Major League Baseball 2K8
As it is the supposed “premier” Major League Baseball game, since 2KSports gobbled up the MLB license, I had very high expectations of MLB 2K8. Touting itself as “the most complete baseball experience available,” MLB 2K8 left me with a lot of complaints. I was impressed by the variety of options for a couch coach like myself to tinker around with, from a full-fledged franchise mode with all the trimmings to the more typical Home Run Derby, but MLB 2K8 has some problems, particularly an extremely poor presentation, that simply cannot be ignored.
I spent most of my time with MLB 2K8 buried up to my neck in the in-depth career mode. I’ve never spent a lot of time with any franchise modes, but I quickly found myself manipulating ticket prices, hiring and firing managers, and making trades for top players as I sought to lead my New York Yankees to another championship. Though there are tons of options, which is great since it allows you to fully control almost every aspect of your team, navigating through the menus can be cumbersome. Finding some specific statistic or simply adjusting the difficulty level required me to stumble through sometimes unintuitive menus in order to find what I was looking for. Once I memorized where things were, I could easily get around, but I can’t help but think that the developers could have found other, better ways to organize the menus.
Excluding my difficulties finding my way through the menus, the rest of the game controls like a breeze. The game can be played with one hand most of the time. On the field, the right analog stick is used for almost every function and it is quite effective and natural-feeling. Hitting is simple: pull back on the right analog stick to step into the pitch and then push it forward to bring the bat around. Timing is everything. Stepping back too early can cause you to swing too early and vice-versa, but if you can get the timing just right, you’ll stand a good chance of getting a hit. The smoothness and the fluidity of the batting system add a lot to the experience.
On the other side of the ball, pitching is also handled expertly. In order to throw a pitch, you need to perform a certain gesture with the right analog stick (like up and then down to throw a fastball). To complicate matters, you need to time your motions, holding them in place as a meter fills up and then releasing them at the proper point on the meter. This was difficult to get grips of at first, but by my third game, I was dominant on the mound and felt very comfortable with most pitches. My only real problem (with the pitching at least) was actually the PS3 controller – the lack of an indentation for my thumb sometimes caused my thumb to slip off the analog stick in the middle of pitches. It can be difficult to avoid this when pitches require a complete, quick spin of the analog stick, but it rarely has a crushing impact on the game.
The game stumbles a bit when it comes to fielding. While throwing to bases is a cinch, I had some difficulties with the game auto-selecting players closest to the ball. If a ball fell in a gap between a group of players, the game would sometimes cycle between the three players closest to the ball, which was disorienting as I tried to make a play. As I’d move one player into position to make the catch, the game would switch me over to another guy. By the time I realized who I was controlling and started moving that player, the game selected another (third) player! I wouldn’t complain if this was a rare occurrence, but it happened at least once every few games and it cost me some runs. There are also some slowdown issues – when the slowdown hits, players will look less like the professional athletes that they are and more like they’re fighting their way through an invisible vat of slime.
But these are small problems in comparison to the graphics. MLB 2K8 looks merely acceptable. It doesn’t look like a PlayStation 3 game, that’s for sure. The textures are incredibly bland. Balls thrown into the dirt and slides into the bases don’t shoot up nearly as much dirt as one might expect. The grass doesn’t show any wear as the game progresses and it just looks like green paint on a flat surface otherwise. The developers attempted to match every player’s face with their real one, but they did an incredibly poor job, mainly with their skin. Players look unhealthy and pale. Some players look so far from their real-life counterparts that it’s laughable, particularly Derek Jeter (which is shameful since he was on the cover of last year’s release).
Perhaps worst of all are the crowds. At first, I was excited because the crowd wasn’t filled with flat sprites, but instead with detailed characters that occasionally stand and cheer. But after a while, I started to notice that the same model would appear on the screen about five or six times in your view. As you’re pitching and looking behind the catcher into the stands, you’ll see six or seven identical versions of the same fan doing the same cheer, while six or seven other versions of another identical fan are doing the same thing next to the original fan. It’s incredible to me that this would even happen and that no one thought that they should fix this during testing since it was so distracting.
I hate to pick at aesthetics and judge a game so hard because of them, but sports are all about presentation and the presentation here is just poor. In an effort to make the experience more realistic, the developers present the game as you would see it on television, making use of replays of key plays, announcing the “players of the game” and stuff like that. This is actually pretty cool, but abundant slowdown turns the whole thing into a slideshow and I found myself skipping most of the replays since they were so choppy and poor. The commentating on the game is also sub-par. By just my third game, I started hearing repetitions in the commentary. I will admit that baseball commentary is incredibly difficult since the average real-life game lasts for 2-3 hours (fortunately games in MLB 2K8 move much faster than this glacial pace) and that it would be impossible for repetition to not occur, but I would have liked to have heard the commentators add more fun stuff like trivia about the parks and players into their commentary to liven up their commentary.
As far as pitching and hitting are concerned, MLB 2K8 is great. But presentation counts, and when a weak presentation is coupled with fielding issues, it’s a lot harder to enjoy this game. While it features just tons and tons of options for true fans to dig around in, the cumbersome menu navigation and the previously discussed animation and sound defects will have a lot of fans irritated after a while. MLB 2K8 has a lot of strong points, but the developers apparently need another year to work the kinks out.