Here Comes The MLB...
MLB 98 is the sort of baseball game that makes you want to get on your knees and thank God that Abner Doubleday invented the game. For those of you that have played Triple Play 97 and liked it, I strongly suggest you go out and buy this game as fast as your little ol' legs will carry you to the store. Even if sports games or baseball games are not your thing, you will not be disappointed with this offering from the folks at Sony.
The graphics are pretty. Staying true to form, Sony continues to utilize polygonal players (see GameDay '98, NHL Faceoff '97, and Triple Play 97). These players actually have the batting stances and swings of their real life counterparts. This means that you could smack a homer 503 feet with that sweet Griffey swing or crush a ball into the upper deck with that powerful Frank Thomas stroke. You get four batting views and three fielding views to choose from. You can also alternate the offensive and defensive perspectives. Each stadium is recreated to a tee - you can almost see the warehouse in Camden yards! I was a little disappointed that there wasn't an advertisement for the Gap in left center at 3-Com Park (oh well, nothing's perfect).
You have the option of turning the crowd and announcer off, but those that do will miss the cute little quips the announcer makes while the game is paused. Besides, don't you want to hear the crowd boo you at the All Star Game after you've just beaned a player? And who can do without that annoying fan who shouts "You suck!" after a bad pitch? The crowd noises really pump you up and enhances the ambiance of the stadium.
MLB '98 has complete rosters, photos, and stats of the players. Sony has even included the expansion teams (Devil Rays and Diamond Backs). One thing that really impressed me was the way the stats updated themselves. For example, when Mark McGwire steps up to the plate for his first appearance, his stats will say he has 52 homers. If he smacks one to deep center, he will be listed as having 53 the next time he's up. Is that cool or what?
In the instruction manual under the heading Defense is the statement, "Defense is the key to any successful team. A good defense can carry a team into the playoffs." This is the absolute truth and the game reflects this idea. Each pitcher has a fastball and three signature pitches including sliders, curveballs, change-ups, and forkballs. The pitcher has a fatigue bar that forces you to place your pitches in the optimum location in the strike zone and also to limit the total number of pitches thrown. The strike zone and pitch locator displayed in the Simulation mode helps the pitcher locate his pitches, and gives the batter a rough idea of where the ball will be thrown. However, this doesn't prevent the batter from falling prey to breaking balls or the occasional high heater. You also have to place the infield and outfield correctly in certain situations. The infield can be placed shallow, placed in at the corners, or placed in a double play position. The right setup will prevent a base hit. The outfield can also be placed in different positions in order to prevent homers or catch bloop singles.
Gameplay with respects to fielding is exciting. You really have to watch for opportunities to make great defensive plays and determine how to make them. The infielder can dive at grounders, leap to make backhanded snatches, or even throw the runner out from his knees!! The outfielders can rob power hitters of their homeruns by jumping at the right time off the warning track and over the fence. Nice!
To overcome the defense, you have to combine smart batting with resourceful base running. This means anticipating which pitch is coming next and determining which stance to put the batter in and deciding what kind of swing to use. The batter can move around in the batter's box in reaction to the pitch locator. He can also open or close his stance and toggle between a normal swing and a power or "swing for the fences" stroke. These decisions are especially important in the Veteran mode where the serious baseball enthusiast must adjust the batter's stance and swing to meet the pitch. For example, to hit a curveball away, the batter has to back off the plate, open his stance, and swing late. If the player picks the right combination, he will be rewarded with a variety of hits, from grounders through the hole to doubles between the fielders. We're talking some serious realism here.MLB '98 has made baserunning so simple my Aunt Franny could steal second. They decided to use the four buttons (square, triangle, circle, and X) instead of the D-pad directions to represent the bases. After you get used to this new arrangement, you can terrorize the basepaths.
Now that you know all the good things about this game, let me tell you about the bad things: Everyone has a cannon like Raul Mondesi. It's hard to get a double and almost impossible to get a triple unless the outfield was playing shallow. This means that the only two consistent types of hits are singles and homers. Also, the computer pre-selects the fielder with which you use to make the play. This isn't so bad except for the fact that it is monumentally difficult to toggle between your defensive players. And everyone seems to be too level headed. For the next MLB, it would be nice if the batter was allowed to charge the mound after getting brushed back. Maybe I'm just bloodthirsty, but some emotion would make the game more enjoyable for me
It doesn't matter if you're a Rookie or an All Star - this game is like Las Vegas, it has something for everyone. After a week with this game, I promise you'll be dreaming MLB '98. It's just that good.