IGN Review of MLB 08: The Show
The Show has had a good run on the PSP since it was launched, but it didn't really cross over to being a must-have translation of the PS2 version of the game. Last year, the game built on practically every feature from MLB '06 but was held back by a framerate problem. This year, MLB '08 takes a page from both the PS2 and PS3 version of the game, stealing elements of both to present the strongest showing on the PSP to date -- as long as players can adjust to some gameplay issues.
'07's The Show highlighted elements of pitching thanks to the Adaptive Pitch Intelligence and Pitch Command System. That focus on the battery expanded the defensive side of the game, but this year focuses much more on the pitcher/batter duel. Thanks to the new pitcher/batter analysis tools, players can learn an opponent's tendencies in different situations, learning what kinds of pitches are frequently thrown or times a batter successfully hits a pitch that's low and inside. By hitting select, you can check out the stats of both pitchers and batters, which will hopefully give you some advantage against that player.
By hitting the L button, you can check out more in-depth pitching information, such as what kind of pitches a pitcher has for their strike percentages their compliment of pitches. There's a ton of detailed information that you can use, and you can discern how a pitcher will typically respond in certain situations, such as where they tend to throw the ball during a player's first at bat. Batters receive the same kind of attention, with analysis on the number of missed or hit balls, as well as their strikeouts and other info. All broken into various ratios, pitchers can easily figure out how dangerous a batter is when they step up to the plate.
Along with these new tools on both sides of the plate, all batters are subjected to the feat-based Progressive Batting Performance system. Used within the Season and Road to the Show mode, P.B.P. tracks whether your batters are on a hot streak or if they're slumping each time they swing the bat. Depending on their performance, they'll be evaluated with five separate icons that indicate the confidence they have in their ability to put the ball in play. If they're really off, they'll receive a dark blue icon indicating how cold they are, while constantly performing players get a bright red icon showing their hot bat. Along with these icons come mild contact bonuses or penalties, reflecting their confidence state. It's a nice addition, primarily because it really seems to approximate how players perform in real life without making '08 feel like an arcade game.
Fielding has received a mild adjustment from last year in the addition of the Rob Home Run Indicator, which gives players a better idea of how to snag balls from foul territory or deny that shot that's heading over the wall. A series of circles will pop up, showing the trajectory of the ball towards a specific location, fading as the ball makes its way to the ground. By hitting up on the right analog stick or R1, players will jump and grab the ball out of air, making an incredible play. It's an excellent addition, and one that really helps when it comes to making defensive stops. Another mild adjustment is that there are a few more animations this year, so you're not constantly seeing crow hops every time you throw the ball, which is a big improvement. One final improvement is that pitchers will actually snag more balls hit back at them, making them a bit more effective in quick stops if a ball rockets back to the mound.
Unfortunately, you have to balance some of that with the fact that there are still some fielding issues that haven't been addressed. For one thing, there is no strength indicator for your throws, which makes every toss seem like it's generated from pre-canned animation. It doesn't appear that you can hold or pre-load your throw and it doesn't seem to affect the force of a toss from the infield or the accuracy of the throw either. As a result, you don't feel like you're fully in control of the throw, so if a ball goes wild, you're not fully sure why it happened. What's more, some fielders feel a bit sluggish when it comes to responding to certain situations, especially during bang-bang plays, so you may find yourself wishing that they reacted a bit faster.
The same can be said for baserunners, who appear to have a hitch as they're transitioning from their running animation from one base to another. This really stands out near first base, as a runner will appear to hesitate for half a second before reaching or stretching forward during their run. That little hesitation is often enough to get called out on a close throw, which can be infuriating.
Apart from gameplay, one of the things that made last year's game so incredible was the inclusion of Road to the Show, which took created players through their career solely from their perspective. A computerized skipper would dole out tasks during situations or goals for specific moments in the game, and the mode would fast forward to these moments to help highlight your athlete's rise from the minors to the Big Leagues. But some of the camera angles, controls and some repetitive goals hampered the gameplay. In '08, this has been partially addressed. The goal system has been redone with much more flexibility towards your goals, including positive results (such as trying to drive a run in and advancing player to scoring position) and a not attempted system that actually works this time around. This softens the harder edged "pass/fail" setup that players could run into. What's more, players will find a certain amount of variety when it comes to goals; While you won't see nearly the number of various tasks to keep you engaged as you would on the PS3, you're not constantly trying to swing for the fences. You'll find a lot more calls to get on base or avoid hitting into double plays this time around.
Players will also finally be able to perform a defensive adjustment, giving them a better chance at jumping on a play and preventing a ball from squeezing through the gap between your players. This is a huge help on defense and can even help you with your advancement goals for this year, as you'll get some points for great defensive stops or putting out multiple players. Unfortunately, camera angles are atrocious within this mode. Players don't have any control over the camera at any point, which is extremely tight on the field action and won't rotate or zoom out regardless of anything you do. As a result, you never have an idea of what's going on in the field as a baserunner, especially if a ball is caught behind you, which will force an extreme sense of caution on trying to move from one base to another. It can also be extremely difficult on infielders, particularly shortstops, because the tight zoom of the camera can make it hard to see where the ball is even if you've adjusted yourself to make a play on the ball.
As a quick aside, what's up with the lack of player pictures in Road to the Show? The game doesn't provide any large variety in character model faces, and even fewer body types for players, so why couldn't they just use the generic character faces for the players when they step up to bat? The reliance on a plain player outline just looks weak and unfinished, and since you'll run into plenty of these athlete "pictures" during your time in the minors, it doesn't make the game look particularly great.
If you're looking for any other changes to game modes, you're not going to find them here, which is fine to an extent – it pretty much highlights an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" take on the modes, which are still as engaging as before. The included Home Run Derby and King of the Diamond mini-games are still fun, and online is still extremely deep with the number of features included from last year. That means that players used to 30-team leagues, Online Player Cards and message boards from last year will be very comfortable with MLB '08, and the downloadable slider services and updated sports tickers will just feel like second nature. The same can be said for the online play, which is still just as good as it was last year.
What the PSP version does have that's an excellent addition to its gameplay is the inclusion of in-game saves. Arguably, this feature was always there because players could switch the system into sleep mode, being able to save your progress and your battery life by fully switching off the system is an excellent addition to this year's play. It manages to extend gameplay because you no longer feel like you're tethered to either the screen or a power cord. There are two minor issues that I would bring up, however, that would make the PSP version of the game much better: the first would be PSP/PS3 connectivity to take seasons or career modes on the go and sync them back up from a console, and the other is the inclusion of a rivalry mode, which I've been asking about for two years now.
While never a visual powerhouse, the one thing that The Show has always been good at has been making a baseball game that's as good as the PSP can handle. That has been faithfully upheld with MLB '08, although some of the rougher edges are starting to show a bit within the game. Crowd textures will still sometimes perform that animation loop that snaps them back to place, and a lot of aliasing issues are still rampant throughout the ball parks. Texture tearing is pretty harsh as well, much more so than the PS2 version of the game, with some serious flicker going on. Part of this stands out thanks to some of the new camera angles that are being used to show off the action on the field or some of the replays during game events. Player faces are still relatively good, and the character models do move a bit better thanks to the new animations included within the game. At least the presentation is also improved with the highlight package that introduces the game, which is taken from the PS3 version and showcases big moments from the 2007 season.
Now, last year, the largest detractor was the framerate drop that happened whenever the ball was put into play. That has been fixed within MLB '08, but it's been replaced by another issue that I've alluded to earlier within the Road to the Show: a tight camera angle. Thanks to the zoom of the camera, players will sometimes find that into shallow right or left will appear to jump quickly into outfield, which can make it a bit hard to react to at times. While you can adjust to different angles with your options, it doesn't seem to fully alleviate this leap into the field.
The sound is still just as good, and the crowd still manages to be vocal during gameplay, with cheers or jeers. Vasgersian, Hudler and Campbell are actually much more on time with their calls during this year's game, although you'll find that some umpires are a bit behind in theirs. Playing in the office a few times, we noticed that a foul ball call would sometimes come as a pitcher was preparing to throw his next pitch. What's more, the game comes with its standard set of rock and rap songs. Fortunately, the PSP version allows players to import songs that you have on your memory stick with the My MLB Music feature, adding to the number of songs you hear within menus. You won't hear them during games, which is a bit disappointing, but the inclusion of the feature is a definite plus at least.
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