Apr 9

Written by: Thryon
4/9/2009 9:01 PM  RssIcon

Box Art
52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 14
Major League Baseball 2K8
Release Date: March 04, 2008
Developer: Blue Castle Games / 2K LA
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Springtime is here (finally), with the melting of the snow and the renewed growing of the grass comes the official sport of sunshine, baseball. If you are an Xbox 360 gamer, the only choice you have for an authentic Major League Baseball game is with MLB 2K series (the BIGS is really more of an arcade game).

Sports titles will always be rated on how they compare to the real deal. For a game to be considered a success, it needs to recreate the feel we get when we watch a broadcast of that particular sport. Graphics, controls, sounds and features all play an important part if a game is a hit or miss. So how did MLB 2K8 stacks up? Read on to find out.

Control wise MLB 2K8 offers plenty of options for gamers of all type, but the most enjoyment can be had by using it 's three big hitters: Total Pitch Control, Precision Throw Control and Swing Stick 2.0. All three make use of the right analog stick instead of the traditional buttons to deliver smooth controls that are at once both precise and very intuitive.

The first and most complex to learn is the Total Pitch Control. The system attempts to mimic the precision required by a real pitcher not an easy task. A perfect pitch requires precise movements, perfect timing and a powerful delivery. All of these can be accomplished with Total Pitch Control. The pitches available to each pitcher will be listed on the left of the screen. Each pitcher can have a maximum of five different types of pitches. To perform a pitch, just ftrace the two part movement shown for that pitch type. with the right analog stick. The first part of the movement will be the wind-up, the seconds part will be the follow-through. The power of the pitch will be determined by how much of a wind-up is taken, displayed on the screen as a pitch radar with an inner and outer ring and a coloured power ring filling in both rings from the center out. When the coloured ring overlaps the outer ring, the pitch will have sufficient power and it’s time to perform the follow-through. The follow-through is performed by tracing the second movement listed for the pitch type. The more precise the follow-though, the more precise the pitch. The final step involves the release of the ball, done simply by releasing the stick. When the follow-through is performed, the coloured ring will return to the center of the radar to a new release ring. The release ring size will vary with the amount of power established during the wind-up (more power equals a smaller release ring). The goal is to release the stick as the coloured ring overlaps the release ring. All movements combine for one smooth fluid movement. For example the easiest pitch to master in the game is the fastball. This requires a wind-up by pressing down on the right analog stick, then after the desired power is obtained perform the follow-through by pressing up on the stick and finally releasing the stick to perform complete the pitch. If everything was timed and executed correctly, you will be rewarded with a perfect pitch. This may sound complicated at first (and trust me it is), but after a bit of practice, it becomes extremely natural and quite easy to release perfect pitches every time.
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Perfect games in baseball are extremely rare so once a hit has been registered, it is now the job of Precision Throw Control to allow the gamer to play that ball. No need of an entire paragraph this time. The Precision Throw Control works by simple pointing the right analog stick towards the desired base and hold in in that direction to wind-up and release the stick to complete the throw. If the wind-up is to hard or to weak, the ball will either bounce or towards the plate or fly overhead, also if the direction is off, the throw will be off forcing the player to leave his base to catch the ball allowing the runner to touch base safely. The Precision Throw Control is a very simple system that works great.

The final bit of control that needs to be learnt has to do with batting and base running. This is where Swing Stick 2.0 comes in to play. As most may have figured out, this is the second version of the swing stick and the developers hoped to improve batting from MLB 2K7. Swing Stick 2.0 is really easy to use, just press down on the right analog stick to fall into batting position and press up to swing. Once contact is made with the ball, baserunning is done with a combination of left analog stick and buttons (yep, buttons). To move a baserunner, simply point towards the baserunner with the left analog stick and press the A button to have 'em move one base, press it again for 2 bases and so on. If more than one base runner is present and the goal is to have all the baserunners to move, simply press the left bumper.

Overall, the controls are very good for this game, with the exception of batting. The new batting system may have the sweet sounding 2.0 moniker, but I think it's a downgrade from the 1.0 version. I am not sure what tweaks were make but more often than not the new 2.0 system will results in a pop-up to one of the fielders. Trying to purposely hit a line drive is extremely difficult and frustrating. Even after a week of playing I could still not pull it off at will (in contrast I mastered the pitching in under an hour).

The graphics in MLB 2K8 appear to be a step back from the previous version. Major league players cannot be identified by looks alone, but this has been a problem with all 2K Sports titles so I am not surprised, but what did surprise me was the amount of clipping, collisions and unrealistic physics in play in this game. For an example of unrealistic physics, one needs not look any further than the "cool" wind rippled jerseys. What kind of cross wind only causes the stomach area to ripple in the wind? Also there appears to be no relation with the amount of rippling and actual wind conditions. In fact playing in a closed dome, such as the Roger's Center, with calm conditions will produce as much rippling as when in an open field with blizzard conditions but again only in the mid-section. If the physics were limited to just wonky jerseys, I could live with that, but many times during line drives, the ball would travel in unrealistic patterns or at times right through the far wall rewarding the player with an inside the park home run. Good thing lines drives do not happen often. At the end of the each game, the framerate will drop dramatically, but this is most likely caused by the autosave features, so do not consider this a complaint, just an FYI.

AI is often a complaint in a sport title. The AI in MLB 2K8 is at times incredible, but at other times as stupid as a speedbump. I have witnessed a shortstop make an amazing diving catch, then roll on his feet and toss the player out at first plate (the one who had to retreat from second), but a bit later, the same player simply stood still as the ball rolled right through his glove (again thanks to our collision detection friend). The AI took a good 30 seconds to figure out that it did not have the ball, by then I was well on my way to third base in what should have been an easy out. Oh and I was playing on Legend mode. Another more common glitch (and a personal favourite) is when outfielders collide attempting to catch a popup. The problem occurs when a popup is between two outfielders, and the gamer takes control of the player closest to the ball and head towards the spot where the ball is projected to land while the AI takes control of the other outfielder and attempts to do the same. Even when the player controlled outfielder is in place, the AI will still keep running and crash into the player in a scene straight from the blooper reel. This happened quite often in a run of a game. I actually started switching to the AI controlled outfielder, once my own player was in place, to stop them from crashing together.
Screenshot
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Where MLB 2K8 excels is in it's feature set. The game is loaded with everything a baseball fan could ask for. The franchise mode is among the most rich of any sports title with not only the full roster of the 30 MLB teams, but also all the A, AA and AAA teams for each respective franchise. The game also features many of the minor league stadiums as well. The gamer will have a choice of playing games at any level (or all levels if they are so inclined). The only thing missing would be the "Be a Pro" or "Superstar" mode popular in other games.

There is another great bonus included in MLB 2K8, collectible cards. When playing the game, performing specific actions with a player will earn the gamer with a collectible card. For example hitting a double with Lyle Overbay (of the Blue Jays) will unlock his collectible card. Cards can then be used to create a team, and these teams can be set to compete against other card teams online. Creating a card team come with constraints. A team must consist of 25 players including 5 starting pitchers and must be under $150 total salary. Considering lowly players are paid $4 Million each and quality players can earn $18 million or more, creating a team with regular (black) collectible cards is next to impossible. Good thing the game comes with Gold and Platinum cards. as well The chance of unlocking a premium card depends on the skill level played. The Gold and Platinum cards reduce a players salary allowing gamers to create more powerful card teams. Another neat features is that cards can also be traded online creating a whole new game within the game.

When trying to establish a final opinion on MLB 2K8, I was a bit conflicted. I could not fully recommend it, but I cannot dismiss it either. The game has plenty of problem, many that I did not even mention (such as the stamina of the pitcher does not appear to affect their pitching till it drops close to 25%, or the fact that the load time to throw a ball is a bit too long causing frustrations performing simple double plays or even that the colour commenting only get the correct call about half the time), but on the plus side the game offers plenty of features and replay value.
--Brian Wray

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