IGN Review of Major League Baseball 2K8
While the NFL and its exclusivity dealings have undoubtedly garnered more of the public spotlight than the MLB's, let us not forget that the deal that 2K struck eliminated one of the greatest (and my personal favorite) baseball series of all time in MVP Baseball -- particularly the '05 edition. Needless to say the bitter taste that was left in my mouth after EA's line of baseball games was squashed hasn't subsided in the last few years. That's mainly due to 2K's inability to recreate the fluid and fun style of gameplay that we saw more than three years ago. Now MLB 2K8 is stepping into the batter's box with a handful of gameplay tweaks and additions that will hopefully bring the series back to the prosperity that others have enjoyed in the past.
There are three main additions to the gameplay in MLB 2K8. First, there's Total Pitch Control. Gone are the days of holding a face button and timing the release with an on-screen meter. Now you'll have to trace certain movements with the right analog stick in an attempt to emulate the actual motion of a pitcher's arm and hand. A curveball starts in the lower-left and swings all the way around the upper left by the time the movement is finished. The mechanic is surprisingly intuitive once you get the hang of it. There are moments where you'll feel like it's slightly inaccurate, mainly when trying to throw a two-seam fastball, but for the most part it performs fairly well. Fatigue doesn't quite have the same impact on your pitching ability as it once did, as you can now pitch effectively well into the 30% stamina range.
Next up on the chopping block is the Precision Throw Control. Again, face buttons are eliminated in favor of using the right analog stick to designate a base. The direction of your stick movement determines the accuracy, whereas the amount of time you hold the right stick signals the power and whether you'll toss it high or short-hop the base. Yet again, the new throwing mechanic is effective and just as realistic (if not more so) than what we've seen before. If there's one issue I have with the new throwing mechanic it's that it takes a split-second too long to load your throw. It makes turning double plays just a bit tougher than it should be.
Lastly there's Swing Stick 2.0, easily the worst of the three main additions. While the mechanics will be familiar for those who played last year's game, 2K Sports decided to remove the power control from the hit stick. Though it is possible to revert back to the old two-button style of hitting (one button for contact, one for power), I would have much preferred to be able to control my swing type with the more immersive option of the right analog stick. It's all too often that swinging through the ball creates a shot to the outfield. Rarely does a perfectly timed hit shoot up the third base line. Instead you have to practically plan to mis-time your step or your swing to get a grounder in any direction.
Baserunnning, while not one of the three big additions to 2K8, has been redone so it's a bit easier than it was previously. Essentially the bases are diagrammed on the screen and a small avatar of your baserunner can be easily selected with the left analog and commanded around the bases. The only time when I had a problem with the mechanic was when I'd slap a single up the line, reach first base, then tap A to try and skip to the next at-bat only to have my baserunner start running home (tapping A sends them home, X to third, etc…). Granted this was due more to my impatience than a flaw in the baserunning system, it's still worth noting.
Fielding the ball was something of a sore sport for MLB 2K7. Luckily the developers at 2K Los Angeles (formerly Kush Games) tuned the animation to allow for more finite movements. They also added the nice touch of having the marker that designates the landing area for the ball only appear if you're facing the pop fly. If you're running towards the wall then the marker disappears. So while there are still moments of inaccuracy and fidgety movement, it certainly has been improved overall.
So while 2K Sports has certainly added plenty of new gameplay mechanics to MLB 2K8, it's the way that they're all rolled together into one package that hurts the game overall. Fluidity is incredibly important to the game of baseball and it's the one area where 2K8 really suffers. As your third baseman scoops up the ball and wings it over to first for an out the camera makes the requisite pan across the field. Sadly instead of being fluid as it would in a regular broadcast it jerks its way across the infield. This happens even more so in the PS3 version of the game where the framerate is once again a step below Xbox 360's. It might not sound like a big point of contention but once you see The Show running at a consistently high framerate you'll be more than a little envious.
There are other subtleties that detract from the gameplay as well. Like when the ball hops into the stands for a ground rule double and you then see it rolling on the warning track because of a lack of collision detection on the opposite side of the wall. Or when players glitch and stutter their way towards the dugout, or, even further still, when players run through each other. The latter doesn't happen all that often, but there are still instances when players don't react to one another or don't react to a ball rolling right under their feet.
At the end of the day the gameplay is hurt most by its lack of authenticity. As soon as the game starts up and you're greeted by the voice of Jeanne Zelasko you'll see that things just don't move the way they should. This is most evident when you see the zany cloth physics that miraculously stay confined to the mid-section on all players. A baseball game's look and feel should be that of a true broadcast and MLB 2K8 doesn't quite clear the bar in that regard.
Where MLB 2K8 succeeds with flying colors is in its feature set. The franchise mode is loaded with pretty much everything that you could want from a baseball game. There are 90 minor league teams and over 20 stadiums from the minors. You can call up players, scout prospects, and send old hags down to single-A ball. There are other nice touches, too, like being able to set a percentage for how many games your boys will play in if you care to simulate a season. The franchise mode has been around the longest out of any of the features in MLB 2K8 and it's starting to show its age a bit, especially when you see what other sports games are doing with the patented "superstar mode" where you create your virtual likeness and build him up through the ranks. Not to say that the franchise options should go away, they just seem a bit old-hat when you see what else is out there.
The card feature, and this is something that most casual fans will disregard, is actually pretty darn cool. It allows you to construct your dream team of baseball players by completing challenges with them in the game. There's online expandability that 2K Sports will hopefully cash in on later down the line and the introductory set of cards is certainly enough to get you on your way. It's a bummer that the MLB put the kybosh on betting your cards over an online game, but being able to trade them will have to suffice for now.
The online offering hasn't exactly changed much from last year's game, but there are a few new lobbies to ease into the uber-competitive arena. Now you'll be able to enter lobbies where you're only allowed to throw strikes, so those hitters with terrible eyes (me) don't have to worry about swinging at pitches in the dirt.
As we said before, there are some aesthetic oddities that crop up during MLB 2K8. The most noticeable being the aforementioned cloth physics. For whatever reason the wavy cloth that was in last year's game is back, and while it is certainly improved, it still looks extraordinarily artificial as the jersey ripples through your player's mid-section and nowhere else. Then there's the framerate which stutters at every swing of the camera, especially on PS3. Character models are also another downer in the visual department. It's rare that you'll see players look the part, though their animations do tend to be truer to life, at least for the most part. There are times when you'll see your pitcher drop to one knee, slide into the first baseline to scoop a bunt and then toss it to first and you can't help but think how cool it was. Then there are times when the ball will roll right under your fielder's foot causing a prompt slap to the forehead.
Joe Morgan and Jon Miller return to their spots in the commentating booth, even though half of their time is spent giving inaccurate calls. It's too often that you'll rope a ball into the gap, have a rangy second baseman make a diving snag and whip to first for the out, only to have Jon Miller exclaim, "Oh a shot through the hole!" They're also fairly inaccurate when errors happen on the field. They rarely recognize collisions in the outfield or throws over the baseman's head and that really detracts from the overall presentation. That having been said, some of their anecdotes are insightful and when they are accurate they do a solid job of keeping the feel of a broadcast. The soundtrack performs admirably with the usual grouping of Indy rock bands that, while not fitting the sport, still aren't a pain to listen to.
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