The MLB 2K series has been around for a few years now, and there have been mixed feelings about it since the beginning. The gameplay has generally been solid, albeit choppy in some cases. The presentation has been decent as well, but there really isn't much to compare the series with anymore, aside from Sony's MLB: The Show, which is only on the PlayStation consoles. This year, 2K looks to improve on last year's entry in both presentation and gameplay. The results are mixed. They make the game more enjoyable at times, but also extremely... annoying at times.
Some of the problems from last year are fixed. The solid menu system and pre-game animations are back, and the great stadium environments are all back. Unfortunately, for every positive element or great addition to the series this year, there is a drawback that simply cannot be looked past. Most of the problems are with the way the game moves along as far as the animations and graphics are concerned. Every time a batter is coming to the plate, the game skips and sputters, and sometimes even freezes for about 5 seconds before jumping to the batting view. This happened about 3 or 4 times per game, and by doing some research, I found out that this is a universal problem. The game skips when the fielders are running or throwing the ball, or even when the ball is in the air. Sometimes the game even sputters when your infielder is about to field a ball, and before you know it the ball is through his legs and into the outfield. Some games are worse than others, but it's always there. It feels like you're playing with a scratched disk, except you're not. It really is a big problem that greatly hinders the experience. Well, I think that's enough ranting for now.
There are some new additions to the game this year that are actually very solid. The biggest of these is the brand new pitching mechanic. This year, instead of pressing one of the buttons to choose a pitch, you'll be using the right analog stick in different motions to execute your pitches. Most involve pulling in one direction, and either twisting or pushing back in another. For example, to throw a fastball you simply pull back on the stick, wait for the right timing, and then push it forward - and wait for the right timing again - and then release it. Curveballs and sliders, for example, will have you twisting the stick around in a circular motion. It's worth noting that this system is not easy to get used to. If you want to master it, then you'll have to work at it for at least several hours, but it is quite rewarding when you do. At first, however, you'll be serving up a lot of meatball pitches that will get walloped. This makes pitching a much more interactive experience, and hopefully it will be developed into baseball games in the future. If you're not a fan of the new system, you can of course go back to the button press pitching system taken straight from 2K7.
Along with the pitching, the swing stick and throwing have been adjusted as well. To hit, you simply pull back to load up the swing, and push it forward to swing (aiming if you want). There isn't any contact swing or anything. It's all about timing. Again, if you don't like it you can always go to the good ole' button press swing. Throwing is also executed with the right analog stick. To throw to a base, you simply push the stick in that direction, wait for the right timing, and let go. If you let go too late, your throw will have a higher chance of being inaccurate. All of the right stick-executed parts of this game take some getting used to, but they all are solid, and I think we'll be seeing them in baseball games in the future.
There are a solid amount of options to keep you busy in MLB 2K8. You've got your Play Ball if you want to jump right into the action, but there is of course your Franchise Mode as well, and it's much improved from last year. There, roster, contract, and player management are deeper than ever, and you'll have control of every aspect of your organization. You'll be able to set ticket prices, see how happy each player is with their role and with the team's success, and change your lineups for every situation. A completely new addition this year is the playing card mode feature. As you play more and more games, gain achievements, and do certain things while controlling certain players, you will unlock playing cards for different players. The more cards you collect, the more things you can do with them. You are able to pick a roster from your owned cards and take them on the field and play against other teams. It is a nice feature, and it will give you some more incentive to keep playing and unlocking.
On the graphical side of things, 2K8 looks pretty good for the most part. The stadiums are a highlight, with all the pro fields looking just like their real-life counterparts. The player models in and of themselves look great as well - the batting stances and body-types all look great. It's when everything goes into motion that the problems begin. The same problems remain from the last few years. Fielders and base-runners still run right through each other, and fielders will occasionally face the fence and throw the ball to the infield (maybe that's a new skill I'm not aware of).
The sound is another one of the highlights of MLB 2K8. The crowd sounds good, the baseball sounds are realistic and spot-on, and the announcers are back from last year and bring some surprisingly non-repetitive color-commentary to the game. The soundtrack is a bit weird, with mostly indie-type music making up the track list. I'm not quite sure why they went that direction, but I guess someone out there must like it. I don't happen to be that someone, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say they probably should have gone in a different direction with the soundtrack.
The online mode is relatively unimpressive. Eighty to ninety percent of the time, online matchups are plagued with sputtering and lag. It's a real shame it's not smoother, because baseball is one of those games that can be very tense and competitive against another human player. Every once in a while you'll get a smooth game, but it seems to be rather rare.
MLB 2K8 is one of those games that hurts to play because you just know it could have been so much better. The makings of a great game are all here, but it ultimately fails to reach that status. Don't get me wrong, lovers of the genre will find some fun in this game if they can get past the hiccups. The sputtering animations, choppy gameplay, and overall feeling that the game simply needed more time and work ultimately hold back what truly could have been a great virtual playground for America's pastime.