MLB 08: The Show Review
I found last year's MLB 07: The Show to be a solid game of baseball, especially for one that was a first generation title. Sony did a good job of bringing over the core aspects of the series from the PlayStation 2, and onto the PlayStation 3. Where as Sony's first-generation NBA title was really barebones, the same plague didn't fall upon MLB 07. And that may have been due to heated competition from 2K's MLB 2K7, which we later found out wasn't very hot, at all. Lukewarm, at best. But despite being ahead of the competition by a large margin, Sony didn't think that was enough. For 08, they could've just added a few treats here and there, puffed up the visuals, updated the rosters, and called it a day.
But they didn't. Playing MLB 08: The Show makes one thing rather apparent: Sony is focused on beating down the competition to a point that it becomes written in stone: Sony's MLB franchise is without question the best baseball sim money can buy. Admittedly, I expected marginal improvements for 08, so when I first looked at the new feature set of the game, my eyes watered up. The tears came because 1) there was just so much stuff packed into the game, that reading all of it felt like a chore, and 2) I was genuinely happy to see a sports game receive such an enormous host of improvements over its past iteration.
In terms of features, MLB 08: The Show offers the most customizable experience you could ask for. Every little feature has a slider attached to it, and so you can adjust its properties and frequencies. And if it doesn't have a slider, it'll have settings that can be toggled across various options. For instance, I prefer to have a few assists enabled, particularly fielding. In manual mode, I often react wrong because I can't see which player has been activated, and end up running in the wrong direction. That, in turn, can make me drop or miss the ball. With an assist enabled, my fielder will sprint towards the ball, even when he's briefly out of my view, before I take control of him myself. I can also set the setting to Auto and let the game do the work, but I'd rather not.
The pitching game for 08 is practically perfect. The game retains its signature pitching method from 07, but now adds markers that show the breaking point of each pitch. Additionally, there's also the pitcher's focus and confidence that you have to pay attention to. Like last year's game, if you’re pitching well, your pitcher's confidence will go up. Also, it's important to not ignore other pitch types, as relying on the same pitch or two all the time will degrade your other forms, and you'll lose confidence in them. Lastly for pitching, when your pitcher makes numerous mistakes or one enormous mistake, his pitch load meter will spring a lot faster, so you'll have to be on guard and sharp with your reflexes. Batting remains largely the same, and that's not a complaint. As opposed to utilizing a swing-stick mechanic, the X, Circle, and Square button will still be your primary weapons, coupled with the left analog stick for aim and direction.
If you'd like to customize your experience, you can access the game's "My Sliders" menu and adjust in detail every little nook and cranny of the game. Everything from pitch speed, pitch count, umpire consistency of balls and strikes, wind, fatigue, pitch movement, pitch command, hit quality, power, plate vision, throwing strength, throwing accuracy, fielder speed, passed ball frequency, injury frequency, CPU pitcher aggressiveness, CPU baserunning aggressions, CPU stealing aggressiveness, pick-off frequencies, batter plate discipline, and so much more. I only listed about half of what the game offers.
Now, we know that MLB 08's feature set is unparalleled, you can tweak just about everything in the game. But what not everybody knows, yet, is just how amazing the game's presentation is. In order to be properly immersed, a game needs spectacular presentation, and MLB 08 offers it. Each game starts out with well spoken commentary, running down the list of players from each team, as well as some background information, and even talking about histories or rivalries both teams may have had. Even though this is technically commentary, and should be considered as part of the sound, it does such an incredible job of really immersing you into the game that it actually adds to the gameplay.
When you're actually playing the game, you'll notice real life intricacies such as your players being upset with an error(perhaps throwing a glove in the dug out), or mad at a call from the umpire. And the athletes aren't perfect, as you'll see them dive for a ball, only to miss it -- which tells me that the collision detection in the game is downright perfect. I even had a pitcher injure his ankle as it landed wrong following the throw, and the announcers had something to say about that, which I found cool, considering how uncommon it is. Beach balls will occasionally find their way onto the grass, and a fielder will kick it back, or get mad at it being there. Really, the more you play MLB 08, the more of these awesome details you'll spot. And because there's so many of them, they add up for a more rewarding and different experience.
MLB 08: The Show continues to offer a multitude amount of gameplay modes. First, there's the Road to the Show mode. Road to the Show, is, of course, the core of the game. You take a created player, and you run him through the ranks, helping him make it to the majors. Improvements in depth have been made to the game's goal system, and there is a new progress system. For 08, as the gamer, you'll know what your player has to do in order to be promoted. Additionally, the mode will make various positions a bit more tense, by putting your player's skill to proper use.
When you're not trekking through Road to the Show, you'll spend endless hours playing the game's other modes, such as Franchise, Season, Rivalry, Exhibition, All-Star Game, and Manager. In Franchise mode you still call all the shots, you are the team owner, and so you control every single aspect related to them imaginable. Manager mode is pretty much self-explanatory; you call the shots as the GM and assume responsibilities for your team's failures and accomplishments. And when you're in the mood for some human interaction, go online with MLB 08's incredible online component that features an in-game buddy list, instant messaging, voice chat, and much, much more. I genuinely believe MLB 08 features far too many things, and I could spend days talking about all of them. I just end the gameplay talks simply by mentioning that MLB 08: The Show is one of the best, most detailed sports games I've ever played.
Then there are MLB 08's graphics. Last year's game clearly suffered in this respect, as it had faces that weren't quite as sharp as they should've been, in addition to looking a bit zombie-like. Well, whatever problems plagued 07 have been rectified for 08. Most importantly is the overhaul that the players’ faces got. Sony actually used design techniques similar to that of Heavenly Sword in how they model and render the eyes of each player, which in turn eliminates the zombie look. This creates one extremely convincing image when you're looking at the players up close. From what I've gathered, most of the faces look very true to their real life counterparts, and even the texturing is commendable.
The player models, the rest of their bodies, have actually remained the same, and continue to look great, which is a testament to just how important something as small as a pair of eyes are to the look of a game. Jerseys have been glossed over with sharper textures, as well, and they fold, hang, flow, and crease as realistically as you'd expect them to. Lighting has also been revamped for a more natural look. Sony has augmented the saturation of each color of the stadiums, and the jerseys, to make them come off as close as possible to the real thing. And the color change is actually quite apparent. Some months ago I attended a Sony event where they had 07 and 08 running side by side, and in Fenway Park, the Green Monster looked a bit too green in 07 - almost candy-like. Where as in 08, the color of the wall is a duller green, just like in real life. And that's just one example; the difference between both games, visually, is night and day.
Thankfully, you still have the ability to customize your video settings to get rid of overscan or underscan issues your HDTV might have with 720p - this always gets major points in my book. But, most importantly, is the framerate and the animation. A glorious 60 frames per second keeps the game running on pace without missing a hitch, despite the real-time, always active polygonal crowd, the incredible lighting, coupled with super image quality. And what's more is the animation; motion captured animations now blend in from one strand to the next seamlessly! No more jerky transitions between one strand of frames to the next! MLB 08 is absolutely beautiful. There is visual quirk or two in the game, such as some aliasing in the distance, but it's so minor that it's nitpicking.
If you've been reading through the entire review, then you'll already have an idea of just how fantastic the game's sound. The commentary is refreshing, brilliant, and a delight to listen to. This is easily the best commentary a game has ever had - and I think only MLB 09 could top this. Rex Hudler, Matt Vasgersian, and Dave Campbell head up the booth, delivering play-by-play, historic, color, and informational commentary unlike you've ever heard.
The game's soundtrack is surprisingly good, as it includes a great lineup of artists, such as Queens of the Stone Age, ZZ Top, Kenna, The Ramones, Hot Hot Heat, Thin Lizzy, War, Franz Ferdinand, A Tribe Called Quest, No More Kings, and The Blood Arm. But I should specify that the soundtrack is what you make of it. On top of the aforementioned artists, you can upload your very own playlist into the game. Yes, MLB 08 supports custom soundtracks, a feature that many of you will love. And finally, to keep things livened up, the crowd gets extremely rowdy when they have to, making sure to always keep you on your toes. Play this one loud.
While a .4 score difference between MLB 07 and MLB 08 may seem incremental, don't let it fool you. As a first generation PlayStation 3 game, MLB 07 deserved its score. Otherwise, in retrospect, with MLB 08 in the picture, MLB 07 falls below the eight mark, and thus MLB 08's score. Make no mistakes about it, this is a game that not only looks different than its predecessor, but also boasts a host of improvements, enhancements, and a slew of never ending features. Bottom line, right now, MLB 08: The Show is about as close to baseball perfection as you're going to get. All developers should take note: *this* is how you do a year sports game follow up.
3/7/2008 Arnold Katayev