MLB 08: The Show

The latest version of the Major League Baseball game includes lifelike players who can bunt as well as bat in home runs, and a training mode that lets you improve your skills

Last year, MLB 08: The Show turned out to be a solid game, despite a lack of changes from previous releases. Fortunately, some big changes are on the way in the latest edition, MLB 09: The Show for PS3.

Easier controls will let you throw the ball across home plate with a variety of custom pitches, while using outfielders to catch the ball prevents steals and home runs. For batters, you'll still hammer homeruns (or attempt one, anyway) with the press of a button. Players who prefer the finer subtleties of the game will be able to bunt the ball during a squeeze play.

As far as presentation goes, players look more realistic than ever, thanks to personalized animations that give them a lifelike quality. Even the umpires act realistically, rather than stoic figures that simply call a ball or a strike. The fields look outstanding, right down to the cheering (or jeering) fans and the dancing mascots. Finer details were also added, including the field condition (depending on weather) and Jumbotron animations. The interface proves easies to comprehend, telling you what pitches or batting options you have available. MLB's audio is equally good, with a three-man team of Rex Hudler, Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell covering the action, and a SportsConnect feature will let you to listen to real-time games once the season kicks off this April.

In addition to the pre-set audio options, you'll be able to tweak the experience with My MLB Music. You'll upload selections from your PlayStation 3 hard drive to use as your player introduction music. So, if you ever wanted a big-leaguer to walk into the park with "What Is Love?" playing in the background, here's your opportunity. You'll also be able to customize Custom Fan Yells and Chants. Simply use your Bluetooth microphone to record what you want to say, and set it up for a particular scenario or player on the field. At last, the chance to tell Alex Rodriguez how you feel, without the danger of being thrown out of the park.

For the first time in Sony's MLB series, the new interactive training mode lets you hone your skills in a number of categories through mini-games. You'll increase your accuracy and power with each of these events, improving your big-league status along the way. You can also practice the new steal/lead-off system, as you work on your timing for crucial base steals. During each of the training events, coaches will be on hand to give you tips and help you improve.

Franchise Mode, a signature part of the Show, has new improvements. The 40-man roster enables you to build your ideal baseball team in any way you see fit. You'll tweak such finer items as salary arbitration, waiver transactions and September call-ups, just in case you need that extra little push for the World Series.

PlayStation Network fans will love the inclusion of Online Season Leagues. These include a fully interactive draft and the ability to Flex Schedule, in case you feel like skipping unimportant match-ups. The Mets don't stand a chance against the Red Sox anyway. (Or do they?)

The PlayStation 3's hard drive also allows you to save your own custom replays, showing them to friends whenever you wish, and you can tweak the roster online or off through the Roster Vault, then share it with others to see what they think. Highlight Reels and In-Game Saves are also available.

Although not everything has changed in MLB 09: The Show (from what we've seen), it looks like another quality baseball game. We'll be back with a review once it hits shelves next week. Swing, batta!

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.