EDITOR'S NOTE: A couple of weeks ago I was approached and offered a review copy of Out Of The Park Baseball, but my schedule hasn't permitted me to spend the kind of time it would take to give a fair review to a game that appears to have as much or more depth than any other on the market. Thankfully, a friend stepped in to help: Noted dachshund owner and Parcheesi enthusiast J.D. Fox of The D-Plus Sports Advantage has already spent countless hours on the new game, and penned the review below. - KL
As we approach the All Star break, the time comes for every fan to begin contemplating the season and asking the simple question "what if." What if Zach Greinke was available on opening day? Would the Brewers have four more wins under their belt? Are the current batting struggles of guys like Carlos Gomez, Craig Counsell, and Casey McGehee permanent, or will they turn it around? If April had gone differently, would the Brewers be running away with the NL Central? The average fan may say to themselves, "why ask these questions? We will never be able to find out the answers." That may be true, but you can figure out what the answers could be by playing the latest version of Out of the Park Baseball, the game dubbed OOTP '12, which arrived to hungry gamers and baseball fans this week.
A lot has been said in the online gaming community, especially the baseball simulator community, about the lateness at which this game arrives every year. This year, the development house at Out of the Park Developments (based in Germany of all places) took on the task of a mobile version of the game (iOOTP '11, available on the iOS platform), which garnered great success, but also pushed the main game back to mid June. But, like its forerunners, OOTP '12 is simply the best baseball simulator on the market, and this year's improvements more than make up for the wait. Before I talk about improvements, a lot of people reading this may be asking "what is a baseball simulator?" To describe it in video game terms, think of the Franchise mode that is available in MLB the Show or MLB 2k12 as a starting point. First, remove the graphical components of the game, and the human factor of actually moving characters, swinging the bat, or exactly placing the pitch. In its place, add in the most complete set of customizable tools to take control of a team, from both a general manager and manager standpoint.
As a general manager you can control every part of the franchise, from the finances of your teams payroll, to complete control of your entire minor league system. Scouting directors, minor league hitting and pitching coaches and managers all become a part of your star prospect's development. This leads to the choice of forgoing a big money free agent to spend money on your "Player Development" budget, and allow for the continued development of guys like Erik Komatsu, Mat Gamel and Tyler Thornburg. You have the option to control the day-to-day lineups of every team in your organization, the pitching rotations and tendencies of each team (do we pinch run for our slow-as-molasses star slugger when he gets on base in the 8th inning of a tie game?), or leave it up to each individual manager, who comes with their own set of tendencies that you can review before hiring or firing them.
You can play this game as the 2011 Brewers, as OOTP '12 comes preloaded with this seasons opening day Major League rosters. But that is only one of many game scenarios that you can play out in OOTP. Historical leagues allow you to replay any season from 1871 to the present, taking control of a beloved franchise from a down or up period in their existence and trying to begin or extend a reign of terror on the rest of your opponents. Want to play in the dead-ball era, but make the ball act like you are playing every game in Coors Field pre-humidor? This game allows you to adjust the statistical outputs so that you can make that a reality. Do you want to make up your own fictional baseball universe with teams all over the globe? The fictional league mode of the game has a great depth as you uncover players from all over the globe. Whether you make a 10 team league in Wisconsin or a 50 team league worldwide with 8 levels of minor leagues, the world adjusts to whatever you create.
Follow the jump for more.The biggest variation between players in OOTP is how they decide to play out the games in their particular league. Some players take on being a manager, where you often start in the minor leagues (although you can start with any major league team if you want by skipping the minors) and have the option to control every pitch, sign and portion of in-game strategy to help your team win close games. If you want to still have control of the game, but wish to have them go a little quicker, a one-pitch mode is also available where you set a strategy for the at-bat (sacrifice bunt for instance) and only the results of the pitch where the ball was put in play will appear in the text-based play-by-play of the game. Some players of the game won't even play games as they happen, instead simulating them in chunks of time (10-15 games) and making changes based on injuries and tendencies as the season progresses.
The depth of this game, from the amateur draft in June to the Rule 5 draft in December, allows the diehard fans that firsthand general manager experience from the comfort of their own home. If you miss the thrill of competing with your friends the game's online league mode allows for you to compete with your friends in any sort of league you wish to play, from present day to historical to fictional. This is where I personally spend the most time with the game, as you can see the progress of your team while spending 30-45 minutes a week setting lineups, sending players up-and-down and watching the waiver wire for players who may help your team. Trades against other real people in this mode brings a satisfaction that I can't often find sending a trade offer to a computer controlled team in one of the games other game modes.
New features for OOTP '12 are not as plentiful as in years past, but they still fix several issues a lot of players have with the game. The biggest new feature for me this year was the games inclusion for the first time of retro-active disabled list assignments, along with the addition of rehab assignments. A lot of long time fans of the game are also excited about a new automatic calculation system for stat outputs, meaning if you want the league batting average to be .255, you type that into the box and it adjusts all the modifiers of the game (pitching, hitting and fielding) to get you the desired outcome with as close a proximity as possible.
Now while I claim this to be the best baseball simulator out there, it is still not perfect and contains certain flaws that may drive some players crazy. Being at most times a two-person development house, rosters are not always as accurate out of the box as they could be. By that, I mean that all of the players are there and in the right places, but sometimes the players skill level differs from in real life, and contracts are sometimes incorrect. The game does have a commissioner mode that allows one to fix these issues themselves, but over time that may annoy people. Also, every year, the first release of the game tends to be a little buggy, and one must rely on patches for the first month or two to fix issues as they pop up. That being said, I think this game has a replay factor and a great mod community that comes up with fun and exciting ways to play the game, from the addition or real pictures and logos to recreations of history that they export and you can play out for your own leisure. The depth of this game also is why I think it has a leg up over competitors such as Diamond Mind, Baseball Mogul and the online version of Strat-O-Matic. I would give this version of the game a 9 out of 10.
OOTP '12 is $39.95, and is available in Windows, MAC and Linux formats. The game can also be downloaded and played as a demo for a limited period of time.
As a postscript, I simulated the 2012 season from the beginning (I apologize in advance), and the Brew Crew ended up 76-86. Braun hit .355 with 21 HR's before a July injury cost him the rest of the season. Both Gallardo and Greinke finished the season with 17 wins, while Axford finished with 31 saves.