MLB 08: The Show Review
Let's say your traveling, do you ever have the urge to play a videogame on your handheld, but can't because it either doesn't exist or is radically different than the console version? Back in the days, handheld versions of console games were nothing like their TV counterparts. Well, that was then and this is now. One of the things we love about Sony is how they treat their MLB franchise equally across all three of their consoles. If you have either the PS2 or PS3 versions of MLB 08 and aren't sure if the PSP game is worth your money, then fear not, because it is. If you recall, last year, MLB 07 was quite the solid game of baseball for the PSP, and with all of the changes and enhancements made to this year's game, your money is well spent. Best of all, the PSP versions boasts more features than the PS2 game, which is impressive.
You see, 2K Sports' MLB 2K8 isn't a very good baseball game, especially for the PSP. So for 08, Sony 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 the point that it becomes written in stone, no matter what PlayStation console it may be. Sony's MLB franchise is without question the best baseball sim money can buy. When you have a handheld game that is every bit as feature rich as it's PlayStation 3 counterpart, you're doing things right.
In terms of features, MLB 08: The Show offers the most customizable experience you could ask for. Everything 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 cause him to run the wrong direction. That, in turn, can make me drop the ball after I correct myself. 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, as 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 option, 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. And in order to be 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, or mad at a call from the umpire. While it doesn't feature as many of these intricacies as the PlayStation 3 version, there are still plenty of them in the PSP game.
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 Season, Rivalry, King of the Diamond, Historical Greats, Exhibition, Home-Run Derby, All-Star Game, and Manager. Manager mode is pretty much self-explanatory; you call the shots as the GM and assume responsibilities for your team's failures and accomplishments. If you're wondering what King of the Diamond is, it's a mini-game taking place on a playground where a batter and a pitcher square off against one another in a showdown. Another mode, which is exclusive to the PSP, is Historical Greats. Here you'll face off against some of baseball's greatest legends. And when you're in the mood for some human interaction, go online with MLB 08. Remember, unlike the PlayStation 3 game, the online of the PSP game doesn't boast in-game buddy list, instant messaging, or voice chat. But, you can play MLB 08 against someone else either locally (ad-hoc) or globally (infrastructure). When you're online, you'll be able to participate in a full 30 team online league, and that's just awesome! I genuinely believe MLB 08 boasts far too many features, and I could spend days talking about all of them. All that needs to be said is that MLB 08: The Show is one of the best and deepest sports games I've ever played.
For a PSP game, MLB 08's graphics are rather solid. Last year's game looked pretty decent, but it did have a few quirks here and there. I do recall some framerate issues similar to the PS2 game, and some questionable player details here and there. Well, whatever problems plagued 07 have been rectified for 08. Most importantly is the framerate - the game flows very nice, and everything animates smoothly. But even though the players don't have that same attention to detail for their eyes like the PS3 game does, the zombie look isn't that bad in the PSP game, anymore. And this time around, the player models, in particular the faces, look better than they did last year, which makes us happy. Aside from the framerate, animation is also smoother, overall, as players transition between animations with much less jerkiness. That is not say it's been eliminated, as replays will indicate they're still there somewhat, but they've been improved a good deal.
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 sports 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. I do believe that there's slightly less commentary in the PSP version, due to technical limitations of the UMD, but don't quote me on that.
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. Because the PSP utilizes memory sticks, a custom soundtrack option is made available, which makes this one of the very few PSP games to support the feature (Crazy Taxi is the other one I can think of). Lastly, to keep things livened up, the crowd gets extremely rowdy when they have to, making sure to always keep you on your toes, so you'll want to play this one loud.
MLB 08: The Show is the best offering of baseball you'll get no matter what PlayStation console you pick it up for. The PSP version of the game still features practically everything that makes the PS3 game so great, with even a few extra modes. It may be different visually, and it's online network is naturally limited, but that doesn't mean much when you've covered the other 99% of the game. MLB 08 for the PSP not only looks better 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, and it's one of those handhelds you can take on the road and not wish you had the console game instead.
3/31/2008 Arnold Katayev