MLB '08: The Show - Video Game Review and Contest
I was recently forwarded a copy of Sony's MLB '08: The Show for review. I have to admit I was a bit giddy over getting a free copy since I grew up on baseball video games, starting with Hardball on the Commodore 64. Up until about three years ago, I would still pretty much play a full season out on EA's MVP Baseball 2005. This was my first games since then, so pardon me if I'm a little behind the times.
I requested a PS2 copy since I've yet to take the plunge for a PS3, and quickly popped in my copy when it arrived via FedEx. The intro montage that is common with all video games was as snazzy as ever, highlighting the milestones over the past year. Thome, Thomas and A-Rod hitting 500, Sosa hitting 600, Glavine's 300 and so forth. Noticeably missing was Craig Biggio's 3000th hit, something that gave me a smile. I imagine it had more to do with a contract with the players union which he is no longer a member of since his retirement, but I still appreciated the slight of a long-term Cubs nemesis.
The menu screen popped up and you have all your expected features, franchise and season modes, exhibition, home run derby, manager mode and so on. I went with the "Quick Game" just to get started and picked the Pirates versus the Cubs at Wrigley.
There's quite an extended intro if you want from the announcers as they set-up the game and go through the lineups. The ballpark render looked decent, albeit unspectacular. I do imagine they look better on PS3 version. I studied up on the basics and was ready to play.
Naturally I had Zambrano take the mound and I threw the first pitch - a 4-seam fastball that ended up about 5 feet outside. It was nice to see that they decided to make the game realistic. Of course, I just wasn't use to the pitching interface, but as the game went on I was actually impressed by the realism. One of my all-time favorite baseball video games was High Heat for the PC, and one of the main reasons I liked it was for how well it balanced simulation with arcade play. They did a great job of making it difficult for certain pitchers to throw strikes and as they got more tired over the course of the game, their control went with it. It was nice to see a game pick up on that feature. By the 6th inning I was already up to 100 pitches on Zambrano and I don't think you can get more realistic than that.
I won't bore you with the rest of the details of the games I played. I'll just outline what I feel are the pros and (very few) cons of the game. I didn't get into the season or franchise modes, but I imagine those are pretty standard by now. I do know it has online element where you can play a single game or join leagues. More importantly, you can download the latest rosters as the game was missing Kosuke Fukudome and featured a lineup of Mark DeRosa in right field and Mike Fontenot in second. That should be corrected right after Opening Day I believe.
I thought the game play was fantastic except for a few exceptions which I'll explain in a minute. The game felt pretty real. You really needed an eye at the plate and could work the count when you were batting. On the pitching side, they didn't make it too easy to throw a strike. It seems to me that most video games get that wrong and most AB's only last a couple of pitches. The player animations felt pretty natural, the baserunning was simple enough, although there were a lot of extra features that I didn't even get into on running the bases. They have some intuitive features to analyze your swing and timing as well, and some quick menus to help get the bullpen going, visit the mound or set your infield.
My two chief complaints were that the ballparks could have looked a little better and the pitchers were way too slow between pitches. There was nothing that glaringly stood out in the ballparks that I checked out, unlike EA's MVP 2005 which featured fireworks at Wrigley Field. But the scoreboard graphics on some of the parks looked a little off and the crowd animations were pretty weak. A minor detail, but the kind of stuff you'd like to have for the full experience.
The pitchers though took way too long between pitches, either when I was controlling them or waiting for a pitch. There was quite a delay between picking up the sign and the windup. Even worse, the pitching meter in the wind-up had a completely different timing than in the stretch. I imagine that was on purpose to further enhance the simulation experience, but I had a much harder time in the wind-up than the stretch...and it should be the opposite. There is a "Fast Mode" on the game, but that just seemed to cut-down on extraneous cutaways and waiting for the ball to get thrown back to the pitcher. The pitcher still took forever to get the sign, get into the windup and throw a pitch.
Not to end on a downer because I really did enjoy the game and will likely try to play a season this year (with lots of simulated games). This was probably the closest game I've seen to High Heat and there's a good chance that my memory of High Heat is better than it actually was. If you want a realistic feeling video game with some neat features, I don't think you can go wrong with MLB '08: The Show.
I happened to receive 5 PS3 copies of the game as well and wanted to give them out in a contest that would wrap up around when the season started. If you'd like to enter, follow this link and answer the questions. Each question is weighted equally and the top 5 finishers will win. If you don't have a PS3 or just aren't interested in the games, you should still enter. You can always sell your copy on Ebay or a local video game store. And you still don't want it, I'll donate it to a local children's charity by my neck of the woods.
You have until Friday 11pm CST to enter and we should have the results by Opening Day. Of course, if you don't want to wait for that, consider buying it through us via amazon.com and we make a buck or two to help pay for things around here (PS3, PS2 and PSP from left to right).