Major League Baseball 2K8 - hands-on

2K Sports refines the ol' ball game, gets thumbstick happy

Now that football season has ended, it%26rsquo;s about damn time America%26rsquo;s got it%26rsquo;s priorities straight and focused on hot dogs, apple pies and shagging foul balls. 2K Sports hasn%26rsquo;t forgotten what the ol%26rsquo; red, white and blue is about and has worked tirelessly on adjusting the finer points of new baseball sim, Major League Baseball 2K8 (aka MLB 2K8). Set for release on March 4 - just in time for spring training - 2K has spent the year tweaking everything from throwing the ball to swinging the bat. Honestly, about the only thing that hasn%26rsquo;t changed is the fact that the player%26rsquo;s still wear hats and make ungodly amounts of dough.

Perhaps the biggest change 2K made was its pitching game, which deviates from boring, old school button tapping; i.e. choosing the pitch, then throwing. To begin your wind-up, pull the stick back and a transparent circle pops up with a smaller circle inside it. The smaller circle begins to expand. Once it touches the larger circle, a quick swish of the thumbstick (the gesture is different for each pitch) causes the smaller circle to rapidly collapse into a "bulls-eye" that appears at its center. When the shrinking circle reaches the same size as the bulls-eye, you release the stick and watch the batter whiff trying to lay wood to your filth.

Admittedly, the pitching is a bit tricky and takes some getting used to but it does feel more natural and makes you earn every pitch. Thankfully, the option%26rsquo;s there to go old-school with button presses, but where%26rsquo;s the fun in that? What%26rsquo;s slick is that gestures correspond to how they%26rsquo;d be thrown. For example: pull straight back and push forward for a Fastball. To throw a Slider, pull left and then push counter-clockwise like you%26rsquo;re throwing a Hadouken. A neat touch is that your pitcher has a confidence rating for each pitch. The higher the rating, the better he throws it.

Batting is similar to throwing a fastball. Pull back on the right thumbstick just as the pitcher%26rsquo;s arm reaches the top of its arc and push forward right before the ball crosses the plate. If you hear a sharp "crack," then you%26rsquo;re well on your way to becoming the next Sultan of Swat. Again, timing is everything in this year%26rsquo;s MLB, so you may have to play a few exhibition games before launching into Franchise mode.

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