Initial impressions of MLB 2K8

Posted March 5th, 2008 at 4:19 am


After spending a lot of time playing MLB 2K8 yesterday I was able to compile my early thoughts on the game. Going in I had somewhat low expectations and that is probably why I feel at least somewhat pleasantly surprised. There are certainly a laundry list of issues but I’ve still found it to be fun to play as well as going through the process of learning and getting comfortable with the new mechanics. However I think over time that feeling is going to wear off as the problems become more frustrating and harder to ignore.

The game is taking a lot of heat right now and while some of it may be deserved it seems a little on the harsh side to me. Part of that is probably due to resentment over how the game was essentially hidden prerelease. Very few videos were put out, only a couple sets of screenshots, and the demo was submitted too late for it to be out prior to the release of the actual game. Then there was the news that reviews had been embargoed until release date (but that is something that isnt’ all that uncommon).

Sure there was a lot of talk about the game but people started to pick up on how little was actually being shown. I had hope that this was due to the difficulty in demonstrating the new mechanics (which were the main upgrades being touted) through videos. But then once I started to get the hunch in early February that the demo would likely not be out until right before or possibly even after release of the game that was a big warning sign. So that may be why I am enjoying the game for what is is so far because I wasn’t expecting to be blown away but I still wanted to give it a chance.

The most pressing issue with the game is the framerate. As I pointed out following the conference call with Ben Brinkman his tone and the way he worded his response to the question regarding the framerate lacked confidence. At that point it was obvious it was going to be a problem and that the small sample of videos out showing it were representative of the final product. As soon as the ball is hit into play its noticeable and annoying. While it doesn’t really affect the result of the plays it is bothersome that they couldn’t get the game running smoothly and it takes away from the experience.

The new pitching mechanic using the right analog stick is at least interesting. Working through learning the system is actually pretty fun and rewarding. At the same time I can understand why people would give up on it. Even after hours of playing I’m still making mistakes and paying for it. The movements have to be so precise that those mistakes happen too often. There have even been times where the movement hasn’t registered resulting in an easy to crush meatball that shouldn’t have been. It also means you have to focus so much on the movement of the stick that less attention is paid to actual placement and it isn’t as easy to react when the ball is hit. I’ve seen people calling the right stick pitching a gimmick and others touting the innovation of it. I fall in between those two beliefs in that it isn’t a gimmick but it probably wasn’t necessary. This ultimately may turn out to be the Madden Vision Cone of the 2K baseball series. Innovation just for the sake of innovation. An idea that had good intentions but just overcomplicated the game and wasn’t needed.

Probably my favorite new aspect of the game is throwing to the bases with the right stick. It feels really natural and the meter works perfectly. When I switch over to playing The Show that is the thing I miss most. The baserunning continues to be very easy to control and the new pickoff camera is pretty neat. I also like the intuitive nature of making diving or leaping plays in the outfield.

However the game really suffers from a poor hitting system. The majority of contact results in fly balls and right now I’d estimate that happens probably 80% of the time. The main way to induce grounders seems to be off perfect pitches as anything other than that results in the ball being lifted. So far I’ve seen a good deal of homeruns but the hitting variety is vastly improved from last year despite that. It is a worry that against another user I’ve found an awful lot of homeruns being hit, but against the CPU at least it is toned down some compared to last year. I haven’t seen many traditional singles except those that go right back up the middle. Since the system is predominantly timing based it feels so random and disconnected. Also the CPU throws almost all strikes. Pitch counts generally aren’t going to be very realistic because of the urge to swing and the lack of any reward for working the count (if you could even get the opportunity to do so). For me all of this means I don’t take as many pitches because I have to commit to the swing earlier (even though the pitches are a little easier to pick up vs last year). It’s time to scrap the swing stick and go back to the buttons as the standard method of hitting.

The trading card system is something I’ve been looking forward to. Reaction has been split going in with some people like myself anticipating the achievement angle as well as the opportunity to use card teams online. Others again think of it as something designed for marketing purposes. So far I’ve unlocked a couple cards and I like that it makes me want to play with different teams. Unlocking the cards though hasn’t been as exciting as I thought it would be. I was hoping for a notification to popup on screen or something along the lines of that. Some of the tasks required are frustrating to even imagine attempting while others are pretty easy. I guess that opens up the possibility of trading or getting them in packs. While it’s good that I’m wanting to play more games and with different teams I also find it changes my habits and I start concentrating on the individuals and trying to meet the card requirements instead of just trying to perform well and win the games.

While the commentary is unchanged from last year (Tampa Bay drops Devil from their name and they didn’t even re-record that they just edited the word out) there are some presentation elements that I really enjoy. One is the win probability and game recap that follows the end of the 7th inning. I also like that they go back and show replays of big plays from earlier innings and it’s usually the the ones you’d want to see.

There are a couple of distracting oddities I wanted to point out. What is with all the flash bulbs in the crowd? I was trying to bat at Safeco (roof closed) and could barely concentrate with all the flashes in the background. I definitely find that terribly annoying and unrealistic. Also after an out players who are out of position stand there and then all of the sudden sprint back. I usually think it’s someone on the other team trying to steal because the movement just comes from out of nowhere. It just looks really bizaare.

I got into one online game which did have some slight lag. I was worried going in that the new pitching would make any lag even more difficult to deal with since the movements have to be so precise. However I was able to time the pitches relatively well but at the plate with the swing stick you have to commit so early that it becomes a guessing game and skill goes out the window. The more lag there is the more evident that will be. I’ve read that many people are experiencing lag issues so I guess that means 2K8 joins The Show with disappointing online performance at release. 2K has the better track record in this area though so I expect improvement will be seen there. 2K8 does have a wide array of options and modes including setting specific lobby rooms (bummer they’re all unranked) and the card team battles but the removal of sliders from leagues is a curious decision.

This writeup doesn’t even contain all of the notes I took since I started playing MLB 2K8. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing but it just seems easier to spot and explain what there is to like and dislike about 2K8 as compared to my impressions of The Show. I think that probably has to do with The Show being such a genuine baseball experience while 2K8 has gone with more dramatic analog motions which require all that extra concentration.

Overall I’ve found the game to be fun despite all the issues and my gripes with it. The problem is that I get the sense that is going to wear off relatively quickly. Look for a 2K8 vs The Show comparison article by the end of the week.