There are a few other ways in which Road to the Show could stand to be improved. Although the games in this mode take less time than a normal game, they still take too long. This is partially due to the excessive load times before and after each game, but it's mostly because of the time you waste standing on the basepaths watching and waiting for the hitters behind you to make contact. It's achingly boring to get on base as the lead-off man and then stand there for another 20-30 pitches with nothing to do. It's realistic, but it's terribly uninteresting. Fielding (which is fine in the traditional mode of play, but was problematic in Road to the Show last year) has been improved, and you can now see the ball easily and earn some points for positive plays, but it's still far from perfect. The artificial intelligence hardly ever throws anybody out, so running to cover second on a steal attempt is pointless. There are also too many ground balls. In the 100+ games we played, we handled exactly five pop-ups and one line drive. Lastly, your play in the field doesn't really seem to matter. You can go the extra mile and make a diving catch, or you can let the ball trickle through, but it never comes back to help or hinder your career.
If slogging your way through the minor leagues isn't your cup of tea--and unless your name is Crash Davis and you're trying to woo Susan Sarandon, it probably isn't--there's plenty of value to be found in MLB 08's franchise mode. Here you pick the team that you'd like to run and then you're presented with a series of goals that you must reach during the duration of your contract. Goals include: have a team batting average of .250 over two seasons, win two division titles, turn a profit, or make the playoffs. These objectives vary from team to team, so if you're taking over the sorry Tampa "maybe if we drop the Devil you'll like us more" Rays, then you won't have the same expectations placed upon you that you would if you were with the Yankees. Speaking of the Yankees, MLB 08's franchise mode lets you micromanage your team to such an extent that Hank Steinbrenner would approve. The draft, training, rehab, contracts, facilities, marketing, and banking--all the day-to-day aspects of running a ball club--are in your hand. We're still disappointed that you can't play anything less than a 162-game season because of the serious time commitment involved if you play all of your games, but Sony has added the ability to save midgame, which is a big help when you don't have time for a full game but still want to make some progress.
Like an outfielder fielding a lazy fly, MLB 08's gameplay is as smooth as butter.
One area in which The Show stumbles a bit is multiplayer. You can play a single game, play in a league, download rosters, share sliders, instant message, and more, but lag makes the online experience less than ideal. If you're serious enough about baseball to commit to an entire online season, you're going to have to be willing to concede a few plays a game because of the lag and periodic hiccups that occur during most games. Two-player games on one system aren't really an ideal substitute, either. Given that the Dual Shock 2 lacks rumble, you have no way of knowing where the edge of the strike zone is when you're pitching, unless you pick your location while the indicator is still visible. Of course, that gives the pitch's location away to your opponent, who can guess its location before it's thrown. This is a problem because guessing a pitch's type or location correctly causes the CPU to automatically throw the pitch for you, which means that you're left as a spectator.
MLB 08's presentation isn't flashy, but it's beautiful nonetheless. Player likenesses are the best of any baseball game, and there's no shortage of individualized swings, stances, and pitching styles. The ballparks all look fantastic, and not just the big-league parks, either. Even the minor-league stadiums look great and are full of character and style. Players and stadiums are things that most sports games do well, but it's the little touches that The Show gets right that make it so attractive. You won't notice many of these instances right away, but you'll come to appreciate them as you spend more time playing. You'll see fans batting beach balls around in the stands, players will pull pranks on each other in the dugout if you leave the game sitting for a few minutes, and third-base coaches will tap-dance out of the way of foul balls hit sharply in their direction. Player animation is outstanding and the transition from one to the next is generally seamless. Here, too, the game does the little things right. Not only do players react to and field a ball in a lifelike manner, but they also follow through in a manner equally as accurate. If you scoop up a lazy ground ball and casually toss it to first, it looks just as realistic as a player scrambling for a hot shot and then firing it off to first base while he's off balance. It's rare that you'll be 20+ hours into a sports game and still find yourself impressed with new animations, but it happens here.
The Show's audio sneaks up on you and then continues to impress in a similar way. At first the commentary comes off as accurate but nothing special, and you'll probably be a little annoyed with Rex Hudler's non sequiturs. Then, as you continue to play, you'll notice how Matt Vasgersian is always right on top of the action; how Dave Campbell has an uncanny knack for recalling previous at-bats for players; and even how Rex is right when he chastises hitters for laying off pitches at which they should have swung. Their commentary even helps the gameplay. MLB 08 has realistic umpires, each of whom has his own unique strike zone. The broadcasters are all over this and quickly point out when an umpire has expanded or contracted the strike zone. It not only makes you aware that, yes, the umpire did just call that strike a ball, but also that you need to be aware that this will probably happen the rest of the game and adjust accordingly. The rest of MLB 08's audio is of a similar high quality. Fans have specific chants for their team and react realistically to what's happening onscreen. The sounds of the game--the crack of the bat, the sound of a player sliding into a base--are all spot-on as well.
It's the little things, such as players goofing off during breaks in the action, that make 08's presentation stand out.
Instead of adding new content or reinventing the wheel, the developers at SCEA San Diego refined things they were already doing right, and in the process made a great game even better. Hitting, pitching, and fielding all look and feel fantastic. There's no shortage of ways to stay busy, whether you want to run a whole team, follow the career of a single player, or manage a game from the dugout. It's a shame that, even after another year in development, Road to the Show isn't quite as refined as the game's other aspects, but it's still an interesting mode that generally manages to be enjoyable in spite of its flaws. If you're looking for a great baseball game that covers all the bases, look no further than MLB 08: The Show.