Ah, baseball. America’s favorite pastime. Loved and played worldwide.
Having always been a fan of the NFL [it’ll be okay, be patient!], I have probably played every American football simulator ever made. However, if I recall correctly, the only baseball game I have ever played was on the original NES, somewhere around a hundred years ago. That said, I have always kept track of gaming and gaming news, at least, ever since the Stone Age. Out of The Park Baseball (hereafter referred to as OOTP) has always had quite the positive reputation and I feel extremely honored to be able to review it for B3.
Now, I just have to see if the legacy lives up to the hype!
While there will be literally thousands of choices to be made, I will have to make a few, right off the bat, in order to be able to come out swinging. [Oh no! it feels like I might be throwing out baseball puns]. If I want to play the latest (2017) season, the first thing I have to decide is which league I want to play in, from twelve (!) possible choices – in addition to the possibility to play in more than one at a time.
The leagues range from American Major League Baseball, to various leagues from around the world, to the World Cup of Baseball. Something absolutely fantastic that I will point out right now is that this game is authorized by MLB. If you have ever played a sports simulation that is not officially endorsed by the pertinent league or association then you will realize how truly important this is (so I don’t have to play as the Maryland Oreos, the Pennsylvania Scallywags, the Lubbock Grenadiers, etc.). Not only do I get to use the official teams, logos, colors, etc., but also the true rosters as well. Even when I choose to play in MLB, within that league I can also pick to play anywhere from various Rookie Leagues all the way though AAA, including all of the steps in between. Just barely into the game, I am completely impressed with the amount of barely-surface-scratched options. Additionally, I can play as historic teams and/or past leagues or set up historic games, using teams and leagues from completely different eras (from 1871 to 2016). More, and extremely impressively, I can even create an entirely fictional league with my own made up—well, everything: rules, teams, leagues, logos, players, rosters, etc.! Having played millions of games over thousands of years (note: I never exaggerate), this easily the deepest database I have ever seen in a PC game.
The next very important preference is how involved I want to be in the decision-making process. My options are: General Manager; Manager; or both GM and Manager. General Manager is more for making the overall, large decisions of my organization—the Big-Picture guy that deals with all of the finances, hiring and firing, scouting, trading, team development, etc. Contrastingly, the Manager is the main ‘coach’ of the team, the down-on-the-field guy, running the games on a play-by-play basis. He performs the more detailed tasks like when to relieve pitchers, batting orders, how often to steal bases, lineups, substitutions, etc. Being a glutton for punishment and wanting to get the most out of the game as possible, I chose to do both. Let the statistics (pop) fly! [phew, I’ll try better] OOTP also gives me the ability to name myself and choose my ancestry from most countries I could possibly even name. Included with those three game-position options is also the ability to play in Commissioner Mode where I can adjust the settings to all teams and players. (I would imagine that would be a way to make a Super Team with Super Players.) Personally, I left that one unchecked for a bit of a bigger contest, unlike the presumed brutality of Challenge Mode. Finally, there is a “Cannot be fired” button that can be checked so that no matter how poorly I do, I have the ultimate in job security. (I left that one unchecked as well. Living on the edge! [of the baseline])
Before proceeding with every game, Challenge Mode is automatically offered. What it does is disable a lot of features like Commissioner mode, the player editor, league settings options and rules adjustments, as well as some of the AI team control settings. I will have to make an online profile, but then I can also earn different achievements to compare with other players worldwide. Being brand new to the game, I decided to skip the Challenge Mode in each of the games I started due to the additional complexity while also not having nearly as much control.
Since I just mentioned the various formats/positions, yes, I started multiple games for comparison purposes. My ‘main’ game, as both GM and Manager, is with the Cincinnati Reds of MLB. My OOTP General-Manager-only game is as the GM of the Alpine Cowboys of the Pecos League, a part of the US Independent League. My Manager-only game is coaching the Midland Rockhounds of the AA Texas League (not a Rookie league, yet not quite AAA). Yes, that is a lot of leagues and sub-leagues, but it is not really as hard to keep track of as it seems. Plus, as I play each game, there are reminders, tasks, and emails as to what my goals are, provided by whoever is in charge above me (for example: as GM and Manager of the Reds, the team owner tells me his priorities; as Manager of the Rockhounds, I answer to the GM, etc.).
As for playing the game, after a lot of familiarization with the interface, it is about making decisions when needed (or simply when wanting to), then advancing time in whatever increments I am comfortable with. Choices can obviously be made while paused. The game can be run in real time too, with options to run it at different speeds as well: all the way from 2x as fast as normal to 300 times regular speed! I can simulate an inning, an entire game, or even an entire season, with the game automatically pausing when a crucial option is required from me. Just as easily accessible is the opportunity to watch every single play of every game (as well as provide input, if I’m in the Manager role).
As the GM and Manager of the OOTP Cincinnati Reds, my owner has tasked me to: 1. Play close to .500 this season 2. Upgrade at Left Field and 3. Keep building up my team in order to reach the playoffs in the next five seasons. My innate competitiveness makes numbers one and three relatively automatic. My major concern then, outside my inherent passion for winning, is to shore up Left Field. When I’m not in the middle of a game, then I’m using all my available resources to scour for a good-to-great leftfielder. I send scouts to gather information (scouting reports) on specific individual players. I look through my own minor leagues’ players to see if there is someone worth promoting. I watch other minor league players, the free agent lists, and trade markets/offers, etc.—just searching for that elusive lefthander.
Unfortunately though, as in real life, I made some bad decisions along the way. For a little while, we were playing at and a little above .500. Sure, I could (try to) blame the batting coach or the Assistant GM, but ultimately all decisions fall on my balding-ball-capped head. Then, we started to get decimated with injuries. For a while, I was just trying to keep enough players on the roster—pulling people up from the minors, signing people I probably should not have, etc. I was merely trying to keep the ball rolling, which it did, a lot, rather than being knocked out of the park.
By the time the All-Star voting was in, we were in last place, 33-55 (.375—oops) and 23 ½ games behind. However, it wasn’t all gloom and chew. I did end up getting my starting Shortstop into the All-Star Game roster! OOTP stopped automatically and was making a baseball card. I had no clue as to why because I had not asked for one to be made. However, it seems the program automatically makes one when a special event (like an All-Star game appearance [*pats self on back*, *hurts bad shoulder in process*]) happens. It took a little bit of time, but was worth the wait and surprise.
As you can (hopefully) tell, I have really enjoyed what little I have played of OOTP (only about 10 hours so far). However, since I mentioned the time and waiting, I should now point out its major drawback. Assuming it is due to the sheer amount of information contained, the game, especially initially, loads excruciatingly slowly. Having been a teacher, I have patience with many and various things. Nevertheless, an exceedingly long load-time for a game is not one of them. When I first brought it out of the bullpen to try it [not bad], I even checked the task manager a few times to make sure it did not say “not responding”. Yes, it was that slow. Having said that, once it is loaded and running, it runs really well. I experienced zero crashes. The only time I was the tiniest worried was when it was making that baseball card (and, it said at the top that it was doing so). Also once it is running, it does not take long to switch to and load other games I currently have going. Additionally, when any screen is loading, baseball trivia runs at the top, so at least you have something to read while it is loading.
There are so many other things I know that I have forgotten that add immersion to the game. The ability to order and make my own ‘baseball cards’. The ability to view teams and leagues from Google Earth! I choose players in the Draft. I pick the Strategies for various parts of the team (or relegating them is an option as well) I am involved in player development. I decide who plays where in the minors. The sheer volume of information and choices is unprecedented.
If you are a fan of baseball, statistics, micro-management, or any iota of a combination of those, then this is the game for you. Being someone that enjoys the minutia of piddling with every, single detail, OOTP is right up my line drive to center. However, for people that are more hands off, or are only interested in controlling a few aspects of baseball, there are a plethora of settings that they can let the AI handle. A person only has to put a glove on what interests them and can let their underlings/coaches manage the rest.
I still need that leftfielder, but now I have to go figure out what is wrong with the rest of my guys, besides the beaten, broken ones. Maybe I can keep my job if I can get us up to .400 for the first season. The depth, complexity, and thus eternal replayability of the game’s engine are what provide the allure for infinite, personal stories—more so than any other sports game I have ever had the pleasure of playing.