Baseball season's in full form and another year brings another installment of The Show. I found last year's version of MLB 07 The Show to be a good baseball game. It had its flaws but overall I thought it was a solid effort. This time around, MLB 08 The Show has improve some aspects, kept some of the bugs, and offers another good offering if you're a baseball fan on the PlayStation 3.
The feature I loved in the previous version was the Road to the Show. You build up a minor leaguer and work your way to a team in the majors. Let's start off with the revamped player creator. While the previous version's options were limited, you're presented with a plethora of new ways to customize your player in this year's version. You can spend hours changing a large number of aspects in terms of your players appearance. Some of the things you can customize are cheeks, forehead wrinkles, lower lip, upper lip, lower ear, middle ear, upper ear, and so on. You can even simulate taking HGH by expanding the head. There are over 30 pages of batting stances your batter can mimic. Some current and old players stances are here for you to use. Suffice to say, there are an overwhelming amount of options now available to customize your player.
On the field, improvements have been made in a lot of areas. For starters, if you are playing a position other than catcher or pitcher you can now move your player a small amount before the pitch. Say you think the batter will try to stroke one down the third base line. You can now inch your player over a few feet to cover the line more. In last year's version you were pretty much stuck where you were when you are fielding. MLB 08 The Show addresses this issue and it really helped improve the experience of fielding. Sure, there were times I gambled a little got burned as the batter hit one past me the other way but at least I have the option this year of overplaying an area in the field.
Batting has been changed to be a little more difficult this year. In last year's version if you guessed the location of the pitch correctly you saw exactly where the ball was going to end up. This made it really simple to lay off close pitches in the box for a ball or use the power swing when you see the location of the pitch is coming right down the middle. In MLB 08 The Show, you will only get acknowledgment that you guessed the correct area the pitch will be thrown. It could be well off the plate or it could be in on the edge of the strike zone or in the middle. You won't get the exact location so you will still have to rely on your quick judgment to know if you should swing or not. It makes the game more challenging and I'm happy to see San Diego Studios implement this change in this year's version. It certainly makes you pay attention to the throw even if you guessed the correct area.
Pitching is more difficult this year. The process is still the same as last year but spotting the ball is more difficult. If you don't stop in the yellow area on the pitch meter you can pretty much count on your ball being off. I like the increase in difficulty in this area as it makes pitching a little bit more challenging. You really do have to concentrate to make good pitches this time around.
In terms of Road to the Show, there's more ways to earn achievement points to improve your player this year and the minimum to train has decreased from 100 points to 40 making training more active. I know in last year's version it could take a good four or five games to earn enough points to actually train. Now you can usually improve on your player in three games or less. There are several new methods to earn points and one way is to play good defense. Depending on the position, you can quickly earn points when balls are hit to you and you make a play in getting an out. It's nice to reward the player for making a good play in the field as baseball is more than just a game of hits and runs. You still get the majority of your points on offense but can make up a lot on days when the ball is coming to you a lot. During the game, you'll be asked to do a few things to earn more achievement points such as taking a strike, getting on base, or driving in a run. One new feature is reading the sign from the third base coach. You'll have four options and depending on what the third base coach signals, you'll be asked to generate the outcome requested. The guess work is taken out though as the legend on the bottom right that tells you what signs are what highlight what you are suppose to do. Even then during my year in the minors, I was always asked to do a hit and run. Either way it's a well intended feature that I hope gets fleshed out more in next year's version.
Something new this year to help give you direction is the concept of achievement goals. Each few weeks, you are given a set of objectives to achieve. The more you meet, the faster you go up the ranks. The formula usually consists of a few physical improvements paired with some baseball action goals. For example, you might be asked to improve your contact and butting while also keeping your strikeouts below 10 for the next few series and driving in 10 runs in the same amount of time. The inclusion of goals gives you a sense of direction on developing a player.
With that said, it's a lot harder to make it to the big leagues this year. I started out in AA and lead the league in the triple crown batting over .420. The Cleveland Indians management still have me in AA well into July. Last year's version I was able to jump too the major league level relatively quickly with a lesser performance. While frustrating for those that want to play with the major league ball club in the mode, it's a little more realistic and can make you work harder to keep your player improving so that he'll be ready to contribute when he's called up.Road to the Show still exhibit a few problems that are in last year's version. For starters it can still be hard to get a good bead on the ball on both offense and defense. On offense and when on base, it's sometimes hard to judge where the ball is hit and if it's safe to make a run. A lot of times the camera can't swing around fast enough to follow the action or the action takes place so quick it's off camera. When there are others on base, I look at what the runners are doing rather than watch the ball. On defense, quick grounders or line drives can be hard to judge. Something new that's popped up this year is a lead off problem. MLB 08 makes the pitcher and runner go through a sequence of animations and if the pitcher is quick to set up or the base runner's slow to get into position, you can't do any lead off commands to try and give the running a little advantage. When this comes up, you'll see the runner slide out away from the base and teleport to the ready position as the pitcher delivers. For those that like to steal bases this can be a little frustrating as you aren't even given a chance to extend your lead off position. With last year's version you can skip all the animation and go right to the set position with a little cushion to try to extend your lead. While annoying, these few issues aren't a deal breaker.
The same bugs still creep up every once in a while in this game. The one I experienced before and in MLB 08 The Show happens when I am on base. As I'm playing the part of the base runner, the batter fouls off a few pitches. The next thing I know the inning is over even though there was no resolution to the at-bat. It's a bad bug as you could be down by one or getting ready to take the lead and you have no control as the inning ends prematurely.I would have hoped the developers addressed this issue but it cropped up a few games in. AI has it's moments too as I've experienced some pretty unintelligent plays. One that I've seen a few times is a pop up near the catcher. You'd think the catcher would make a try for the ball each time as it's near him but more than a few times I'd see the catcher stand there as the ball dropped in front of him enabling me to get a base hit. I've also had infield hits which require the pitcher to cover the base result in the pitcher being slow to the bag and out of position turning a routine out into an infield single. One bug that really annoyed me last year appears again in this years version is the base throwing bug. X is used to throw to second base while triangle throws home. A few times when I'm trying to gun someone down at home, I would press triangle and it would inadvertently throw to second base. It's something that's burned me in a few games and I wish they would've fixed it for this year's version.
Graphics have been improved providing a cleaner look as well as some added animations. The players as I addressed earlier feature more variety with added faces. clothing options, and additional batter animations available. The stadiums are beautifully rendered in both the minor league and major league variations. There's some nice small touches thrown in to offer the illusion of a live field. During night games where stadiums have different direction of the light sources, you'll see multiple shadows of your players on the ground. While the crowd still features a lot of the same people scattered about running the same animation at the same time, it's actually a little bit improved over the previous year's version in terms of variety. In some games you'll even see a beach ball being bounced around in the crowd. With regards to animations, there's a good variety of them so the game never seems to get stale. There are some spectacular plays that are animated well giving a nice wow factor when they happen for or against you. The stabs at quick line drives by your infielders are also pretty cool to watch. Uniforms get dirt on them and stay on. As a base runner when you steal a base, the leg on which you slide on will be covered in dirt throughout the inning while you are on base.
A lot of improvements have been made to the presentation. You get a nice display of how you batted each inning and how far you went around the base path at the end of games. There's also some nice graphs to show your progress throughout the week. When showing league leaders, a bug where some names were duplicated in the previous game has been fixed in 08.
While the DualShock 3 was just released, I actually started playing this before its release in the US. Using the NYKO Zero controller which featured rumble and was surprised to feel the game take advantage of it. When guessing the correct pitch and location, the gamepad rumbles while the pitch is thrown to let you know you'll make good contact if the ball is in the strike zone. When there's a runner at third base and you are up to bat, the controller will pulsate like a heartbeat to add a little tension to the situation. While not really advertise, it's a nice to see it incorporated into the game.
MLB 08 The Show, while still exhibiting some annoying bugs, is still a solid baseball game. Great animation, good graphics, and solid game play highlight a good overall baseball package. The Road to the Show is always fun and a great way to play a lot of games without it being too long as well as offer a somewhat RPG element to the game. I enjoy firing up for a few games of Road to the Show and working towards getting him into the major leagues. When you are done playing by yourself, you can always hop online to challenge others. Overall, I really like the improvements done to MLB 08 The Show and hope to see more come in future installments.