Boston Red Sox fans, it's time to hang up your second World Series banner in four years. Colorado Rockies fans, it's time to stop licking those wounds and get back into gear for another run at the NL pennant. Oakland A's fans, it's time to hop on the A's Web site and start learning the names of all the new faces on your team. Chicago Cubs fans, it's time to prepare for another season of disappointment. Yes, folks, it's baseball season again! What, you don't believe us? Well, sure, the actual season doesn't begin for a couple of months, but around GameSpot HQ, baseball season is getting geared up now that preview code of Sony's MLB 08: The Show has arrived. We've been spending the last few days with the game to see how it matches up to previous entries in this lauded baseball series.
The game mode list in MLB 08 is similar to those of past games in the series: quick game, exhibition, road to the show, franchise, season, manager mode, and rivalry. Of those modes, road to the show, franchise, and manager mode are probably the most interesting. Road to the Show is the game's career mode, which has been enhanced this year with more goals to take part in during a single game (thus, more ways to earn--or lose--training points in the process) and enhanced progression graphics to give you an idea of where your created player stands in his goal to make it to the big leagues. There's also an enhanced create-a-player tool (including analog-stick face manipulation tools that are reminiscent of EA's Fight Night series) to help you easily create a player that's your virtual twin--or one that looks absolutely nothing like you.
Franchise mode feels similar to years past, and it's still one of the deepest franchise modes to be found on any console sports game. The franchise mode is still focused on the goals you, as general manager, will be tasked by ownership to complete within the length of your contract. Depending on the quality of club you inherit, those goals can be lofty--such as winning three consecutive division titles with the New York Yankees. Or they can be more modest--such as the Tampa Bay Rays achieving fan support of 30 percent at the end of two years. Of course, to achieve those goals, you'll have the same kind of deep-dive control you've come to expect over practically every aspect of your organization, from finance to player progression and scouting. You'll also be able to check out feedback from both fans and players alike to see how your decisions are affecting the club.
Manager mode might seem like the ultimate slacker's way of playing MLB 08, but if you're in the right frame of mind, it's a perfectly legitimate way to enjoy the game. As manager, you've got control over everything your players do in the game--just not direct control. Instead, in between each pitch, you're given the option to either let your players play or micromanage your little heart out. For a pitcher, you can tell him to throw aggressively, go high or low with the ball, or intentionally walk a batter. When at bat, you can instruct your hitter to take a pitch, go for a hit and run, or bunt for a hit, among other options. You'll also have full control over base-running decisions and substitutions. Don't forget to warm up those relief pitchers! This will result in a hands-off but nonetheless enjoyable approach to MLB 08.
While manager mode is good for playing ball when you're otherwise occupied, there's nothing like stepping behind the plate and making it happen yourself. The controls in MLB 08 feel similar to previous years. You'll still have the ability to guess pitch type and location when at bat. To guess the pitch type, you press the R2 button and then the associated pitch type with the face button. To guess the location, you move the analog stick, indicating the part of the strike zone from where you think the ball will be coming. If you whiff on a pitch, you can instantly check out a batting analysis screen that will tell you what you did wrong by pressing the L3 button (clicking the left analog stick). The game also features new batter and pitch analysis tools that will help you better scout your matchups. When in season or franchise mode, MLB 08's new progressive batting performance system will track each hitter's performance, and based on his current hitting streak, it will reward or penalize him for either exceeding or not living up to his potential. Think of it as the batting equivalent of the already-in-place pitching confidence meter.
Big additions for online include an in-game MLB ticker that will help you review real-life scores of your favorite team by pausing the game. More relevant for online players, however, will be the new scouting tool that will better help you find players of your skill level to take on in the game. Unfortunately, online play wasn't functional in the demo we had on hand, so we couldn't explore this feature in more detail, but we look forward to seeing how it works. One other new feature of note: In-game saves have arrived in MLB 08, allowing you to save the game at any point and return to it later.
A game as jam-packed with modes and depth as MLB 08: The Show can't be summed up in a single preview, so you can look forward to more on the game in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out the detailed look at the game's batter and pitching controls over at SportsGamer.