World of Warcraft, The Sinking Ship (Part 1)

Disappointment. Unpolished. Repetitiveness. Frustrating. All words that in one way or another summed up Sony’s attempt at bringing an exhilarating baseball experience to the Playstation 3 last year. Not only were Playstation owners forced to wait six weeks into the regular season to get their hands on the game, but upon arrival, fans were met with whitewashed character models, even worse stadium textures, and a multitude of AI issues. So when SCE Studios San Diego told us that MLB 08 The Show would feature over 500 more animations, shift its development focus more on fundamentally sound gameplay, and feature a deeper more in depth Road to the Show we expected nothing less than a truly immense baseball experience. Expectations were not only met but surpassed resulting in one of the best sports sims of the past decade.

Visually, the game has undergone vast improvements from last year’s debacle. Everything from lighting to character models looks amazing. The way the sun ripples off the creases on a player’s jersey, the direction the brim of their hat shades the sun from their eyes, it’s all present. Even Stadium models look as if they were completely built from the ground up. Travel to Shea Stadium, and in the distance, you’ll see construction going on at Citi Field, readying the park for a 2009 opening, cranes moving and all. You want more of an in-depth fan reaction to keep you engulfed in the experience? Try and spot one of the many beach balls being tossed about in the stands, or a brief scuffle for a passing foul ball. Player interaction is also a thing of beauty. If you let the game stand for a short while, a video will cut to players engaging a variety of different actions all pending on what inning it is. In the beginning of a game, players stretch to stay warmed up, as opposed to later innings when they can be caught mingling with base coaches and even playing guitar with their bats as the opposing catcher attempts to get the crowd into it. The addition of all new camera angles and replay videos from all aspects of the stadium also adds to the overall depth of the game. With Dave Campbell, Rex Hudler and Matt Vasgersian all returning to anchor the announcing crew, MLB 08 The Show easily becomes one of the most embracive baseball games of all time.

New features in this year’s version of MLB The Show include the more than welcoming addition of an in-game save option. This allows users to save their progress at any point during their game, which is one of, if not the most important feature that’s been missing in past sports titles. Playstation 3 owners that are dying for custom soundtracks will also be happy to hear that you’ll be able to upload any song saved on your hard drive into the game. Only problem is the songs are limited to menus only, so those hoping for Big Pappy to walk into the batter’s box with Kanye West blaring through the stadium speakers will have to wait until next year. Sorry! Rounding out some of the new features is the Replay Vault, with searchable content sorted between innings, players or teams. Whether it’s a home run or a simple force out at second, you’ll have the chance to add it to your highlight reel.

Still not convinced? We haven’t even begun to dive into what makes MLB 08 The Show such an engrossing title. What makes a game truly great is longevity without repetition. Most sports games allow the user to play one or two seasons before they usually get bored, make blockbuster trades one after the other and be forced to wait until next season for the passion to come back again. We’ve all been there, but this is where MLB 08 continues to shine. Not only are players welcomed with Quick Game and Exhibition options, but you’re also given the opportunity to participate in multiple modes such as Franchise, Season, Manager, Rivalry and of course Online, not to mention the franchises claim to fame, the Road to the Show. Among these options lie some of the key features that make MLB 08 The Show such a captivating game.

Pitcher & Batter Analysis easily becomes one of the must use features of this year’s game. Everything from tendencies to strengths is shown for both the pitcher and the batter at all times by simply pressing the select button. Pressing L1 once more brings up the ability to search between each team’s pitcher, then view statistics ranging from pitch count, strike percentage and opponents batting average all based off batting stances, single pitches, and even fielding situations. Pretty neat huh? Well don’t get too excited, because the fun doesn’t stop there. Another great stat tracking option is the all-new Progressive Batting Performance Feature. Available in Season mode, this component tracks every batters performance at the plate, and in turn, rewards or penalizes them based on how they are playing. Colored icons will also begin to appear with certain players who aren’t performing well and vice versa, allowing you to step into your managerial shoes and make easier game time decisions. Most ‘Show’ owners from last year could also tell you how annoying it was to guess which home runs could be robbed and which ones were sure things. Well since the ongoing theme of this year’s game is fix what’s broken, why not tweak this as well! Instead of the traditional fly ball marker, MLB 08 introduces a timer mark with circles that clears as the ball comes closer. Time your jump as the last circle disappears and you’ll snag yourself a homerun.

This year’s Road to the Show also sees some new additions starting with the new career advancement system. Once you create your player, which features some of the most in-depth character customization options of any game, your player will be giving certain goals based on his skill set to improve your character as the season moves on. Complete the goals assigned to you and it could lead to an early path towards stardom in the major leagues. Failing them might just keep you in AAA a bit longer. Apart from this, your player will also be held accountable for more in game responsibilities throughout season. Covering bases on steals, knowing how to field a bunt correctly, even reading signs from your third base coach are all crucial to making it in the big leagues.

If online competition is what your thirst for, don’t think SCE Studios San Diego forgot about you guys or new features to add to this mode as well. New to MLB 08 The Shows online campaign is SCOUT (SportsConnect Online User Tracker), a settings feature that allows players to search for opponents based on difficulty, innings and player ranking allowing users to find games fast. With the addition of SCOUT, online players are also graced with the presence of game rooms, chat areas, real time leaderboards, online player cards and 30-team online leagues. MLB’s In-Game Ticker also makes a comeback allowing avid baseball fans to follow their favorite teams by providing real time score updates.

Of course with every great game comes at least a few mishaps. Some of the quirky player animations are still present including the shortstop’s delayed throw to second base with two outs. Pitchers also seem to have a tough time fielding balls that are hit right up the middle. With those same hits, I’ve noticed that the second baseman and shortstop seem to lag a bit before deciding to run full speed once you highlight the player, eventually leading to a shallow single. Also, as a Brewer fan is it too much to ask for Bernie Brewer to slow down a bit while attempting his home run slide? He makes it from top of the slide to the bottom in about two seconds flat then freezes in a hunchback position that makes it look as if he threw out his back in doing so. Minor stadium and uniform tears also occur to round out the dislikes section, but in retrospect it’s nothing to go crazy about. And yes, for those of you still wondering, I was joking about the Bernie Brewer remark (Or am I? See for yourself…)

All in all, the experience MLB 08 The Show gives users is unparalleled and unmatched compared to all other baseball games. Depth alone is one reason Playstation 3 users should give this one a shot, let alone many of the great features the game includes. If you’re a sports enthusiast who’s been waiting for that one sports game to come along on the Playstation 3 and absolutely blow your mind, this is it. So, lace up your cleats, throw down that rosin bag, and enjoy MLB 08 The Show because nothing gets you closer.

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