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Major League Baseball 2K8

Platform(s): PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Sports


Xbox 360 Review - 'Major League Baseball 2K8'

by Jesse Littlefield on April 21, 2008 @ 12:42 a.m. PDT

Major League Baseball 2K8 returns to the diamond with the most complete MLB experience available on every major video game console. Revolutionizing your control of the 5 tools in baseball are brand new pitching, fielding and baserunning controls and completely overhauled batting interface. Featuring a totally unique trading card mode, robust Minor League system, all-new Signature Style animations for 2008, and more, Major League Baseball 2K8 brings a new level of fun to the virtual baseball world.

Genre: Sports Simulation
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: 2K Sports
Release Date: March 3, 2008

Before we get going here, I must admit that I haven't touched the MLB series since 2005, when I played MLB 2K5 on the original Xbox. I firmly believe that most sports games innovate so little every year that it's a complete waste to buy the next edition. Once every three or four years, the game will change enough to merit another look, and that belief holds true with MLB 2K8 on the Xbox 360. This is a vastly different game from what I had played three years ago. While change in sports games is generally a good thing, the development cycle for them is so short that new features are often completely and utterly broken in some way, shape or form. In that regard, MLB 2K8 is like your favorite team's fourth-string pitcher: He's pretty much hit or miss, but usually miss. When things work right, MLB 2K8 can be a pretty fun baseball title, but too many glaring problems occur too often for me to be able to call it a good game.

MLB 2K8 gives you a good first impression, asking you to pick your favorite team, and from there on out, the menu background displays pictures of players from that team. It's a nice menu system with a lot of options that show just how much you can do with the game. There's a decent player creation system in place, as well as the ability to edit rosters. You can hop right into games, start franchises; it's all there — including a large amount of in-game advertising. Even on the main menu, the Home Run Derby has the State Farm logo next to it.

Once you head in to the game, the presentation is pretty top-notch. There's a little bit of initial loading, but it quickly masks the rest of the load with a "Baseball Tonight"-style introduction that shows the field, the fans, and a little info about the two teams. What's there is varied, and I don't remember hearing anything repeated, unless I played opening day during the season with the same teams. It's all very streamlined and feels a lot like you're watching a game on TV; while that may sound fantastic, it is also like a real game in that they like to show everything that's happening in the game, which can get on the average player's nerves in a hurry. While a majority of it can be skipped, it can be annoying to watch the batter step out of the box and take a practice swing after every other pitch. Most of that seems to be present to mask further load times, as about half the time I try to skip one of these sequences, the transition is not instantaneous, and you can hear the disc in the 360 going crazy while it tries to load the data it needs.

It's kind of sad that these transitions are noticeable because graphically, MLB 2K8 the game is a bit of a mixed bag. There are times when my jaw will drop as I wonder how they pulled off a particular effect, such as the absolutely stunning clothing animations. If you pick up the game, you should turn the wind settings way up to behold its full glory. Replays are another highlight (no pun intended) and look fantastic, especially when it shows a really good pitch. The camera will appear to be watching the ball from the ground level, and you can see each individual blade of grass rendered beautifully.

The rest of it is very inconsistent, though. When batting or pitching, the player you're currently controlling looks pretty good, but everything else kind of becomes a blurry mess. The animations hold up pretty well, doing a pretty good job of capturing every batter's signature style, or every picture's signature throw. MLB 2K8 makes a couple of weird-looking decisions on how exactly your players can run at times, which makes almost every routine fly ball look like a spectacular catch for which the fielder nearly had to dive. At times, the pitcher or hitter might suddenly turn white, which is funny the first time but downright annoying after the fifth occurrence. Once you get the ball in play, the lack of polish shows up. There is constant frame rate drop, and the game slows to a crawl. It's really jarring to go from watching your batter's clothes rustling in the wind to watching a slideshow as your shortstop tries to pick up the ball. 2K Sports announced that there is a patch on the way to alleviate these issues, but at the time of this writing, the patch has not been released, and anyone who doesn't have Xbox Live will encounter these issues while playing the game.

Thankfully, MLB 2K8 sounds a whole lot better than it looks. From the swing of the bat to the thud of the bat hitting leather, it all sounds brilliant. The announcers do an admirable job, but it's a bit disappointing that I'm still hearing recycled lines from MLB 2K5. One of my favorite little details in the game is the crowds at the ballpark. You get the hecklers, people cheering for a home run, and tremendous roars and boos at the right times. You'll even get trademark chants for the various stadiums, and if you're unfamiliar with it, one of the two game announcers will clarify what's going on. On the musical side, we have a fairly stereotypical soundtrack for 2K Games, which means it's pretty bad. As much as I like Presidents of the USA as a band, they're completely and utterly inappropriate for a baseball game. The same could be said for a number of tracks, but thankfully, you really don't notice the music outside of the menu system, in which you hopefully won't be spending too much time anyway.

Earlier, I mentioned that MLB 2K8 is a completely different game from what I experienced in 2005, mostly due to the controls. There are two available control schemes; the first consists of the old controls that have been used in the MLB 2K series from the outset. However, the game wants you to use the new control system, which revolves around the right thumbstick. Batting with the thumbstick actually works pretty well; you simply guess where the pitch is going to be with the left thumbstick before the pitch, and if you get it right, the game tells you where the pitch is going. From there, simply pull back on the right stick to take a step and push forward in the direction you want to hit the ball when it comes. It works really well, and it's a lot more involved than just pushing a button.

The pitching, however, is completely and utterly broken. MLB 2K8 shows you a number of different motions you can make with the right thumbstick to throw a pitch. However, recognition of the gestures is atrocious and requires absolutely perfect timing to throw the ball where you want it. If you screw up the gesture, you throw a meatball over the center of the plate, which most players will knock right out of the park. If you screw up the timing, the ball will head someplace you didn't aim. The worse your timing is, the stranger the path of the pitch. After a while, I simply stopped throwing inside pitches because if I screwed up the timing, I would bean the hitter.

For my first couple of games while I was learning the system, I was going through about seven pitcher ejections a game. While the pitching is a solid concept, it needs to be made a bit more forgiving and less buggy. Someone just picking up the game will find it almost impossible to do something as simple as throw a fastball without pegging the batter. Fielding controls are a lot better: Moving the right thumbstick determines to which base you throw, and how long you hold it determines the power. There is a sweet spot for everything, and the game rewards you for hitting it, while under- or over shooting it can result in errors.

When all of this is working, MLB 2K8 can be a lot of fun. It's a shame that the broken controls hold back the game so much because the AI puts up a good fight at the mound and plate (not so much in the field). The title is loaded with all kind of features, from the very deep franchise mode that even lets you play in minor league games, to the stunning amount of options in online play, which lets you look for opponents of similar skill, play style or even people who want to play in leagues or tournaments. The title even brought over the info from All Pro Football 2K8 about the times I was available to play.

It's a shame that MLB 2K8 is the only baseball offering for Xbox 360 owners, as the efforts to do more than a simple roster update have resulted in a game that has solid ideas and a deep set of features, but is so buggy and inconsistent in almost every regard that it isn't worth your time unless you absolutely have to play a baseball game.

Score: 6.7/10

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