MLB 08: The Show does very little new, but most everything it does is done very, very well.
- Hitting, pitching, and fielding feel great
- Tons of different ways to enjoy the game of baseball
- Visuals get the little things right
- Commentary is top-notch.
- Road to the Show can become tedious and still has some issues
- Not many new, notable features
- Load times in Road to the Show are excessive.
Sony's MLB series has been top dog for several years running now, and that hasn't changed in 2008. MLB 08: The Show doesn't have much in the way of new content, but it improves upon last year's game in almost every department, and it's the baseball game to get if you're a PlayStation 3 owner looking to play America's Pastime.
Its play on the field is where MLB 08 shines the most. Everything--the pitching, hitting, fielding, animations, and atmosphere--is sublime. Hitting is similar to what it was last year. You can guess pitch type and location, and are rewarded with a red indicator just before the ball is delivered if you guess correctly. There are two swing types: power and contact. Initially you may find yourself swinging at every pitch with a power swing, but you'll quickly find that picking the proper swing for each situation is paramount to your success as a hitter. What MLB 08 really gets right about hitting is the timing; there's just enough time between when the ball is released and when it gets to the plate to determine what kind of pitch it is and if it's a ball or a strike. This might sound insignificant, but it's something very few baseball games get right. From frozen ropes to ground-rule doubles to seeing-eye grounders, there's an incredible variety of hits, and what's more, they all come off the bat naturally, which is yet again an area in which other baseball games have difficulty.
Pitching eschews the trend of using the right analog stick and sticks with four button presses. The first button press is to select your pitch, then there's one to start the meter, one to set power, and one to determine effectiveness. Your catcher will call for a location based on the hitter's strengths and weaknesses, so you'll often find yourself taking a little something off of a pitch to make sure you hit your spot. You'll still make some mistakes, and your placement will suffer for it, but you're not punished overly harshly for making one little mistake. This method might not feel quite as natural as using the right analog stick, but it's effective and accurate, and that's what matters most.
One thing that tends to get overlooked in baseball games, by both the people who develop them and the people who play them, is fielding. That's not the case with MLB 08. Fielding just feels right. Players move at the proper speed, the fielding animations are incredible, and the controls are tight. Anyone who has watched Omar Vizquel turn a double play in real life knows how elegant and effortless he makes it look. Now you too can do the same, and it's a blast. That's right: Fielding is fun here.
Most of the changes made in MLB 08 are minor but go a long way toward making the game play better. One area that has seen some improvement, but not quite enough, is Road to the Show. In Road to the Show mode, you create a player at any position and try to lead him from the minors to (hopefully) the Hall of Fame. Whether you're a pitcher or a hitter, you're given a goal by your manager before each at-bat, and you're awarded points for achieving that goal. A hitter might need to drive in a run, get on base, or simply take a strike. A pitcher might need to secure a strikeout, induce a ground ball, or get ahead in the count. Thanks to new and more forgiving goals, you're more likely to earn points, which is a good thing because applying said points nets a minimal amount of improvement to your attributes.
Road to the Show has several strengths. For starters, you play only when your player is at-bat, pitching, or directly involved in a play. This makes games go by much faster than they would if you were playing every pitch of a nine-inning game. It's also nice to be in control of one player from the first pitch to the last pitch of his career. The player editor is extremely robust and there are hundreds of announcer-voiced names to choose from, so you really feel a connection with your onscreen persona; you'll be thrilled when he does well, and you'll get frustrated and start to press when he's mired in a slump.
That said, Road to the Show falters in a few areas that make it significantly less enjoyable than it could be. The biggest issue is that it can take a very long time to work your way from the minors to the bigs. We created a second baseman and signed with the Cubs because they were weak at the position. After a mediocre spring training, we were sent down to be a bench player in AA. After about a month of tearing up the league, we took over the starting role, and that's when the mode got frustrating. A few weeks later, the player we had supplanted was called up to AAA, even though we had fulfilled all of the objectives, such as hitting for a certain average, not striking out, and improving specific attributes during the evaluation period. Undaunted, we plugged along and found ourselves among the league leaders in every major statistical category, but time and time again we were told we weren't ready.
After 100+ games, we were hitting .417, led the league in hitting, hits, doubles, and triples, and were in the top five in home runs, steals, and runs batted in. We had also fulfilled every objective in the previous three evaluations, and the players above us were hitting about .240. The organization recognized that we had the skills and were in the midst of a great season, but we were told to stick it out in AAA. We asked for a trade and were rebuffed. Checking our scouting report, we found that what it was saying was based purely on our attributes and not our production, given that it chastised us for being poor with the stick even though we were leading the league in hitting with a batting average over .400. Furthermore, it said that we were a poor fielder even though we had made one error in our entire career. Eventually, frustrated at having played every at-bat in more than 130 games (including spring training), we simulated the rest of the season and got called up on the last day because of an injury, but we didn't get an at-bat. Going into the next spring, we declined our option because we were making only $30,000 a year and wanted some more cash. We went back to camp with the Cubbies, and after simulating spring training, we found ourselves back in AA. Yes, this is a somewhat plausible situation in real life, but people play video games to escape from the everyday grind, not to experience more of it. You may have an entirely different experience with Road to the Show (pitchers seem to have an easier go of it), but ours left a lot to be desired.
There are a few other ways in which Road to the Show could stand to be improved. Although the games in this mode take less time than a normal game, they still take too long. This is partially due to the excessive load times before and after each game, but it's mostly because of the time you waste standing on the basepaths watching and waiting for the hitters behind you to make contact. It's achingly boring to get on base as the lead-off man and then stand there for another 20-30 pitches with nothing to do. It's realistic, but it's terribly uninteresting. Fielding (which is fine in the traditional mode of play, but was problematic in Road to the Show last year) has been improved, and you can now see the ball easily and earn some points for positive plays, but it's still far from perfect. The artificial intelligence hardly ever throws anybody out, so running to cover second on a steal attempt is pointless. There are also too many ground balls. In the 100+ games we played, we handled exactly five pop-ups and one line drive. Lastly, your play in the field doesn't really seem to matter. You can go the extra mile and make a diving catch, or you can let the ball trickle through, but it never comes back to help or hinder your career.