I’ve reviewed Out of the Park Baseball several times in the past and have enjoyed every iteration of the game. With a baseball simulation where there is a yearly update, it’s not so much about how it plays—it’s been a fantastic sim for almost as long as I can remember—it’s about the updates. To us baseball geeks, it’s not unlike the Madden franchise for console gamers. If you bought last year’s edition, you’re asking yourself if it’s worth your cash for the new version. Or do you just hold onto your money and keep playing an older copy of the game? That’s what this review is about; are the new features and improvements enough to recommend buying this game, even if you have OOTP 12? After spending several hours (my wife isn’t happy) playing OOTP 13, I believe I have your answer.
Let’s start with what’s new…
Obviously, for returning players, the first thing you’ll notice is the overhauled interface. Sure, you may have loved the old one, but this is computer gaming; if things don’t change, they go stale. If they go stale, they lose sales. And we all know what happens after that. Sometimes, a new interface is met with resistance from the hardcore fans and, other times, it’s welcomed. I can’t speak for all the hardcore OOTP players, but I found the new interface to be refreshing. The icons move from the bottom to the side, where they’re much more accessible, while everything you need is at the top under five simple, easy to understand buttons. Honestly, within minutes of firing up the latest version, I didn’t miss the old interface at all. It felt natural. To quote one of my personal favorite computer guys, “It just works.”
While the new design is part of the overhauled interface, the development team created a ton of goodies for you to explore. The homepages, specifically for the league and your team, are laid out in a manner that is much more streamlined and which includes info that is relevant to your team. On the team page, it includes up-to-date standings, the upcoming schedule, team leaders, rankings, injuries, and a section listing who’s hot and who’s not, plus minor league info. It sounds like a lot, but there isn’t an ounce of clutter on the page. I visit here often to get a general overview of my team.
(Yes. You’re reading that correctly. I led the Royals to the postseason. And yes, that achievement is going on my resume.)
The league homepage is useful as well, featuring league leaders and the top news of the day, along with a tabbed window for items such as standings, transactions, or a milestone watch. It would be great if the team and individual league leaders section on this page featured a hyperlink to the full screen leaders page, but it’s a minor detail. There’s a button for the leaders on the right of the screen anyway.
Another enjoyable feature of the new interface is the newspaper page. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a single landing page featuring up to nine articles at a time about your league. Again, it may sound like a lot of info for one page, but it’s laid out (with team logos and photos) in a manner that doesn’t feel overwhelming in the least. It’s the little things that really add value to OOTP 13.
Hands down, the new interface is a home run. It’s intuitive and extremely pleasing to the eye. There’s nothing I miss about the old one, and there’s nothing I feel is missing in the new one.
Real Time Simulation Mode
Say it’s the last day of the season. Two teams are battling for the final spot in the postseason in both leagues. Wouldn’t it be cool to watch the simulated action unfold in real time, just like we were able to watch at the end of last season? (I mean if the Red Sox are collapsing, I’m watching.) OOTP 13 has created just the engine you’re looking for with its real time simulation mode. For each game on the schedule, you can decide whether to play them out in real time, starting with the East Coast action and heading west. Now, if you don’t want to take six hours to watch OOTP sim one evening (Hey, I have real baseball to watch!), you can speed up the sim, ranging from double time to 300 times faster.
This is an interesting feature, but aside from the pennant-deciding situation I described above, I can’t really imagine using it all that often. Simming, even at double speed, is way too slow, and kicking it to 300 times speed is crazy-fast. If you’re going to do that, you may as well not even enter the mode. There may be a sweet spot somewhere in between, but with up to 15 games a night, it’s just sort of impossible to keep track of everything and play a timely sim. Plus, the real estate of the game window limits you to viewing four to six games at once, divided evenly between the leagues. It is kind of cool that you can jump in and out of games, but this seems like a novelty. At least it’s a novelty I can easily ignore. Other than checking it out once or twice, I generally skip this feature.
Random Historical Debut
One of the best things about OOTP is the customization of the game. The developers upped the ante in the latest version with the random historical simulation. In this mode, players enter the draft pool at random times. For example, in one draft you could find Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, and Albert Pujols. And if you’re running your historical sim with the hitting and pitching factors that mirror the year, you could basically see someone like Pujols ply his trade in the dead ball era. Or Williams in the most recent era where hitters were favored. And if you’re playing with the financial coefficient in place, if Pujols is playing in 1910, he’s getting paid like it’s 1910.
This is something you may never touch in the game. I know some people don’t care about running a historical sim—they’re only in the game for the current roster—but give this a try. Baseball is all about the history, and it’s a blast to search the draft database for surprises in each class. You never know who’s going to pop up at any given moment. In my random historical league, Cecil Fielder was drafted in 1901 and played alongside Preacher Roe. Fielder hit 16 home runs that year and led the league. Hanley Ramirez was a beast in 1921. And Ty Cobb played for my Royals.
This may have been in the game last year, but I had a heck of a time finding it—and never did—so this feels new to me: the ability to start a 2012 game and release the player universe into a draft pool. Basically, take all the players, jumble them up, and start from scratch. I don’t know why this feature appeals to me so much, although I am a Royals fan, so maybe that says something. If you set the budgets to include a salary cap or if you decide to eschew financial constraints altogether, you can draft and field some fun alternate teams.
Also new is an improved “storyline” feature, where you have a chance to interact with a player. Say you have a hot-headed player on your club and he’s repeatedly lashing out at fans, teammates, and managements. After a few notes in your inbox, you may be asked to respond after the latest outburst. In this situation, you could suspend him, put him on the trading block, or do nothing. The great part is that each decision has consequences. Depending on your team and your action, your players may have a positive reaction, where they rally around you, or there could be negative consequences where a certain players may lose a little motivation. Storylines have been around for a couple of versions of the game, but this is the first time they have been included as an interactive feature.
The good news is that even with the attention to some great new features, all the other elements that have made OOTP so great in the past remain in place, such as the usual ways to customize the game and the detailed stats (including pitches seen, wOBA, FIP, VORP, and range factor—it’s just a cornucopia of statistical goodness). The depth of the real rosters have been improved with what feels like the most complete set of player ratings yet. An issue in the past was how the game valued middle relievers. They’re not as overvalued anymore. The AI for trades has been tightened, making it much more difficult to fleece a rival owner—which is a very good thing.
The customization is off the charts amazing. Don’t like the DH? Eliminate it. Not a fan of the new collective bargaining agreement? A simple click rolls back time. Do you think players should be free agents after two years of service time? Do it. Think the outfield walls need to be moved in even further at Citi Field? Go ahead and set the power alleys to 350 feet. And if you think Casper, Wyoming is deserving of a major league team, in less than a minute you can move the A’s to their fourth location in team history.
After 13 versions of OOTP, the latest iteration is the most complete baseball simulation we’ve seen to date and is well worth the money. The improvements made in the past remain in the game while the development team has worked to strengthen the product even further. It doesn’t matter if you bought the game last year or haven’t purchased a version in the last five seasons.
OOTP 13 has raised the bar to a Matt Kemp-like level of greatness. It remains the Triple Crown of computer baseball sims.