MLB 2K8 First Hands-On

The analog stick is king in 2K Sports' upcoming baseball sim. We go hands-on for the first time to check it out.

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Get ready to reexamine your relationship with the analog stick in 2K Sports' upcoming Major League Baseball 2K8. From pitching and batting, to baserunning and fielding, practically all of the controls in 2K Sports' latest hardball game have been revamped and moved to the right analog stick. In a drive to simplify things across all the different actions you can take on the diamond, the development team has created a control scheme that will certainly take some getting used to but seems to have advantages all its own. That's just one part of the many changes that are happening with MLB 2K8, which we had a chance to check out for the first time today.

From pitching to base-running, the analog sticks play a bigger role than ever in MLB 2K8's gameplay.
From pitching to base-running, the analog sticks play a bigger role than ever in MLB 2K8's gameplay.

Though we'll get to the new features (and you've got to hear about the new trading-card system in the game), we'll start with the changes that will be most obvious to you when you pick up and play MLB 2K8 for the first time: the controls. Although you can always go back and play the game with the older, button-based controls, the newer analog controls are worth your attention once you get used to them. Pitching has received the biggest overhaul, with the old one-button-per-pitch model thrown out in favor of an analog pitch system. It plays like a hybrid of the pitch meter from EA Sports' MVP 06 NCAA Baseball crossed with the trick system in another EA game, Skate.

Pitching in MLB 2K8 will be a three-step process, and each of the 18 pitch types featured in the game will require you to trace a different analog-stick pattern to accurately pull off that pitch. To pitch the ball, you begin by pulling back in the direction required by the pitch you're going to throw, which will bring up a circle meter that surrounds the spot at which you aimed your toss. An expanding circle will move outward from the ball toward a white ring on the outside edge of the circle.

Using careful timing, you then begin the second step, the pitch gesture itself, as indicated by the pitch type (all the gesture patterns are noted onscreen for the pitches available to you. For more on the pitch gestures, check out SportsGamer's in-depth look at MLB 2K8's controls). Once you've completed the gesture, the formerly expanding ring will begin to rapidly collapse onto a green circle. When the ring is inside the green circle, you let go of the analog stick altogether and let it return to center. This indicates your release timing, and the closer you are to the center, the better off you'll be. Your release timing will be very obvious in the pitch. If you release early, the pitch will go high; release late and your ball might go in the dirt.

Getting this three-step process down takes some practice, and you can expect be tossing some meatballs (or, indeed, beaning some batters in the dome as you work on the timing). Fortunately, after a while it starts to feel pretty good. As in recent MLB 2K games, your aiming reticle when on the mound indicates the break of the pitch, not necessarily where the ball will end up. In addition, your catcher will call for certain pitches and locations during a game. You'll also be graded on the various steps of a pitch, so you'll know how accurate your timing or gesture was.

In the batter's box, the 2K8 development team has done away with the contact and power-swing concepts. Instead, analog batting is strictly based on timing. That said, you'll have some control over ball placement when at bat by moving the analog stick to the right or left during your swing. It isn't clear if moving the right analog stick at a steeper angle (for example, closer to the 3 o'clock position) will influence the path of the ball more than a regular swing.

Franchise mode is just as deep as ever.
Franchise mode is just as deep as ever.

Fielding and baserunning have also changed up a bit. When fielding the ball, you move the right analog stick to throw the ball to the corresponding base (right for first, up for second, left for third, and down for home). When you're throwing, an arrow-shaped meter appears over the player's head, pointing toward the base you're looking to hit. The meter contains a green zone near the middle. The idea is to hold the stick in the direction you wish to throw to and then stop the meter in the green zone. There's also lateral accuracy to take into consideration. You'll want to point the right stick in the direction indicated by the meter, and the precision of your aim toward the base will determine if the throw is accurate left or right of the bag (and, of course, your fielder will adjust his position based on your throw). Another cool feature of fielding--when chasing a fly ball, you'll only be able to see the ball location indicator when facing the ball. As you turn your player to chase the ball down, the indicator will go away, which is a nice nod towards realism.

Baserunning also uses the analog stick. To take control of an individual runner, you press the left stick in the direction of that base runner. Then to have him advance or retreat, you can either use the right or left trigger, or press a button to have him automatically take more than one base. For example, if you want the runner on second to automatically score on a base hit to deep right, you'd first press up to take control of him and then press the A button (for home plate). To advance or retreat all players, you use the right or left button, respectively. To steal a base, you choose the base you wish to steal and press the Y button; it's as easy as that, and you can control your slides with the right stick.

Game modes in MLB 2K8 include exhibition, franchise, home-run derby, manager showdown, tournament, and situation. For franchise mode, developers are touting an improved minor-league system; the game will include 90 minor-league teams and a bunch of real-life minor league up-and-comers in the game from A, AA, and Triple-A ball. There are also 15 authentic minor-league stadiums (we saw the Tuscon Sidewinders' park during our time with the game) as well as four generic stadiums. For the franchise mode, you'll be able to control up to four teams at once, and you'll have full control over your entire organization, even the minor-league teams. There will also be a fantasy-draft option that will let you draft whichever players you want for your favorite team.

Baseball card trading online? Dream teams built from your collected cards? Count us in.
Baseball card trading online? Dream teams built from your collected cards? Count us in.

Speaking of dream teams, the best new feature in MLB 2K8 is the card feature. You can earn cards in one of three ways: earning them through on-field achievements, trading them with others, or buying them via card packs. Cards are organized in three tiers, black, gold, and platinum, and the platinum cards are the most valuable. Though you can find premium cards in packs, most packs will contain the more common cards, as well as cards that will unlock items such as new stadiums or retro uniforms. By far the best aspect of collecting cards will be the ability to put them together as an online card team and then play a game using your collected players. Because you will have strict parameters for how you can put together a team (such as a salary cap), premium cards will be very valuable, given that they will let you use top-tier players without taking a hit to your cap numbers. With the ability to play against and trade cards with other players online, the card feature sounds as if it will keep players coming back long after they've won their annual World Series ring with their favorite team. Expect to see much more on the card-battle feature in the near future.

In all, MLB 2K8 still has a few rough edges. The frame rate is still a bit unreliable, and we noticed a few weird gameplay glitches (such as artificial-intelligence outfielders refusing to throw the ball), but, in a preview build like this, these are the kinds of things that get cleaned up before the game ships out to retail. The game is still on track for a March 4 release, with a downloadable demo on the way soon. Stay tuned for more on MLB 2K8 soon and, for more on the game today, check out SportsGamer's detailed breakdown of MLB 2K8's controls.

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