Double-Header: Games Hit It Out of the Park

By John Gaudiosi
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 28, 2008

The congressional hearings on steroid use are over, and the boys of summer are ready to play ball. For those who love America's pastime, video-game baseball offers the big names and stadiums, as well as authentic gameplay, minus the controversy. There are two new releases, and they're available across all platforms.

MLB 08: The Show

When it comes to Sony's game consoles, no one does baseball better. MLB 08: The Show excels on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and PSP, making it a must-buy baseball game. From the lifelike facial features (right down to Todd Helton's beard) and fluid on-field movement of the high-definition PS3 game to the depth of the PS2 and PSP versions, this Show is definitely worth the price of admission.

Sony knows its audience and speeds up the sport with the perfect blend of arcade action and realistic simulation. In the simulation department, umpires have distinct personalities and call games differently. Unique animations for each player bring such details as a batter's stance and his home-run celebration to life.

You'll also get every statistic imaginable as well as data showing players' tendencies.

Sony has improved the "Road to the Show" mode, which lets gamers put an avatar into the game and work their way up from the minor leagues by performing specific offensive and defensive feats in shortened, action-oriented games. This mode alone is addictive, but the game also includes "Franchise," "Season" and "Rivalry" modes (relive those Sox vs. Yankees series). Kudos for being able to save a game at any point and come back later, which more sports games should offer. In fact, the only thing holding this title back from pitching a perfect game is shoddy collision detection, which sometimes results in players running through each other.

Major League Baseball 2K8

The only way to play a simulation baseball game on Xbox 360 or Wii is with the Major League Baseball 2K franchise. 2K8, available across all platforms (including Sony's consoles), offers a mixed bag of gameplay.

The Wii version, the first simulation offering for Nintendo's popular console, hits one out of the park on the first try. Anyone who has played Nintendo's pack-in game Wii Sports Baseball knows that pitching and hitting is just plain fun with the motion-sensor controllers. 2K Sports brought this to life with its arcade game, The Bigs, and has added physical play to the full baseball simulation. Pretty much everything from the next-generation versions of the new game are in the Wii version except online play, the new virtual 2K Cards, which allow you to unlock All-Star teams, and the ability to play in the minor leagues (90 teams and 20 stadiums are in the next-gen editions).

When it comes to the other versions of MLB 2K8, the Xbox 360 game has the best visuals, but the game suffers from jerky camera movement, which is worse on the PS3. And although player visuals are lifelike and the stadiums are gorgeous, the same details aren't always in place for animations, and the crowds look terrible up close.

What's new are analog stick controls for pitching plus improved batting and fielding and base running. Although these controls work well for pitching (a fastball is a slow down-to-up motion) and hitting (it's essentially a mini-game within the game), the fielding and base running takes time (and outs) to get used to. The old-school button options are still available, but it's nice to add real skills to this virtual sport with the analog sticks.

The bottom line: If you have any Sony system, pick up MLB 08. Otherwise, MLB 2K8 is solid on the Wii and offers enough depth on Xbox 360 to play until next season.

MLB 08: The Show Everyone; PlayStation 3 ($60), PlayStation 2 ($40), PSP ($40) Sony Computer Entertainment America/SCEA San Diego Studio Major League Baseball 2K8 Everyone; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 ($60); Wii ($50); PlayStation 2 ($30); PSP ($30)2K Sports/2K Los Angeles MLB 08: The Show Everyone; PlayStation 3 ($60), PlayStation 2 ($40), PSP ($40) Sony Computer Entertainment America/SCEA San Diego Studio

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