Take me into the ball game

Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2008

Since there isn't much controversy surrounding baseball these days outside of Topps no longer packaging gum with its cards, we figured we would focus our attention on something truly newsworthy: "MLB 2K8." Last year was a winning season for 2K Sports' long-running series, as it showed off an unprecedented level of player detail (Derek Jeter - polygonal heartthrob), but there were aspects of the game that either didn't work as well as they should, or were clearly dragged over from the previous generation.

Mcclatchy Newspapers
Mcclatchy Newspapers

This year's effort addresses all aspects of the game, and in many cases, completely reinvents them. While still embodying a similar batting experience, the majority of the game feels like a whole new ballgame. To put it in a way that will likely make all 360 owners panic, there is so much content included in this game that parts of it won't even fit on the Xbox 360 disc.

For the future of video game baseball, 2K Sports no longer sees button pressing as part of the equation. Last year's analog swing set the table for what is now an all-analog game. Pitching now takes a steady hand and a skill in spinning the ball. Each pitch, be it a fastball, curve or slider, requires a unique motion. By pulling back on the right analog stick, the pitcher will begin his windup, which activates a circular power meter. Once the meter reaches the desired level, the player must then complete the motion for the desired pitch. Since pitchers excel at different deliveries, the motions vary, but a fastball is generally a simple down-to-up motion. Curveballs, as you would imagine, require a rotation of the analog. Failing to replicate the motion will result in an easily crushable meatball, while a slightly imperfect gesture will send your pitch off-course. Also, if you felt that pitchers fatigued too quickly last year, 2K has retuned the mechanic to be more realistic. Aces will be able to throw complete games without fear of dying.

Batting also has received attention, although you might not notice it. Last year, players could only make contact on three different frames, whereas this year, the window of hitting has expanded to 12 to 16 frames. This has the effect of making at-bats much more natural, and allows players to protect the strike zone by fouling off pitches they previously would have whiffed on.

There's no denying that last year's game of fielding was also flawed. Most plays, even casual fly balls, seemed to require a highlight reel-worthy catch. As fun as it was to watch your player make an idiot out of himself, the animations in this year's game are spot on. On grounders, you can really see the new ball physics in play. Another interesting addition is the ball locator meter disappearing as your player sprints - a decision 2K feels represents the player taking his eyes off of the ball. This can make for some exciting plays in the outfield.

The best part of the game in our opinion, however, derives from our childhood of collecting baseball cards. "MLB 2K8" is now entering the world of collecting with an in-game 459-card set. You can either buy packs or earn one card at a time. For instance, to unlock the Josh Beckett card, you must throw seven shutout innings with said pitcher. Cards can be traded online, and they can also be used to create a unique team for use in multiplayer games. Salary caps will prevent you from assembling an all All-Star squad, unless you earn platinum versions (which greatly reduces the salary of the player). There are three types of cards: platinum, gold and the lowly black. As the year rolls on, 2K is planning to release two additional series of cards (including a set much like Topps Traded).

If you are a 360 owner wondering what is missing from this version of the game, never fear, 2K is planning to have all of the missing content available day one via download. This content consists of unlockable stadiums and Cool Base alternate jerseys.

"MLB 2K8" is available just in time for spring training. (And this concludes the first steroid-free baseball story since 2002.)

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