MLB '08: The Show Review (PSP)
There comes a time when every franchise hits a wall on any given platform, and the folks at SCE Studios San Diego have seemingly hit that wall on the PSP this year. MLB '08: The Show is now in its third iteration on the PSP, and while MLB '08 is still entirely competent and polished, any gamer who has played the previous two versions may feel a sense of déjà vu while playing the '08 version of The Show.
So what the question should be to any veteran of the series out there is, are the incremental improvements and gameplay tweaks and fixes -- or lack thereof -- enough to warrant a purchase? Hopefully I can help clear up that question during the course of this review.
But before doing that I want to make one thing clear: if this is or will be your first time playing The Show on the PSP, then you should be pleasantly surprised by all that’s crammed onto the UMD.
The Show has always delivered a consistent experience on the field, constantly striving to be a pure simulation, and the PSP version is no different in this regard. The user still gets a few too many hits and it’s still way too easy to steal a bag but what’s at the core of experience is retained, take it or leave it.
A big issue in the '07 version of The Show was the framerate dip that popped up once the ball went into play. Thankfully that issue is long gone and now fielding is not held up by the stuttering framerate, allowing the user to appreciate some of the new animations that made it into the game this year. The new fielding animations are especially noticeable during some of the new diving plays and during different throws -- no longer does every fielder crow hop for example. The “new” feeling carries over to the hit variety, which has been supplemented with things like dribblers.
It’s telling though that I have a hard time detecting other differences on the field. I certainly notice the increased amount of statistical overlays and pitch/swing analysis offered by the game; but, in-game it’s hard to find things that have been tangibly tweaked or are newly immersive. Now sometimes games can get away with incremental improvements because something outside of the gameplay is greatly improved, such as the graphics. That’s because -- sticking with graphics as the example -- sometimes a huge graphical leap will make you appreciate the game all over again.
But even though The Show brings nothing like a graphical leap or a new deep mode (aka Franchise mode) to the table, the game still for the most part gets away with being routine because the on-field action is still so consistent.
This type of consistency also carries over to other areas of the game, except not in a positive way. During the past three years The Show has had trouble realizing the fact that it’s a handheld game.
In trying so hard to live up to big brother console the series has constantly overlooked pick-up-and-playability. Not in the oft thought about gameplay area though, rather the portability area. This has been somewhat remedied over the years due to the ability to turn the PSP to sleep mode whenever and wherever, and this year there’s even an in-game save system if you don’t want to waste the battery life.
Yet things like exorbitantly long load times have always remained, as well as a lack of things that can be accomplished during a short play session. Most of the time I wouldn’t even rail on load times, even on a handheld where it’s a somewhat important factor, but in this case it negatively affects something that could be done in a short play session -- a game or two in the Road to the Show mode.
If it takes a longer time for the game to load the before and after than it does for me to actually pitch an inning as my closer, that’s a problem, and not one that sleep mode or in-game saves can really cure.
The load time problem is most likely a hardware issue as much as anything else, but it’s magnified because such long load times make me not even want to in-game save (the game quits out after), rather opting for the standard sleep mode. And also since there’s really no quick mini-games or quick pay-offs outside of the incumbent Home Run Derby or King of the Diamond it’s hard to find something worth doing if you only have a bit of time to spare.
Now if the tone seems more negative than positive at this point that’s intended. I’ve played the game a bunch during the last three years, and refinements to the Road to the Show mode or the added custom soundtracks option this year while appreciated aren’t exactly what I look for in terms of yearly follow ups. So this article is as much a review as it is a warning that in the future this will no longer be acceptable.
It doesn’t change the fact that the game is still incredible on the field, and I can for the most part handle playing more of the same for one more year, but it’s time to make some changes starting next year. Those new to the series will love this game; those who’ve played it will still probably enjoy it too, but with the hope that next year something big changes or something important is added.
On the Field: The same great action that any Show fan has grown accustom to. One beef is that it's still hard to see the accuracy point on the pitching meter.
Graphics: The graphics are middle of the road. There’s some screen tearing and aliasing issues and I wish I could see the pitching meter more clearly, but the player models look good while animating.
Sound: A good soundtrack, plus the added bonus of custom soundtracks is now available. The trio in the booth have some new lines as well, and most of what makes the console version great in this area is carried over to the PSP version.
Entertainment Value: Road to the Show mode has improved goal requirements and the overall presentation in this game is impressive. I wish there was more to do and quickly accomplish in 5-10 minute play sessions though.
Learning Curve: The game should be easy to pick-up if you’ve ever played in the past. There’s the new pitcher/batter statistical analysis and the Progressive Batting Performance -- where your players will play a bit better or worse depending on whether or not they are on a hot or cold streak. The fielding mechanic is still too simple though as you only have to press the right base button and the game does the rest.
Online: Some guys like Dan Haren are still hard to pitch with online but the fact that you can still get MLB news on the run or new roster updates on a handheld is still amazing to me even a few years later. There’s still an option for online leagues as well.