Major League Baseball 2K8 Review
Last year's MLB 2K7 was not a sports game I was particularly fond of. It was clumsy, had stupid A.I. despite customization, was full of homerun robbing, questionable hitting mechanics, and lackluster visuals with a framerate that gets me upset just thinking about it. 2K Sports promised us changes, and there's nothing that irks me more than hyperbole. Because MLB 2K8 does not deliver on any of those promises, as the game is still riddled with problems, and sometimes, it almost feels unplayable.
I'll start off with the moronic A.I. again. The A.I. in MLB 2K8 is apparently clueless to the game of baseball, as they'll, literally, stand in one place watching a ball roll right past them. And I don't mean roll quickly, I'm talking about rolling at a crawling pace. I can't count the amount of times I've thrown a ball to home, only for it to land short and roll past the third baseman. And when it finally stops, only then will he run to it. I thought, okay, maybe I need to press the L1 button to change to the nearest player...nope.
Next, players run too slow, especially when fielding. Where as in real life, or even in MLB 08, a center fielder would have no problems getting to a ball that's flying straight down the middle to the wall; in MLB 2K8 you'll almost never get to it on time. You can fine tune the running speed with a slider, but it still tends to feel a bit slow, regardless. If you keep playing with the slider, the players then run unusually fast, so finding a perfect compromise is annoying, and it creates even more frustration. Then we have the wonderful new pitching mechanics; Total Precision Pitching as 2K calls it. I found it to be total precision rubbish. Again, frustration really sank in hard after I threw seven chunks of meat in a row, all resulting in homeruns. I promptly went to the options menu and disabled the feature. For the inquisitive, Total Precision Pitching requires you to use the right analog stick to load and throw your pitch, by pulling back, waiting for the halo to hit a certain spot, then pushing forward, and then releasing to center. It sounds simple, but executing it is flat out cumbersome.
Still, the pitching game isn't great, as MLB 2K8 does nothing to enhance its original formula, so you still have to rely on the halo reticle that zeros in and out for precision. Additionally, as opposed to showing you the breaking points of each pitch at all times, you can only take a glimpse at them before you start a pitch. And avoid trying to pick off a runner, I noticed the chance of an overthrown error is unusually high, and I blame the game's overly sensitive Precision Throw mechanic - turn it off, play classic.
Even when reverting all of your settings back to classic or the most accessible/enjoyable options, MLB 2K8 still suffers from issues such as A.I., inconsistent hit frequencies, unusual errors, and more. The time 2K spent working on the game's new rubbish precision system, is time they could've used to polish it up, add more significant features, as well as put together a better list of sliders to toy around with. In terms of features, modes are Exhibition, Franchise, Home Run Derby, Manager Showdown, Tournament, and Situation. The core mode is clearly Franchise, and while it still makes for a good romp, it's growing long in the tooth and is in need of a companion. And the manager mode, while nice, simply doesn't cut it as a proper companion.
MLB 2K8 needs a mode like Sony's Road to the Show, a mode that lets you take a player through the ranks and help him land a contract in the majors. Sony's MLB 08 is actually to blame for most of 2K8's shortcomings, seeing as how it is such a monumental leap over its predecessor, that it makes 2K8 feel like a step-backward. In all honesty, 2K8's new control mechanics did absolutely nothing for me, because the rest of the game still feels largely the same. And in this industry, if you're standing still, you're moving backwards.
But that's not all, you see, visuals plague 2K8's gameplay considerably, as the framerate still causes problems. You'd think that a full year's worth of time would yield results with the graphics engine running smoothly on the PlayStation 3. This is just lazy. The jerky camera movements make it especially annoying when you're throwing a ball from across the field. Hell, it's even annoying when you're batting or pitching, because you can see motion in the background stuttering, and that's also thanks to the animation, which isn't great, either. This, in turn, makes for yet another poor online experience, because framerate issues are only made more glaring when online.
Then there's the rest of the visual package. MLB 2K8 doesn't have an overscan cure feature, unlike MLB 08. The lighting is average, at best. But worst of all, the players lack details everywhere, from the faces, to the eyes, to their overall details, and even poor texturing on the jerseys. Where as in MLB 08 the jerseys look sharp no matter how far away the camera is, in MLB 2K8 they are noticeably duller and flatter at just about any perspective or distance. The only time the jerseys look decent are during super close shots of them, that's it. Animation, as I've mentioned, isn't up to par. I've seen some weird transitions where a player would go from a poor swing, to losing his bat and throwing his arms in the air from being struck out - it was so jarring to witness. Like I said, MLB 08 is just so advanced in all of these categories that it makes MLB 2K8 dated in comparison.
Lastly, the audio is nothing to brag about, either. Miller and Morgan continue to deliver from the booth, and most of the time I find myself wondering what game they're reporting on. The commentary is not only boring and uninspired, but also off key, many times even delivering the wrong patch of words. For instance, I successfully complete a play, and instead the game runs a chunk of commentary that's telling me that I didn't. I've had commentary get interrupted in the middle, which I also found weird.
Truth be told, even if these issues didn't exist, the commentary still wouldn't get much love from me, as its dull presentation, also becomes repetitive eventually. And as far as soundtrack offerings, it's nothing great - mostly a compilation of songs from The Strokes, Kasabian, The Cure, Peter Bjorn, Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, and a few others. Not quite sure how an indy soundtrack fits with baseball, but whatever. Audio is yet another aspect that MLB 08 crushes MLB 2K8 in, as it features a custom soundtrack option.
Bottom line, don't waste your time or money with MLB 2K8. Last year, MLB 2K7 was worthy of some consideration as a first-generation PS3 baseball title. But this year, it's a mediocre offering of baseball that does little to fix the issues that plagued 2K7. A.I. is still questionable, and sliders don't help alleviate the issues. Mode offerings desperately need a rookie-superstar mode of some sort, and the overall feel of the game is in dire need of polish. Moreover, when after a year's worth of time your game engine is still plagued with framerate issues and seems to have gone backwards in terms of player detail, you're in trouble. Not to mention the erroneous, and dull, commentary doesn't help at all.
3/9/2008 Arnold Katayev