then set location and velocity using a gauge on the screen. You have the option of pitching without the meter, but for those who do not simply want to press buttons to throw pitch after pitch, this is the more realistic course of action. The meter can cause even the best of gamers to make a mistake pitch on occasion and give the hitter a chance to drive the ball, just like the real game. The balance between hitting and pitching is solid, and either system can be picked up rather quickly by newcomers.
For those who are looking for more depth out of the pitcher/hitter match-ups, hit the select button, and you will see information on platoon splits, hot/cold zones and past performance of the players. I’m not opposed to extra data, especially since some games are still sparse with the statistics despite the amount of information available for use. Past performance can be analyzed as well, and players will be rewarded with a boost or a penalty if they are on an extended hot streak or slump as well.
Graphically, there’s no comparison to any baseball game before this. MLB 08: The Show on the PlayStation 3 is the best looking baseball game ever, period. Character models are improved from last year, with detailed facial features, shading, and even mannerisms you will recognize from your favorite players. The crowds are blurred, but still detailed and impressive looking. On the right television, this looks like live baseball, and realism has been the name of the game on this generation’s consoles. That’s the sort of thing we take for granted now, with the way the graphics have evolved on consoles, but when combined with the gameplay, it’s an excellent package deal.
Franchise mode should be known by anyone who has played a baseball game since the end of the twentieth century, so just know that The Show has it, and does what’s expected of it. Where Sony’s effort shines relative to the competition is the Road to the Show, my favorite game mode. Create a player at whichever position you choose, and customize his face, body and uniform almost endlessly. Pick a team for him—you get the chance to check out each team’s depth at your position of choice, from Double-A through the majors—and dive headfirst into spring training.
Chances are good you won’t win a job on the major league club right away, but you should get a contract offer. 21-year old third baseman Marc Normandin, after hitting roughly .240/.270/.415 over the course of spring training, signed a contract with the Double-A squad of the San Diego Padres, where he was eventually promoted to Triple-A by August after reaching his achievement goals and doing what his manager asked of him.
Those goals will be your focus throughout your career in this game mode. Your manager will ask for assorted tasks—improve your contact against RHP during the next four series, or hit .325 or better during the next 6 series—and reaching these goals will please your club. You earn training points for achieving situational goals during games, as well as for defensive putouts. You come up to bat with a man on third in the 8th, and your manager tells you to drive in the run. Do so, and you will earn training points to improve your player as you see fit. Fail, and lose out on points gained earlier in the game. These situations have been improved this year—I haven’t seen the manager specifically ask for ridiculous things like homers when I come up like in last year’s edition—and they range from simple things such as “Don’t strike out” to more involved items like “Tie the game!”
What makes this game mode intriguing is that you are only involved in the plays that revolve around your created player; specifically, you hit for him, you field for him, and you run the bases for him. The rest of the game is simulated on the spot until your next event comes up, which means you can play through an entire season in an afternoon without simulating, rather than over the course of weeks and months. This also means you can create multiple players for multiple careers without feeling like you’ve invested too much time in one to start another when things start to go south. The one spot where I’ve always felt baseball video games fell flat was length of season, since you want to see the stats rack up but you oftentimes want to play more than a single season—one which takes forever to play—in a franchise. Road to the Show remedies that, as you follow the career of your own player, watching him improve and earn promotions each season over the course of a day or two if you play often.
At present, I have no comment for the online play of the game, as I (and many others, maybe with the same router) have sporadic access to the game’s servers. This is an issue that should be resolved in the near future, and there are most likely fixes for it lying around the Internet already. When I can get my own system logged on consistently, I will comment on the online gameplay.
The offline game mode itself is worth your $60 though, as you won’t find a better baseball game out there at the moment. With multiple game modes, an intuitive and realistic control scheme and online play, this is a baseball game you won’t be putting away simply because you have other games to play on the way. MLB 08: The Show is a keeper in your PlayStation 3 collection, and it’s one of the best baseball experiences on home console to date.