2K Sports comes to the Xbox 360 scene with their unique translation of this summer’s baseball: MLB 2K8! While that label has been undoubtedly predetermined, the core performance of the game is not yet written in stone, up until the moment we received a copy a few weeks ago. After days of fielding, pitching, base running, and hitting both line drives and homeruns, we can say to you that MLB 2K8 is an entertaining commodity, but will need further improvements to become a top notch sports title in its class. Like a new vehicle, MLB 2K8 starts off well and astounds us with a flurry of dynamic ESPN-style presentations and true-to-life offensive and defensive mechanics. Not only the game is preloaded with standard licensing of MLB players and ball clubs but also comes with a fairly updated roster.

The most attractive feature of MLB 2K8 is the pitching system. The developer has found an innovative way to utilize the right stick for throwing a type of pitch using a particular thumb motion. For example, you hold the right stick down then up to execute a fastball. For a curve ball, your range of motion start by going down first and then slide the stick to the left in half circle going up. It’s easy to learn the mechanics; but if you’d to study some more, just go to the game’s tutorial section. Graphically, MLB 2K8 has its shares of visual brilliance and rough edges. First, the batting and pitching animation are very smooth, and the same can be said about the game’s fielding aspect. It’s nice to see those incredible catches like diving to stop a sacrifice fly or jumping off the wall to rob somebody an automatic homerun! Thanks to the picture-in-picture feature, both throwing and stealing bases are relatively simple to execute.

In addition, MLB 2K8 has implemented some wonderful weather effects that include a showcase of transitional time for days and nights games. It’s easy to tell that the developer spent a great deal in adding tremendous details in animation as we have discovered plenty of visual niceties along the way. You’ll see athletes dust off their cleats as they adjust their stance on the plate. You’ll also see relief pitchers warm up as they are called into the bullpen to get ready to close up gaps in the score board. After some heavy base running, dirt stays on player’s shirt for the duration of the game. In windy condition, you’ll see the batter’s uniform flapping a lot. At any given time, you’re treated to fan cam and statistical overlays. These overlays are at the forefront of crowd attraction that makes MLB 2K8 more pleasing to play.

The game’s TV-style presentation captures many of baseball’s thrilling spectacles. The different camera angles produce various highlights of America’s favorite pastimes, including real-time sports updates, such as the distance the ball traveled after clobbering it out of the park, or the total homeruns earned in 2008 season as you make rounds to touch all four bases. Upon stepping onto the plate, you also receive various individual statistical ranks that measure where you are in the league such as your slugging percentages against left and right pitchers, your last record at bat, hitting streaks, etc. While MLB 2K8’s TV-style presentation draws in some form of baseball pleasures, it is by no means seamless. Many of the in-game cutscenes undergo technical glitches. This happens when the game switches between highlights in the current inning where the frame rates tend to be jerky at times. It’s also worth noting that the camera does not perform a good job of following the homerun ball.

The rest of MLB 2K8’s graphics are respectable to say the least. The crowd reaction is okay for the most part; they clap to cheer their home team and stand up when you hit a homerun. Player models look excellent in terms of physical appearance; muscles are nicely defined but the faces are somewhat unrecognizable when up close. Players do express some emotions particularly with pitchers when a hitter gets away with multiple RBI’s. Sometime a coach will come out of the dugout to have word with the pitcher. In the batter’s side, a player will react in frustration after getting called for strikeout. Sometimes he’ll give the umpire the “What in the hell” look! Other dynamic content includes bats being broken after a hard pitch and players sprain ankles from bad collision. In the managerial department, you take control practically everything that is best for your team, from pitching rotations to manipulating ticket prices.

As far as gameplay goes, you get great vision of the field and a dynamic cursor helps pinpoint where the ball is going to land. The game has a nice pitching system where the developer has installed a much realistic pitching mechanic other than just pressing a designated button. However, the so called 2.0 stick feels somewhat broken with the batting situation. The timing to make a simple ball contact is quite frustrating but fortunately you can always go back to using the original batting control. In terms of AI, the computer players react to your plays accordingly. If you’re the kind of player who likes to steal bases, you can count on being picked on a lot by pitchers off the mound. We have also learned that batters contact areas are reduced whenever you don’t make a base hit. To improve your offense, you should really invest in “Inside Edge”; it’s a tool that allows you to scout abilities of the opposing team.

Needless to say, the replays on after-touch pitches are a nice visual feat, exhibiting different plate angles of how you’ve skillfully captured a perfect strike. What’s interesting is that between pitches, you have the ability to improve your attributes on your pitching arsenal in real time by nailing those payout performances marked by a red box. It’s disappointing that there is no turbo in this year’s version of MLB but the developer has offered virtual baseball cards collectibles in place of that. Different baseball cards are unlocked depending on how you performed on the field. So you might have to navigate through the game’s menus to find out how to unlock certain sport cards as it contains some list of requirements. As far as commentaries are concerned, they are right on cue but they use the same dialogues way too often! Fortunately, the sound effects fare better than anything else in the audio department.

What’s the bottom line for MLB 2K8? Well, it definitely has a strong set of creative visuals and incredible gameplay mechanics, but certainly a bit off in delivering smooth transitional in-game highlights. The best part of the game is the pitching system and the robust player and team customization features. It has good fielding controls and realistic animation. We love the TV-style presentations although they were jerky at times. Still the game had plenty of visual details to show off like a pitcher showing some discontent after a scored run. This is certainly a game that maximizes its marketing potential as we see a number of advertisements for Chevy and State Farm tag along the homerun walls. Needles to say, we had some fun times with MLB 2K8 despite the difficult new batting scheme. We are hopeful that next year, the next 2K label will have smoother cutscenes and much friendlier batting system.