Review: MLB 08: The Show

MLB08_PS3_RGB.jpg As I’ve said before, I’m really not a huge fan of baseball. Of all the sports, it’s right there with the likes of hockey and NASCAR at the bottom of my list. Interestingly enough, though, I dig baseball videogames quite a bit, mainly because in virtual form the pacing isn’t as tedious and snail-like as I find actually watching a real game of baseball to be.

Enter MLB 08: The Show, a baseball game so deep, so well balanced and so gorgeous that it has instantly become one of my favorite sports games in quite some time. It’s quite a shocking revelation, too. You know, considering last season’s effort was rather lackluster, to put it kindly. Much of MLB 07’s foundation is intact, but for the 2008 season everything has been honed in to near perfection.

The mode lineup is fairly typical overall, featuring the expected quick game, exhibition, season, franchise and manager fields of play, not to mention a robust suite of online features now rounded out with a new SCOUT feature that streamlines finding opponents to play against. Many of the core gameplay mechanics from 07 return as well, like the Adaptive Pitching Intelligence, Pitch Command System and Pitch Guessing, but now thanks to new additions like the Progressive Batting Performance system, which tracks your slumps and streaks and provides appropriate bonuses/penalties, and an in-game pitcher/batter analysis feature that allows you to study up on the tendencies of the pitcher you’re dueling on the mound or the batter you’re attempting to get out at the plate (stat nerds will eat this feature up!). Whether you’re pitching, batting, fielding or base running, MLB 08’s gameplay is as good as I’ve experienced in a baseball game.

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Oh, and I surely can’t forget about the new Replay Vault. Thanks to the PS3’s HDD, every moment of a game – sorted by player, inning and team — is cached away for replaying whenever you want. Any time you want to go back and relive a key play, simply pause the action and search through the vault. The only downer is that there’s no way to permanently save your favorite replays for viewing outside the current game or online sharing. If Sony comes along next season and adds this functionality, it’ll be the greatest replay system the gaming world has ever seen.

What ultimately stands out this season, though, is the retooled Road to the Show mode (RTTS). MLB 07’s RTTS iteration was a solid starting point, but didn’t quite live up to the promise. But with 08, Sony’s San Diego team really ironed out the kinks and realized the mode’s immense potential.

Unlike the traditional franchise or career mode, RTTS puts you in control of your created player, and that’s it. During a game, rather than managing the entire game, the action fast-forwards to your player’s at bats, base running duties and random defensive situations, so you can power through at least three or four games in the same time it’d take to complete one in standard play.

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What makes it all sing is the almost RPG-like progression of building a player from the ground up, from struggling through the farm system to earning a big league contract and slugging with the big boys in the Majors. Throughout a game, you earn training points for building your player’s attributes by contributing positively to the team and successfully performing certain Goal events that occasionally arise, such as stealing a base, driving in a run, turning a double play or pulling off a suicide squeeze, to name a few examples. Since you are only in charge of your player, coming through in the clutch and completing a goal provides a wonderful satisfaction that makes playing and winning that much more rewarding. There are also various career advancement goals to work on that add extra incentive to being a consistent contributor. But be careful because failing goals or performing poorly will subtract points from your score, so there is a nice balance to it.

In addition to the updated RTTS mode, the game’s presentation has made drastic improvements this year, too. The mo-capped player likenesses and animations are unmatched in realism and the stadium and crowd detail is second to none, generating an immersive on-field ambiance. A few minor inconsistencies do remain, however. Matt Vasgersian, Rex Hudler and Dave Campbell return to provide solid, TV-quality play-by-play, but from game to game you’ll often hear repeated lines, and overall the commentary becomes rather dull. Also, the occasional collision detection bug pops up, mainly player models passing through each other in certain situations. Even though there’s a required 2GB HDD install, some of the load times seem to drag on as well. Not enough to bitch about TOO much, but long enough at times to deserve a dishonorable mention.

But in the grand scheme of things, these minute presentational quirks pale in comparison to the game’s overwhelming high points. MLB 08: The Show is, quite frankly, one of the best, most in-depth all around sports titles I’ve EVER played. And baseball is one of my least favorite sports, so if you’re a true baseball diehard just imagine how much more you’ll surely love it!

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Pros:
+ Improved Road to the Show is one of the coolest sports game modes of all-time
+ Added gameplay features make this the best playing baseball game on the market
+ Realistic player models, animations, crowds and stadiums
+ New Replay Vault, though not perfect, takes replay systems to the next level

Cons:
– No ability to permanently save replays
– A few nagging presentation flaws

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PS2 and PSP
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studios
Release Date: 3/4/08
Genre: Sports – Baseball
Players: 1-2

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!