Bas-e-ball has been berry, berry good to me.
How many ways can you say the same thing? This is the question I've been struggling with while playing and now writing the review for MLB 08: The Show. See, in the past I've explained that, for me, the proverbial fly in the soup of just about every baseball video game is that the stat numbers are skewed towards the offensive side of the game (I said it here, here, and to a lesser degree, here) to the point that the games really don't play like “real” baseball at all.
Still, every year companies make baseball games with the same flaw and people still buy the games, so maybe it's just me – after all, offense in baseball is like sex in the advertising world: it sells. So, while I was complaining throughout the 1990s that the powers that be were ruining the game by allowing a combination of factors - juiced balls, juiced players, and even juiced ballparks - to turn MLB into a Nintendo league, the league was making money hand over fist. I was in my twenties, but I was looking like a bitter old guy: “When I was a kid ... now that was REAL baseball!”
Now that I actually am older (AND more bitter), I don't want to be the bitter old guy, and having come to the realization that gamers (like chicks) do, indeed, dig the long ball, I'm just going to have to let this one go. It's that or recycle the same review over and over. MLB 08: The Show may be on steroids like just about every baseball video game, but it also has a lot of positives going for it too. In fact, while it may not feed my own particular desires (read: I'm a baseball numbers Nazi), it does offer a lot of features that really broaden the digital baseball experience.
Leading off, the game looks real sharp, as one might expect from the PS3. The ballparks are accurately rendered, and you get personalized character models and animations for big name players (and generic models for lesser known players). More importantly, the game plays with few glitches. It's important for sports games in general, but for baseball games specifically, that they look good both statically AND dynamically, and The Show delivers on both fronts, to the point that its graphics stands above every other next-gen baseball game.
Aside from the superlative look and arcade-style gameplay of MLB 08: The Show, it allows you - like most baseball games - to take control of a franchise and run it for any number of years, making decisions at every level in order to build a world champion team. You draft, trade, and advance players through the minor leagues, set prices, and even rehab players. It's everything we've come to expect from our baseball games, and it's all very well done.
However, MLB 08: The Show goes beyond that, offering a couple of features that really enhance the franchise mode. The first is the ability to save games mid-game, which is incredibly valuable given the looooong nature of the baseball season (and a man's desire to stay happily married). Now, if you're in the middle of a game and the brats... er, kids are crying because you haven't fed them all day, or the old battle ax... er, wife is demanding you to perform your marital duties, you can just save the game and pick up where you left off later, without having to leave your machine on.
The other important addition is the ability to save individual box scores and even plays over the course of a season. Because baseball is so much about numbers, the ability to peruse old box scores gives the game real personality. After all, if you play an entire baseball season that didn't really take place, having these numbers put down for posterity goes a long way toward making the whole experience seem like it mattered. And, if you're a box score junkie like myself, you can go back and look at some of your more impressive achievements, or if numbers on paper bore you (communist!), you can revisit a spectacular double play and show it to your friends (“Dude, who cares?”) or your wife (“You spent four hours doing this???”). Good stuff.
In the rush to give gamers more and more content, we've recently seen RPG elements becoming an increasing part of sports gaming. MLB 08: The Show is the strongest example of this with its “Road to the Show” mode, where you create your own individual player and approach the game from his perspective rather than that of a team. Now, your perspective on this may vary - and personally the idea of playing the athlete rather than the franchise isn't my particular glass of beer - but there's no denying that the “Road to the Show” is deep and rich.
It starts with a comprehensive player creation mode that allows you to manage all aspects of your player's career, from the day he's drafted to the day he hangs 'em up for good. But the best part of the "Road to The Show" is that you only play the parts of the game relevant to your player. That is to say - you're only involved in the pitches, at bats, double plays, and such that your creation is involved in. This goes a long way towards cutting down the amount of time you toil in the minors (and majors for that matter), which – given a 162-game schedule – once again saves a marraige.
I joke about saving a marriage (why isn't my wife laughing?) but cutting down the plays you're involved in is important, because the “Road to the Show” is almost too realistic in how much time it sucks up. Since the feature focuses on your player, you naturally want to be a star, because no one wants to dedicate dozens, if not hundreds, of hours to the career of a utility man. The biggest issue with advancing through the minors is that your perceived strengths and weaknesses have little to do with your performance on the field. For instance, I had my center fielder hitting .350 in AA-ball, and the scouting report was that I needed to work on my hitting. A little more correlation between how the player is perceived (which seems more to do with the player's age) and how he's performing would make the Road to the Show even stronger.
As previously stated, I'm not a big fan of the RPGing of sports games, but if they're going to do it, let me lead the charge of demanding they really do it. I'm talking about decisions regarding the use of HGH (and the effect it has on your career = $$$), what groupies to take home, Congressional hearings, recreational drug problems (and the effect it has on your career = completely disingenuous apologies), feuds with reporters, etc. If the idea is to give gamers the experience of what life is really like for an up-and-comer, then let's spice it up, fellas! After all, if you get the ear of a MLBer, the conversation goes quickly from hitting the curve to hitting on the curves, trust me.
So, I'm still left to dream of the day when there's a perfect marriage of an arcade-style console game and a realistic simulator, but MLB: The Show will do for now. Despite my pet peeves, there's a lot of fun to be had. Whether you enjoy playing actual games, managing a franchise, or playing an individual shooting for stardom, it's here. Now, could someone please explain to these game developers that steroids were actually bad for the game... please?