This is actually the third season for the current generation of video baseball games, given the Xbox 360’s head start with Major League Baseball 2K6 way back in ’06. It’s the second season for Sony’s PlayStation 3 versions of their own baseball game. As such, it would be plenty understandable for Sony to choose to put all of their effort into the PlayStation 3 version of the game, leaving the PlayStation 2 version behind. They could have gone the EA route, putting out almost exactly the same game as last year with updated rosters, put it out at a budget price, and been done with it.
Of course, given the number of late adopters who still haven’t hopped onto the PS3 bandwagon, it’s also plenty understandable that they didn’t quite go that route.
Major League Baseball 2K8, as you might have read via today’s review from Jason Cook, has chosen to take the path of innovation, completely overhauling pretty much every aspect of baseball gameplay that we have come to know. The hitting, pitching, and even the fielding in 2K8 features a heavy reliance of the capabilities that modern controllers wield, capabilities that the classic baseball sims never truly even tried to take advantage of. MLB 08: The Show for the PlayStation 3 features highly developed online modes, hard drive-utilizing features, and all kinds of the extra features one would expect from a PlayStation 3 baseball sim. The PlayStation 2 version of the same game, however, might just be perfect for the players weaned on Bases Loaded and R.B.I. Baseball, a classic experience with updated graphics and just enough game modes to keep you happy if you’re in the mood for something new.
The reason MLB 08 works for the classic players is that its primary game mechanics will be extremely familiar to just about anyone. Sure, it’s a little bit more advanced than “press ‘A’ to pitch”, but not all that much. You’re still swinging the bat with one button. Fielding feels as natural as it ever has, because you’re doing it in ways that you recognize. There’s no new paradigm, no new control ideal that must be learned; even without a look at the instruction book or an ounce of experience, you’ll be able to step right in to MLB 08 for the PlayStation 2 and be able to play. You’ll probably lose, yes, but you’ll be able to play.
Where Sony chose to improve the game is in ways that help the digitized men in the game to perform better. A pitcher can study a hitter’s tendencies, and a hitter can study a pitcher’s. A fielder can use the wall to his advantage to jump up and rob a home run. These are things that improve the experience without necessarily taking away from the pick up ‘n play scheme. It eases you in to the new features, as once you’re used to the basics, you can slowl y introduce the more advanced play styles to your arsenal of moves. The fantastic “Road to the Show” play style has been updated as well, as the success/fail dynamic of the tasks your manager gives you aren’t quite so cut and dried as they were before, which makes the play experience less discouraging.
As such, it’s obvious that Sony didn’t put the full-on effort into the PlayStation 2 version of MLB 08: The Show, not like they did the PS3 version, anyway. What they came up with is entirely the polar opposite of the Major League Baseball 2K8 approach to baseball, subtle tweaks that improve the game rather than overhauling.
In short: it’s the perfect baseball experience for the ex-core PlayStation 2 owner who just isn’t quite ready to move to “next-gen”.