MLB 2K8 Hands-On

Just one more pack! We check out the addictive collectible-card game feature in 2K Sports' upcoming baseball game.

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Baseball cards in a baseball video game? It's about time. With the upcoming release of MLB 2K8, the developers at 2K Sports Los Angeles and Blue Castle Games have taken the time-honored tradition of baseball cards and ported them into the game in a meaningful way.

When we heard about the baseball-card feature for the first time, our thoughts turned immediately to EA Sports' UEFA Champions League 2006-2007, a rather obscure soccer game (at least here in the States) that placed a big focus on the idea of collecting player, staff, and other types of collectible cards in the game, and then fielding your custom-card-created team against other players. That's generally the idea here in this minigame for MLB 2K8 too; you earn cards, can sell duplicates or trade them online with others, and then eventually field them online against other card-based teams.

Collect them, sell them, trade them, field them. You can do a lot with the collectible cards in MLB 2K8.
Collect them, sell them, trade them, field them. You can do a lot with the collectible cards in MLB 2K8.

On the most basic level, earning cards is as simple as playing the regular game and completing specific tasks with various players in your lineup. These can run from the relatively mundane (get a save with Cubs closer Ryan Dempster) to ridiculously hard (such as hitting for the cycle). Player cards come in three value tiers: black, gold, and platinum, with the platinum cards being the most valuable (and rarest) and while you'll always earn at least a black-tiered player card when you complete a challenge, playing at a higher difficulty level will increase the odds of you earning a gold or platinum version of the player card after you've completed the challenge

So what makes a gold or platinum card so valuable in MLB 2K8? The challenge/value ratio works in an interesting way. Your ultimate goal in the game is to build the strongest team you can using player cards you collect along the way. However, to build a team, you have to abide by a few rules that set the number of players you can have in a team (25), the number of required starting pitchers (5), the number of bullpen pitchers (less than 4), and, most importantly, a salary cap ($125 million). This salary cap is important because each player card comes with a salary expenditure required to add that player to your team. The gold and platinum value cards feature the same players with the same abilities and stats as your typical black card; however, the crucial difference is that a platinum-card player's salary is going to be much lower than the "black" version of the same card. As a result, and somewhat ironically, the more valuable player cards actually end up being "cheaper" when it comes to your card team's overall bottom line.

One thing you quickly find out in 2K8 is that playing in franchise mode is not the ideal way to earn cards, given that sticking with your favorite team will let you build up a roster only of that team's players. If you want to get more cards for other players in the league, you're going to need to be playing with a bunch of different major-league teams. In addition, you can't earn cards when simulating or managing a game (which, we'll admit, we like to do for a good portion of our nondivision games in franchise mode). It makes sense that you can't earn the best cards without actually playing the games yourself, but it would be nice to see you get some sort of recognition of effort for at least managing your team through a victory.

In addition to player cards, there are other types of collectible cards in MLB 2K8, including wild cards, team cards, and cards that will unlock things such as retro uniforms and different stadiums. Wild cards can be earned by winning games or completing particularly difficult plays; your chances for earning wild cards increase depending on the rarity of a particular play and on the difficulty setting. Wild cards can turn out to be either single cards or packs, so they're always a treat to have. Some cards, such as team cards, are available only via packs that you purchase with credits earned by selling back duplicate cards you don't want.

You can field a dream team of players from your collected cards, but pay attention to that salary cap.
You can field a dream team of players from your collected cards, but pay attention to that salary cap.

All of your cards will be kept in an in-game album that you can flip through, and the album is organized by team, NL and AL All-Stars, living legends, rookie classes reaching back to 1996-97, jerseys, stadiums, specials, duplicates, favorites, wish list, tradables, and new cards. You'll also be able to check out the collections of other players online and trade cards with them. Though you won't be able to formally wager cards when playing a game online (the MLB frowns on this kind of in-game betting), there's nothing stopping you from an informal gentleman's agreement, right?

In all, tapping into the baseball-card nut residing in practically every MLB fan looks like an innovative way to extend the fun in 2K8 and, with downloadable card packs (and additional card challenges) on the way after the release of the game, it seems to be a fine way to keep the game relevant well into the 2008 baseball season. For more on the collectible-card feature in MLB 2K8, check out SportsGamer's preview here here.

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