IGN Review of MLB 08: The Show
The Show has been one of Sony's strongest sports franchises for two years running. The baseball series brought refined batting systems, engaging mini-games and deep career modes to the PS2, and in doing so was the best baseball title on the venerated console. Working on a three-peat, Sony Computer Entertainment has released MLB '08: The Show, the latest installment in the series. While it still holds up as a fun baseball experience, a lack of features compared to other versions of the Show and some issues that haven't been fixed from last year hold The Show back from being truly great.
'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 L1 button, you can check out more in-depth pitching information, such as what kind of pitches a pitcher has or the strike percentages for 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 either side of the plate, all batters are subjected to the feat-based Progressive Batting Performance system. Used within the Season, Franchise 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 instance, the strength indicator for your throws still comes across as ineffectual to gameplay, because 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 still the most disagreeable section with this mode, as you won't always be able to isolate where a hit ball is when you're running on the basepaths. This makes it extremely disorienting, particularly when the camera swings to attempt to follow both the game action and your player running, and can frequently result in outs because you can't fully track where the ball is.
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 -- 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.
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 PS2 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. 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.
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 it's standard set of rock and rap songs.
One slight final downside with the PS2 version of the game is that it doesn't have many features that the PS3 or even PSP version has. For example, you won't get a replay vault, ability to create your own playlists (which just wouldn't work for a PS2), or headlines during career modes. You won't have the depth in creating players, as I've mentioned earlier, nor will you be given the option to save in the middle of games. These aren't make or break elements, but when the PSP winds up gaining additional features, the PS2 version starts showing its age.
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