MLB 08: The ShowESRB:
Developer – SCE San Diego Studios
Publisher - SCEA
Players: 1-2 (Online 2 Players)
Playstation Network Compatible
Online: Ethernet Broadband Required
Required Hard Disk Space: 2MB
HDTV: 720p, 1080p, 1080i
Every time I hear pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training camp I start to get 'pumped' for the MLB season. I also get a little 'giddy' about all the new baseball games which always seem to arrive at the same time. This year I was particularly excited with the prospect of Sony's MLB 08: The Show for the Playstation 3. The screen shots and videos that were released in the weeks leading up to the release of the game seemed too good to be true. The graphics and gameplay looked fantastic. This year was looking like a rebound year for the franchise as MLB 07: The Show was somewhat of a disappointment. Did MLB 08: The Show for the PS3 live up to my expectations? Let's find out.
Visually MLB 08: The Show for the PS3 is stunning and is clearly an upgrade from 07'. The colors are bright and the game is truly a showcase for how a sports game should look in High Definition. Aside from a couple of graphical glitches everything from the players to the ball parks looks phenomenal.
Being a huge MLB fan I always pay close attention the players themselves. Nothing “grinds my gears” more than when baseball players in a video game have generic swings and no attention is paid to the hitter's stance, attitude or swing. This is not the case in MLB 08: The Show. In fact the player animations are second to none and the detail in the players is truly amazing. Even third tier players like Wes Helms and Khalil Greene have batting stances and swings identical to their real life counterparts. It is impressive to say the least. If a player wears a shin guard then MLB 08: The Show will display that player with the shin guard. Even when designing your own character in the 'Road to the Show' mode you can pick a players batting stance from a list of current MLB players. So if you like Ryan Howard’s stance and swing, then you can pick his stance from the menu and hit like Howard does. I was even impressed with how current the game is with player's looks. For instance, Vladdy Guerrero looks exactly like his real life counterpart with details such as the hair on his chin and the braids in his hair looking bang on. There is always room for improvement however as many of the characters feature broad swimmer-like shoulders. Nevertheless, MLB 08: The Show player animations remain stellar.
The stadiums, as they were in 07', are once again spot-on and look exactly like the big league stadiums in the majors. I really have no major complaints with the stadium models. Fenway Stadium in Boston looks bang on with the Green Monster in left and the short porch in right field where Big Papi parks all his homers. From the ads located around the stadiums, to the realistic looking bullpens, you can tell much time and effort was spent designing the virtual stadiums to look as they do in real-life. The crowd in the PSP version stunk but this is not the case with the PS3 version. The crowd looks great and they really stand out in the game lending to a great atmosphere.
For the most part the game plays very smooth with only a few framerate slow-downs now and then. The pitching meter at times also did not seem as smooth as it could be. Sometimes moving bar would be slightly jerky making it difficult and affecting the timing of your delivery. MLB 08 also suffers from the occasion clipping issue but nothing too serious. On one such occasion my outfielder went partially through the outfield wall and on another occasion my player was approaching home plate and swinging an invisible bat. The game quickly corrected itself after the camera angle switched but nevertheless these are glitches that are worth mentioning. Replays also 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. You don’t see the same canned repetitive throws from the shortstop for instance. Overall MLB 08: The Show features lots of visual variety which once again adds to the authenticity of the game.
When it comes to the audio MLB 08: The Show delivers and it sounds great in 5.1 surround sound too. 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 hear in the crowd or the stadium organ during a 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 a couple of hours of gameplay did I start to notice some repetitiveness, however this is unavoidable in all sports games. The stadium PA announcers and the umpire voice are also a nice touch and add to the realism of the game. Similar to 07’, the crowd chatter and 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 there is something for everyone. This year’s addition also features the ability to listen to your own tunes from the PS3 hard drive. Yes, now you can listen to your own private collection of music as you can import songs from your hard drive with the ‘My MLB Music’ feature.
If you played MLB 07: The Show on the PS3 last year you will probably agree that MLB 08: The Show feels so much better this year. Granted, the core of 07' 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. Also, whenever I play a buddy at home the exhibition mode is where we battle it out. The bulk of my time was spent in the season mode. Many hardcore baseball gamers will spend the majority of their time in the season mode as it offers players a chance to play through a real-life big league season. Here you pick a team and work your way through 162, 82 or 29 games. The ‘Road to the Show’ mode is where you create a player in an effort to make the Show (big leagues). You guide your player through the spring, spend some time in the minors and eventually 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. The ‘King of the Diamond’ mode 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 will serve up a ‘meat ball’ and your opponent at the very least will get 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 for 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 it adds more depth and realism to the game. A big part of Major League Baseball is players who are either hot or on some serious cold streaks. With the Progressive Batting Performance it is nice to see who is hot and who is not 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 star 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. It takes some adjustment and fortitude to adjust, but it is a good thing as it makes the game that more real. Pitching is pretty much the same as last year. 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 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 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 want 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 quite close. Another great addition this year, which also shows Sony is listening to their fans, is in-game saves. Nothing is more frustrating then 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. It is a great addition to say the least; and hopefully an addition that will quickly become a main stay.
I should also mention that the PS3 version features the Replay Vault. This Vault allows you to make your own highlight reels or just allow you to have bragging rights over your friends with best plays from a no-hitter or just spectacular diving stop. You can also view a certain highlight by team, player, or inning.
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 smooth and enjoyable. The games were close but clearly I need to practice a little more before I start beating some of you online gamers out there. 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 you to set and store 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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