Foot in the bucket.
I have a confession to make: I love baseball. I love the aesthetics of the game, the poetry of the game, the drinking of beer during, before, and after the game (and on off days too!), but mostly I love the numbers of the game. In fact, baseball was my first love. (Okay, and more than a little to do with not yet having discovered the fairer sex, but I digress…). For me, there was always something inherently pleasing about baseball numbers, the core of the sport, and I don’t even enjoy math. Because of the nature of the game (the consistency through the decades of one pitcher, one hitter, 90 feet between bases, 60”6′ from the mound to the plate, etc.), many of the most famous records in sports are of baseball. In no other sport do the numbers mean as much.
[image1]I also happen to enjoy video games, and baseball has always seemed to me to be the one sport that should easily translate to the video game world. The language of numbers, baseball numbers, is one computers speak fluently. In fact, there are a gazillion baseball sims based solely on these numbers, but the best baseball titles seem to be those that can marry a baseball sim with an arcade-style baseball game, where the gamer can have realistic representations of how the game looks and the numbers it produces. Sadly, MLB 2K8 is not that game.
As far as the arcade half of the above equation goes, it is MLB 2K8‘s strong suit (at least between the two). Like last year’s version, the game looks relatively sharp on the surface. You get realistic representations of star players, some that are accurate right down to their movements, and reasonably pleasing (read: generic) ones of everyone else. The ballparks are all represented accurately, if not beautifully, which makes sense given their static nature and the evolution of next-gen graphics. Ah, but you see ‘static’ is the key. While the digital representation of players are accurate, once the game goes in motion there are several problems – funky animations on fielding plays and frame-rate issues – both of which are more obvious on the PS3.
Worst of all is the effect wind has on uniforms. While I understand the drive for more realistic animation, this “effect” is downright absurd. Not only does the wind only seem to cause the players jerseys (as opposed to say … their whole uniform) to ripple, the effect is so pronounced it looks like if you threw a quarter at a pitcher’s chest, it would land with a splash. Very distracting, especially during games with high winds.
Because these yearly sports titles are largely excuses to charge people sixty bones for roster updates (that could be purchased for say $20 online instead… no, you say? oh…), it seems that every year we’re inundated with “improvements” to soften the blow on the wallet, and this year is no exception. The big shift this year involves taking control away from the buttons and assigning them to the right analogue stick, which allows for more intuitive gameplay.
[image2]The first of the two main changes is they’ve overhauled the pitching system by giving us Total Pitch Control, where you use the right analogue stick to try and emulate a movement icon and, in doing so, deliver the corresponding pitch (think God of War… in stockings). This makes more sense than having a button/meter system to control pitches, because it represents the arm movements of throwing a baseball more intuitively. This is a solid addition, as it better represents how the game of baseball is played.
They’ve also given us Precision Throw Control, where you pick the base you want to throw to with the right analogue stick, and then use said stick to control the accuracy (depending how well you aim) and power (depending on how long you hold it). I’m going to be honest; this feature makes the game too complicated. I prefer that the accuracy and power of throws be determined by the player’s skill set rather than my own ability to control it. What’s next, the Crotch Grab System, where the adjustment of the cup is determined by grabbing the right analogue stick? No, you say? Oh. Anyway, this feature again is more intuitive and gives the player more control, even if it’s not my taste.
As for the sound, I’ll once again state my distaste for the nature of the “broadcasters” in sports video games. I only listen to them when I have to review a game because the calls are so obviously perfunctory and canned you can’t even pretend that they’re spontaneous or accurate, and this game is no different. For as long as I kept it on, I did find myself amused by the incorrect calls that come from the team of John Miller and Joe Morgan. While this does lead to some unintentional comedy – calling a hit when the line drive got nabbed by a middle infielder – it is unintentional.
But as a glass-half-full kinda guy, I’m going to suggest a solution: have Joe Morgan refuse to admit he’s made the wrong call and argue with his broadcast partner when the subject is broached… just like in real life! John: “Joe, I’m pretty sure that was an out, it’s in the second baseman’s glove.” Joe: “Man on first, no outs.” No, you say? Oh. At least the sounds of the game are okay and the music selection isn’t the worst I’ve listened to, though if I’m going to listen to music while playing a video game, it’ll be music of my choice.
[image3]One thing this game is, however, is deep. It allows you to run a MLB franchise from the ground up and control most facets of the franchise from single-A to the majors, including who to promote and demote, and even allows you to control the nature of future prospects while in the minors. The game includes 90 minor league teams and even has 20 minor league stadiums [Go Cyclones! ~Ed]. It does lack a “superstar” mode, wherein you create a custom player and play his entire career. That melding of sports and role-playing has never been my cup of tea, but if you like it, it’s not in this game.
But here’s the ultimate rub. As I said earlier, baseball is a game of numbers, and the biggest problem with this game (and frankly, all arcade-style baseball games) is that the numbers are just… off. I simmed dozens of seasons and not one of them looked much like MLB in 2007. I mean, Carlos Beltran is a fine player, but he’s not a 55 home-run guy and – failing a daily regiment of mainlining HGH and Testosterone – never will be. (Wait, that’s not a bad idea: How about a Congressional hearing mini-game? No, you say? Oh.) How this might effect you may vary, but if you’re looking to play or simulate seasons and have them resemble a current MLB outcome, look elsewhere. If you’re looking to knock the ball around with a buddy for bragging rights, it may do – but there are better options.
So, at the end of the day (or nine innings), I’d say look elsewhere for your baseball jones. What’s good about the game isn’t a great improvement on last year’s version and, in fact, the game seems to have taken a step back graphically. Meanwhile, at its core, the game isn’t true to the nature of baseball, because the bottom line – the numbers – just don’t jibe. They’re trying by adding new features, but to my mind this energy is misplaced. While you get some changes and add-ons, that’s a lot like pruning a tree when its core is rotten, or putting a dress on a pig, or … well, you get the point.