I’ve not reviewed a baseball game here since MLB 2k6 on the PlayStation 2, although I’ve put time in with MVP Baseball 2k5 and MLB 2k7. I put this preface out there so you don’t think I’m coming into this cold. Yes, I’ve been to the ‘pen and I’m warmed up and ready to take the mound. Unfortunately, MLB 2k8 cannot say the same. It’s come out a little rusty and gets banged around some, but does manage to stay in the game. Ok, enough sports analogies; let’s get down to business.

2K8 uses a new pitching system that I actually like. It’s a very nice attempt to make pitching a more active part of the playing experience. The new Total Pitch Control has you moving the right joystick in arcs and half-circles to select your pitch. It’s very reminiscent of fighting games like Street Fighter II, actually. When it works, it’s great. The problem is, it’s very sensitive, by which I mean it’s finicky as hell. One time it’ll read your pitch right and you’ll nail the black, and the next it won’t take your release motion and you’ll hang one for the bleacher bums to receive. It’s very hit-or-miss, with a lot more miss then hit, at least until you get better at it. Or, like me, turn the TPC difficulty down. I don’t recommend turning it off, just down.

Batting is little different then last year, in that you press back on the right stick to time your step, and then forward to hit. Unlike last year, though, you don’t have a choice between power hit and contact hit; just releasing the stick will do nothing, you have to drive through the ball now. I like this, since I never liked having to pull back and let go to make a contact swing, so every swing I took was a Ruthian one. That’s eliminated here, so you only have one swing to worry about. It doesn’t help my batting average any, but it’s easier on the mind.

The graphics, in general, are good. My biggest complaint is that the players often look little like themselves. Again, looking back to NBA 2k8, it seems that this is one of 2K Sports’ biggest issues. Luckily the uniforms, stadiums, and fields are all spot-on. As for the animations, they’re pretty good, and I didn’t notice anything during my time with the game that stood out to me. The fact that I can play a game and not think about the graphics because they seem so natural is a positive. One tweak from last year that I like is that the camera tilts up on potential homerun balls so you can see them leave the yard. I always disliked knowing I got a homer only because I saw a shadow on the ground leave the park, which is a problem that goes back over a decade, at least. Now you can see the ball fly and try to tail it at the same time, so fielding isn’t compromised.

The interface is easy to navigate, and uses a top-of-the-screen drop-down menu system. Some things are in odd places, like create-a-player being under extras, but as a whole it works. The franchise mode is well done, with a ton of unique options. I like the option to have users get the first couple picks of a fantasy draft. This is great if you’re playing with your buddies and don’t want the AI stealing all of the stars.

I’m not a big fan of the way they did the trading card feature, even though I like the idea. I would have preferred to earn points with my play to buy packs with, a la All-Star Baseball 2004, rather the earn them one at a time by completing tasks with certain players. It certainly draws the game’s lifespan out, compelling you to keep coming back to unlock all of them, but it also gets very, very tedious.

In the end I enjoyed MLB 2k8. It has some glaring issues, most notably the gimmicky trading cards, the lackluster player faces and the pitching system that doesn’t quite work. Still, though, this is a decent, fun game that is a good second offering from 2K Sports, considering it’s the middle game of their 3-year plan. I hope that they can build on this and that MLB 2k9 can supplant MVP Baseball 2k5 as my favorite 3D baseball title (Earl Weaver 2 is my all-time favorite). 2k8 is fun, and even more so with friends, but not a killer game. Seeing as how it’s an Xbox 360 owner’s only option, I’ll have to recommend it. Alphasim out.