MLB 08: The ShowESRB:
Developer – SCE San Diego Studios
Publisher - SCEA
The Cactus League, Grapefruit League, Spring Training and the smell of hot dogs are in the air. Yes, the Major League Baseball season is back in full swing and along with it comes Sony's MLB 08: The Show. This series has become an annual instalment and with each release on the PSP the game gets better. Last year, MLB 07: The Show made some leaps over MLB 06. I considered it to be the best baseball game on the PSP at the time. Needless to say this year I was hoping the franchise would make some additional leaps and ultimately address some of last year’s deficiencies. Unfortunately I am left a little disappointed with the 08’ edition as I was expecting so much more. That being said, although some of the same nuisances from 07’ continue to plague the PSP version of the MLB 08: The Show is a solid baseball game for gaming on the go.
Similar to last year, clearly the “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” approach was taken in MLB 08: The Show for the PSP. Simply put the game feels and looks very similar to last year. So in one sense I was relieved that I didn’t see a dramatic overhaul as the game has looked good in the past, however on the other hand some of the visuals issues from versions of past still plague this series.
In terms of the player animations, I have to admit I love seeing the players swing and stand at the plate as they do in real life. It gives the game some authenticity and creates a great atmosphere. Any baseball fan knows how the Kid (Ken Griffey Jr.) stands at the plate and shakes his bat ever so slightly as he awaits the pitch. He has a signature stance and swing unlike any other player in the majors. The developers did a wonderful job with this aspect of Griffey Jr. as well as all of the other players in the MLB. My biggest concern with the individual players is that their faces just do not look as good as they could. I understand the limitations of the PSP however at the end of the day I was left a disappointed that the facial features are weak and lack detail. The PS3 version of the game is incredible when it comes to the facial features while the PSP versions of the players faces all seem generic. Nevertheless, it still stands as the game with the best looking baseball players on the PSP to date. But if it weren’t for the players signature stances and the announcers broadcasting the players name you would have no idea who is at the plate.
The stadiums once again are spot on and look exactly like the big league stadiums in the majors. I have no concerns in this department. For instance, Shea Stadium looks bang on; including the flags in center field and the scoreboard in right. From the ads on the outfield walls to the bullpens you can tell much time and effort was spent designing the stadiums to look as they do in real-life. Unfortunately, the crowd takes away from the gorgeous stadiums. Similar to last year, they look blocky and come across as card-board cut outs. At a distance it’s not an issue, however when you hit a foul ball and the camera pans into the crowd the animations are brutal. I guess considering the detail of the stadiums and the limitations of the PSP something had to be sacrificed. In this case, it’s clearly the fans.
For the most part the game plays very smooth with only a few framerate issues such as slow-down raising its ugly head now and then. It also suffers from the occasional clipping but nothing too serious. On one such occasion my outfielder went partially through the outfield wall. The replays look great and it appears the players have a few more animations at their disposal in terms of the some of the defensive plays they pull off. For example, I noticed that you don’t see the same canned repetitive throws from the shortstop anymore. MLB 08: The Show features lots of variances and variety which once again adds to the authenticity of the game. One final note, I am a little lost as to why we don’t see an umpire behind the plate in the ‘Road to the Show’ mode. It’s very strange to say the least.
As far as the sound is concerned, MLB 08: The Show is solid and is just as good if not better than 07’. From the soundtrack to the commentators, this latest edition does a wonderful job at creating that MLB big league atmosphere. I was even impressed with some of the minor details such as the occasional whistling you will hear in the crowd or the stadium organ playing during break in the action.
Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler and Dave Campbell do the commentary and once again they are solid. Rarely do they miss any calls and I never got the sense I was listening to repetitive audio clips. The voices are clear and they do a great job. Only after several hours of gameplay did I start to notice any repetitiveness, however this is unavoidable in all sports games. The stadium PA announcers and the umpire voice is also a nice touch and add to the realism of the game. Similar to 07’, the crowd chatter is nice touch and the cheering is well done. When the home team players make a great play or a timely hit the fans react with enthusiasm. It’s arguably some of the best crowd audio I have heard to date. You truly get the feeling you are in a big league ball park when playing MLB 08: The Show.
The soundtrack for MLB 08: The Show is also very enjoyable as there is an even better mix of music this year with the likes of a Tribe Called Quest, ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Queens of the Stone Age, The Ramones, and more. This year’s addition also features the ability to listen to your own PSP tunes. Yes, now you can listen to your own private collection of music as you can import songs from your memory stick with the ‘My MLB Music’ feature. The only let down is the inability to listen to your songs during the game but it was nice to listen to some of my favourite Dave Matthews Band tunes in the menus.
If you played MLB 07: The Show you won’t notice many differences this year as it still plays as previous versions do. The core of ‘The Show’ is back with your typical exhibition and season modes. The ‘Road to the Show’, Home Run Derby and King of the Diamond are also back. For those of you who are new the franchise I will just briefly recap the variety of modes featured in the game.
Exhibition mode is great for jumping into a game right away. Pick two teams and off you go. This is generally my first stop as I usually want to see how the game plays and feels before I get into a full MLB season. The bulk of your time will be spent in the season mode. Here you pick a team and work your way through a 162, 82 or 29 game season. The ‘Road to the Show’ mode is where you create a player in efforts of making the Show (big leagues). You guide your player through the spring, he’ll spend some time in the minors and eventually he’ll gain a spot on a big league roster. This year the mode features many more camera angles which can sometimes be problematic and can make it difficult to follow the action. ‘Road to the Show’ is also deeper this year around featuring more goals, advancements and position specific situations. ‘King of the Diamond’ is an arcade style game type where you select a batter and pitcher and you go head to head against your opponent. The innings are timed and your pitcher only has so many seconds to get the pitch off. If you fail to pitch the ball in time you serve up a ‘meat ball’ and your opponent at the very least gets an easy single. There are targets placed all over the field and in the stands, hit any of the targets and you get extra points. Finally there is also a Manager’s mode where you go through a season from the viewpoint of an MLB Manager.
New this year is the Progressive Batting Performance feature. This rewards players for superior performance and penalizes them slumps. Specific to each individual hitter players will be rewarded or punished based on how that batter performs beyond his “natural ability” while under user control. The Progressive Batting Performance is only used in the Season and ‘Road to the Show’ modes and just adds more depth and realism to the game. A big part of, and well publicized aspect of Major League Baseball, are players who are either hot or in some serious cold streaks. With the Progressive Batting Performance it is nice to see who is hot and who is cold when facing opposing batters.
Another new feature this year is the new pitcher and batter analysis tools. These new tools add more depth by showing you pitchers and batters tendencies. By simply hitting select you can view hitter and pitcher stats; which is very helpful when facing the top half of the line-up or the ace of the opponents pitching staff. One great aspect of MLB 08: The Show is the fact they recognize that MLB fans are generally statistic freaks The Show embraces this and gives all the stats a true fan’s heart desires.
Overall the pitching and batting mechanics are very similar to last year, but I did find that the hitting is much more difficult this time around. There is much more emphasis on patience and selectively hitting good pitches than ever before and it takes some adjustment and fortitude Pitching is pretty much the same as last year too. You simply select a pitch, select a location and the meter dictates how strong and accurate your throw will be. Overall, the pitch system works well. Prior to the pitch you will see an orange circle appear with a suggested pitch type. You can either go with the catcher call or select your own pitch.
On a bit of a downside is that the base running and defence continues to be hit and miss at times. The base running does take some time to master and becomes a ‘gong show’ when you have more than one runner on the base pads. Perhaps it is likely my inability to master the controls, however there has got to be an easier system than what is already in place. The defence appears to be very similar to last year. Of note, there is no strength indicator which is seen in other baseball games. As such, there is no way to rush a throw or launch a cannon if you wanted to.
As for the game itself there are several levels of difficulties, four to be exact. I spent the majority of my season in veteran as the increased difficulties were just a little too hardcore for me. Rookie mode is not as easy as it was last year either. I actually played a few games in Rookie mode that were actually quite close. Another great addition this year, which also shows Sony is listening to their fans, are in-game saves. Nothing is more frustrating that when you are playing a tight game in the bottom of the fifth and you have to turn the game off for whatever reason. This year you can save in game at any time and pick up where you left off at later date. You no longer have to rely on the PSP’s stand-by power off. It is a great addition to say the least; and hopefully an addition that will quickly become a main stay.
The multiplayer component of the game is once again solid. Admittedly I did not spend a lot of time online; however the time I did spend was lag free and enjoyable. It also adds a number of new features including customizable Online League Play, and a scrolling MLB Score Ticker. Furthermore, the SCOUT (SportsConnect Online User Tracking) allows gamers to set and store their game preferences on the MLB server, and then enables the system to look for a Quick Match with opponents that fit similar competitive criteria.
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