Major League Baseball 2K8 Review (Xbox 360)
Taking one step forward and two steps back isn’t new to sports gaming. Nonetheless MLB 2K8 falls into that exact pitfall this year.
Since I’m a nice guy I’ll start with the step forward. The new pitching system is a lot of fun and harder to master than any other pitching system to date. While most people will master the fastball after a few games, breaking pitches and other off-speed pitches really take some touch and feel to harness effectively.
Taking last year's game and just adding the aforementioned pitching mechanic (plus the new baserunning system) would have been a step in the right direction for the franchise as a whole. This is because the new pitching style is good enough to carry the lack of development in other areas; but, sadly MLB 2K8 isn't just an improved MLB 2K7.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room, of course, is the frame rate issue. Quite simply it is inexcusable and unprofessional to release a game on a console with this kind of problem. To think, at some point somebody at 2K Sports made the decision the game could go to market as is, with gameplay often looking like its waiting for an art school student to draw it on screen for you is hard to fathom. Hopefully a patch is looming, but for those without an Internet connection, well they are just out of luck.
The audio commentary is also among the worst in recent memory. It took all of three innings of play for the tandem of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan to completely botch the play-by-play. In this case a home run was hit that was a good 20-feet toward left center from the foul pole. That didn’t keep Miller from excitedly informing us, "It’s off the pole! It’s a fair ball! Home run!"
I know I know. It’s a lot to ask that the audio match the play on the field. But luckily, unlike the frame rate issue, you can just turn the commentary off.
The game also seems to crash more often than your average title. I’ve had other games crash on me before, but the crashes always registered this thought in my mind:
"Wow that’s odd. Let me get a beer and I’ll just start over."
But five crashes in a week has got me thinking: "Make it a scotch."
What’s worse, I’ve never had another game crash while in the franchise part of a game; it’s always been while on the field of play. Most of my crashes in MLB, however, have been while tooling around inside my franchise - not on the field. The paranoia this brings on can’t be described. I now find myself rushing to save the franchise any time I make a new deal, tweak my rosters or put any elbow grease into my franchise.
To date I’ve done my first free agent signing period twice. I have had to deal El Duque and Moises Alou twice. I’ve had to do my draft…twice. And I’ve had to setup my entire 85 man system…twice.
The kicker is, this year's presentation isn’t drastically different in comparison to last year's offering. The cut scenes and overlays that stutter and pause are very similar to the ones that just last year were smooth as silk.
The commentary also sounds very familiar, and yet last year's game got the action on the field correct. The end game highlights are run the same this year, and yet last year's loaded in-and-out with ease, while this year's have all sorts of problems rendering the action on the field.
It really has to make you wonder what happened over the course of 12 months?
On The Field
Overall, gameplay is pretty solid -- once you get past the presentation and audio issues.
The star, of course, is the previously mentioned pitching system.
The new baserunning system is also a step in the right direction. For the first time in a while I feel like I have complete control over my players who are on the basepaths, and thus I can do what I want with them. I also enjoy the option to send a player on the pitcher's first move. This lets you sneak a few stolen bases for the players who aren’t likely to steal, and that makes it more realistic overall (the super speedsters aren’t the only ones who steal bases after all).
Swing Stick 2.0 is also a step in the right direction. It takes you a while to get the timing down, but once you do you have a lot more control at the plate than in years past. Much like the new pitching system, you’ll find yourself getting into a groove with the timing after a few games.
Like most videogames over the past few years, it is again very tough to work the count and have realistic at bats. So don’t count on drawing many walks or seeing too many 3-2 counts. Most players are just going to go the plate with the typical "grip it and rip it" strategy.
The big addition to the franchise this year is the ability to play minor league games. I always enjoyed this feature in the MVP games and it’s a nice change to try out some of your phenoms before deciding whether they can make it on your big league squad.
The GM Goals system is still a nice twist that is sure to drive players batty -- dealing with the crazy whims of a lunatic millionaire who spends too much time thinking he’s a baseball man.
In other words it's completely realistic.
Otherwise the franchise is solid. Nothing is really so incredibly cool and amazing you drool over it, but it's also tough to find a feature the franchise mode should have that it doesn’t.
That being said, the free agent system could use some work. I got all excited before heading into it seeing headlines like, "Hot Stove Alert: Sox Make Offer Ready For Nathan." Sadly there isn’t much give and take or dialogue between you, the players or other teams. You make a bid, wait a few days and chances are you’ll sign the player.
Some of the salaries also seem a little out of control, to the point teams are having problems signing stars later on in the franchise.
Truth be told its very tough to play online. The new hitting and pitching systems that are based largely on perfecting your timing fall apart under the lag of online play.
Simply put, you can throw a pitch that is perfect offline that turns into a meatball online. And a ball you’d make contact with offline ends up being a swing and a miss online.
And those online detriments are a downer because the league options looked promising, with the option to allow trades and tons of other features which people have grown accustom to seeing in 2K Sports games.
I have a secret to admit. I like collecting virtual baseball cards. I know it sounds silly, but it's actually kind of fun, mostly because of the in-game aspects tied to unlocking the cards.
For instance unlocking a Johan Santana card by striking out 12 batters is an accomplishment.
You’ll find yourself looking at the box score after the game because you'll be trying to figure out what else you need to do to unlock the next player on your team, and perhaps alter your game plan as a result. Try and win another game? Or try and steal third with Jose Reyes to unlock his card?
The Stadium Beats feature is also pretty cool, especially to fill the void of no audio commentary (since you’ve no doubt turned Jon and Joe off). If you really wanted to spend the time it's possible to have play lists not only for individual players but also a number of different situations.
I would imagine the folks at 2K are kicking themselves. This could have been a very solid offering that took the series forward. Instead MLB 2K8 is going to be known as the Slideshow Edition of MLB 2K.
The new pitching system alone would have been grounds for acclaim.
Yet, instead of completely enjoying this game, we’re left wondering “what if.”
Graphics: Pretty run of the mill graphics for a next generation game.
Sound: Yikes. Bad audio commentary that doesn’t match up with on the field action. Lifeless crowds. Stadium Beats is a nice plus though.
Entertainment Value: Despite the game being broke on so many levels, you can turn down off some of the presentation options and enjoy an entertaining game.
Learning Curve: It will take you a number of games to get the hang of everything. With new pitching, new hitting and new baserunning systems you almost have to completely relearn the game.
Online: Yikes, Part II. Lag makes it tough to pitch and hit, in large part because both are completely timing based.