MLB '08: The Show Review (PS3)
I don't think I'm alone when I say that barring a few examples, sports titles for the latest crop of consoles haven't exactly blown our socks off. It always seems as if there's some glaring problem that holds a game back. We've rarely experienced a complete title that makes us appreciate the new technology we've invested so much into. That is, until MLB 08: The Show for the PS3 hit store shelves this month.
Building upon the solid base established with MLB 07: The Show, SCE Studios San Diego have released not only one of the best baseball titles in recent memory, but maybe the best sports title since series since MVP Baseball and Madden NFL Football were kings.
That's not to say the game is perfect but it's pretty darn close. If you've played last year's version of The Show everything will seem familiar, except there's a few new additions and upgrades that take the game from a quality title to a must-own one for any baseball fan with a PS3.
The first thing you'll notice is the huge upgrade graphically The Show 08 has received. Even the most hardcore '07 supporters will admit that the game was basically stuck with PS2-quality graphics. But this year is totally different as everything from lighting to facial features have been boosted to make The Show one of the best looking games regardless of genre.
Up and down, the stadiums, city skylines, grass/dirt textures, and even facial hair all look better and very realistic. Fans fight for foul balls or smack around a beach ball during the game, and a lot of the cutscenes have returned with some funny additions. Even after you get past the shine of the graphics, you'll realize the animations are top-notch as well.
Essentially eradicated from '07 are the lazy infielders that botch slow-rollers or potential double plays because of bad animations. All of the fielders seem to react properly to each play. If there's no hurry to make a play, the throw will be easy and the first baseman will catch the ball with ease. But if Wily Taveras is tearing down the line, you'll see the urgency from the fielder as he'll scoop and throw quickly and the first baseman will stretch for a bang-bang play.
The same goes for outfielders as they move and flow accordingly to each situation. All of these realistic animations and reactions make the game a near-perfect replica of its real-life counterpart. However, there is one problem from last year that's still prevalent concerning animations and that's collision detection, or lack thereof.
There is also still a lot of player clipping and that can be a problem when your runner doesn't break up a double play because he morphed into the shortstop. Most other times it doesn't affect gameplay but it still looks bad.
The 3-man booth of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Rex Hudler returns with some new additions to their already vast commentary library. Though largely unchanged and still top-notch there is still the occasional miss-call of the score or situation, but nothing that detracts from the awesome presentation of The Show.
Other sounds like crowd noise and on-the-field audio are very well done. If you're playing Red Sox vs. Yankees expect all of the away team's players to get booed before each at-bat. The crowd also does a good job reacting to each situation: if it's the 9th inning and 2 outs they'll come to their feet and cheer on the home team as they approach victory.
Custom soundtracks have been added (called "My Music") so you can listen to any song on your PS3's HDD while playing The Show. It's easy to use especially if you have a Media Server setup, but there seems to be a quality issue with your custom tracks (they seem quiet) and the tunes are only played while in the menus, not in-game or with batter walkups.
MLB 08: The Show's on the field action is largely unchanged from '07, but that's not a problem at all because this was the best aspect from last year's version. One big complaint you hear about baseball games is hit variety. There's usually too many line drives, ground balls, fly balls, etc. But The Show does a good job mixing things up in this regard.
If a pitch is low and away, expect a ground ball to the right side of the infield from a right handed hitter. If the pitch is elevated it'll get airborne, so location is a big decider -- it can become too simple if you use the Guess Pitch feature. If you can figure out location before the pitch you'll get a lot of solid contact, usually resulting in a high-scoring contest.
While pitching, it seems as if the pitching meter is less forgiving than in previous versions. If you just miss the yellow bar by even a little you'll miss location, which adds some realism. Even pitchers with great control like Greg Maddux can miss location this year which is also refreshing. There's a new icon that shows how and where the ball will break so this takes some of the guesswork out of pitching. and inevitably leads to hyper-accurate pitching.
One of the big features in MLB 07: The Show was Adaptive Pitching Intelligence which helped the catchers call a realistic game according to a batter and pitcher's strengths and weaknesses.
This year SCE Studios San Diego went a step further and added In-Game Pitcher and Batter Analysis. In the simplest of terms it allows the pitcher or hitter to look and scout his counterpart's tendencies.
So the hitter can see how often the pitcher throws his fastball for each count and the pitcher can see how many times the batter swings at a 3-1 count, along with a ton of other information. If you're into stats and scouting you'll find this feature very useful but if you tend to haul through games you might not use the Analysis very much.
Once the ball is in the field of play, some might think slider tweaks are needed to lower the fielder's speed and arm strength but even at default settings these are not huge issues.
Another new gameplay addition is Progressive Batting Performance, which either rewards or punishes your batters for their performance during a season. If they don't play up to their abilities they'll suffer a drop in their contact rating but if a hitter plays above and beyond his abilities he'll receive a slight ratings boost.
While this may seem drastic and potentially overdone, it's actually executed quite well. If your hitter is slumping and he's lost a few contact points he's not suddenly in danger of dropping below the Mendoza Line. And conversely if he has been on a tear he's not suddenly a threat to hit .400 for the season. It's a nice way to accurately convey the ups and downs a hitter goes through during an MLB season.
As good as the game plays it's not without flaws. There's a bug that doesn't give your batter credit for a walk-off home run if he wasn't the winning run. So if you're down 3-2 and hit a 3-run walk-off, the final score will incorrectly be listed as 4-3 and you won't get credit for the homer. Some gamers have said it doesn't happen all of the time but it's definitely an issue.
Other minor bugs are stats for relievers not getting recorded, no laces on the ball during gameplay, and the occasional fielder getting stuck at specific locations in a ballpark. Though far from game-breakers when some of these glitches happen to you it can be frustrating.
Franchise/Road To The Show
Outside of having to monitor the performance of your players, there's a lot of other stuff to be done in The Show's Franchise mode. If you just want to play games during your franchise, you can have the CPU handle any or all of the off the field tasks. This allows the user to truly customize his or her franchise experience.
Maybe you just want to sim the games and act like the GM, or maybe play the role of the owner that handles the finances; you can do whatever you please. If you do choose to play the games, another new feature is the Replay Vault, which allows you to go back and view the replay of any play in the game you've just finished. While it's fun to go back and see a game-changing play it'd be even better if you could save these replays to your PS3's HDD.
One thing you can save is your in-game progress during Franchise and Season modes. With the capacity of new consoles' HDDs this should be a standard feature in all sports games, and is a welcome addition to The Show.
If setting beer prices and handling every player on a roster isn't your thing, you should definitely check out Road To The Show mode. While there have been some tweaks from last year's version it's mostly the same addicting game. You start off by creating your player from scratch and customizing all of the normal features like height, weight, position, etc. One big addition is the facial customization that closely resembles the setup found in the Tiger Woods series.
Everything from brow height to eye position is editable but it's a shame that you have to choose between less than twenty predetermined actual faces. But all of the customization options should allow you to get a close facsimile of your own mug so it's a minor gripe. After you're done creating your player you start up spring training with whichever team you choose and from there on you have to accomplish certain goals during games to gain training points.
These points are used to increase your player's ratings in certain categories. Also new is the goals system which sets benchmarks for your player over a period of time, like getting so many hits, having a certain batting average or improving a certain rating to a specific point. The more goals you meet the more playing time you get and the quicker you move up in the organization. A nice tweak is the ability to focus your training more specifically on certain ratings. For example there's now more than one "Batting Cages" training option, so now you can focus on right or left-handed pitching instead of getting it all lumped into one option like in '07.
Another new addition to RTTS is the ability to partake in more plays, like double plays or steal attempts as a fielder. Also, now you can position your player before the ball is in play or you can be a part of mound visits if you're having troubles on the hill. One addition that is a bit of a letdown is the 3rd base coach signals. For the most part, they're not even used and when they are, you get a "cheat-sheet" that tells you what the play is, so there's no real challenge. It's not very deep and not very hard to grasp. Hopefully this feature will get expanded next year.
The in-game goals system has been fixed some since now you don't need to strike out every batter you face or hit for the cycle when you're a triple short every time at-bat. The goals are now weighted so if you drive in the go-ahead run late in the game you'll get more points than if you tie the game in the 2nd inning. If you fail in a big moment you'll lose more points than you normally would early on, so it cuts both ways.
One thing that is noticeable right away is that it's still entirely too easy to steal bases in RTTS. If you can get a two-step lead you can steal 2nd no matter how slow your player moves. It's one of those quirks where you have to impose rules to control yourself or you could end up with over 100 SBs with your plodding catcher.
If playing by yourself bores you, there's a robust online feature set with The Show. Online leagues - oddly enough you need to have a name for two weeks to be the commissioner of one, so leagues are on hold for now, SportsConnect Online User Tracking (Think of it as a match-making feature), user-shared sliders, up-to-date rosters and in-game MLB box scores are all at the top of the list, but unfortunately the lag issues seen in '07 are still somewhat prevalent in '08.
Sometimes you'll be able to get through a game without any problems but other times the game will stutter to a standstill and freeze. The smallest thing like having pitchers warm-up might slow the game down and it makes hitting and pitching nearly impossible. If you're lucky enough to find an opponent with a good connection the game is quite smooth and a blast to play, but it's really hit or miss at this point. Last year SCE Studios San Diego had to issue a patch to fix the online portion of the game and if things don't improve there might be a need for another one this year.
So in the end, MLB 08: The Show is a great sports title that suffers from some small bugs that annoy but are easily over-looked when you take in the awesome graphics and gameplay. The addicting Road To The Show mode coupled with a robust Franchise mode give The Show a high replay value. It's by far the best baseball game on the market and is a 1st-party PS3 title that is worth buying.
Graphics: Top-notch with great attention to detail. Some slight tearing and clipping issues but nothing that takes away too much from the overall experience.
Sound: Great 3-man booth with Vasgersian, Campbell and Hudler; the crowd noise is also very well done. Custom soundtracks are nice but limited.
Entertainment Value: RTTS will take hours off of your life as you play countless games in a single sitting. All of the small touches across the board make the game very enjoyable.
Learning Curve: If your familiar with baseball titles you should be able to pick-up-and-play this game right away. Baserunning can get a little complicated but you can get used to it quickly.
Online: Probably the softest spot of the game at this point. You can't have lag in a baseball game and it's tough to find lag-free games at this point. There's a nice online feature set, but if the game is laggy, it's all for naught.