Plugged In

REVIEW: ‘MLB 08: The Show’

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Ken Griffey Jr. steps to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning on a cool May evening in Cincinnati. The Reds are tied with the visiting Chicago Cubs at 4. Griffey, sitting on 599 career home runs, is looking for an inside fastball from reliever Kerry Wood.

Wood delivers. And so does Junior. With the crack of the bat, the camera pulls back to show Griffey admiring his 410-foot bomb to right field. The announcers comment on the milestone homer and Junior’s teammates mob him at home plate. I jump out of my chair in celebration.

This is why I’m in love with “MLB 08: The Show.”

In its second appearance on the PlayStation 3, Sony’s Major League Baseball sim is as close to real baseball as you’ll find on a console. No other title comes close to capturing the drama and excitement of America’s pasttime.

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As soon as you load the game, when you’re treated to a highlight package of a 2007 milestone moment like Tom Glavine’s 300th win or Frank Thomas’ 500th home run, it’s easy to see that “The Show” is made for baseball fans by baseball fans.

That vibe carries over once you begin a game. Just look at the Griffey example. That’s an actual account of a game in my Reds season. I couldn’t believe the commentators were “aware” of the situation surrounding Junior’s home run total. And it’s not just milestones that the announcers will comment on. I played an exhibition game between the Yankees and Marlins and play-by-play voice Matt Vasgersian commented on Alex Rodriguez returning home to Miami. How cool is that?

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Of course, all of the polish and presentation in the world can’t hide sloppy gameplay. Thankfuly, “MLB 08” captures the essence of baseball between the lines, as well. The pitcher-batter duels are especially intense, with 10- and 12-pitch at-bats commonplace. In the field, the player control is tight and the animations are fluid. Baserunning takes a little getting used to, but after a while it becomes second nature.

All of the usual sports game modes like exhibition, season and franchise are here. But “MLB 08” stands out with its Road to the Show career mode. If you’ve never played “The Show” before, RTTS tasks you taking a created player from the minor leagues to the bigs, taking part only in plays that involve your player. This year, it’s a little more difficult to reach the majors, which is a good thing. Also, you’ll have to read signs from the coaches when on the base paths. Road to the Show is deep enough to keep you busy long after the boys of summer have gone.

If you’re a baseball fan, you owe it to yourself to try “MLB 08: The Show.” Not only is it worthy of the title greatest baseball game ever made, it’s well worth the price of a PlayStation 3. I bought my PS3 just to play “The Show.” I can’t think of any higher praise than that.

 Rating: 9.5/10