What is it? The best baseball management game ever made, with real teams dating back from the present day to 1871.
Developer: OOTP Developments
Publisher: OOTP Developments
Release: Out now
Expect to pay: $40/£28
Reviewed on: Windows 8, Core i7-4770K, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer: Up to 30
Link: Official site
For developers, creating an annual update to an already-revered sports management sim is a bit like advanced Jenga. They’re expected to deftly pile on an abundance of heavyweight new features, without troubling the foundations of success. It’s especially difficult for a game such as Out of the Park Baseball, considered the most accomplished offering in its particular discipline for nearly a decade. So to say it plays just like last year’s outing is in an obvious complement, but also a subtle criticism.
No sports game ever—including the ever-vaunted Football Manager—has afforded so much control to the user. Matches can be played in an array of ways—3D, top-down view, text commentary, radio commentary, any variation of the above—and cleverly offer the same sense of engagement no matter your level of experience. Never played before? Set all options to auto, advance between pitches by tapping the space bar, and let the AI make decisions for you. Want to oversee every last pitching change, fielding substitution, and baserunning decision? The field is yours.
In both cases—and all variations in between these extremes—there’s an astounding statistical similarity to real life, with every eventuality thrown up at least once or twice in a 162-game campaign. You consider packing things in after a couple of defeats to unfancied teams, only to swear yourself to OOTP and OOTP alone when a 9th-inning, two-out home run seals an unlikely comeback win against the best team in baseball. It really, really is just like the real thing.
How can any this be considered a negative? Because every last word was true of OOTP 16. Indeed, I could have cut and pasted the entire review of that game here and been happy that it provides an accurate verdict. I’ve no hesitation in recommending this to anyone new to the sport, or genre, who wants to dive straight into the best of the best. For those who took our advice this time last year—doing exactly that—the discussion becomes more complex.
Changes are present. Everything runs a touch more swiftly, which makes a difference when tackling a full season. The default skin utilises a neater interface too, with vital manager options streamlined into a home screen drop-down menu, and more peripheral needs relocated from the top of the screen to its right-hand side. Another neat revision, but taken in isolation not one which should cause you to re-invest.
Of more note is the instant text-based recap which accompanies your scorecard at the end of every contest. This sounds like the most trivial thing—an automatically generated match report which translates numbers into words—but it makes a huge difference in terms of believing you’re in a real game world. Some of the player quotes could be snappier—‘Bogaerts attributed the win to “a well-rounded effort by the whole team”’—but pro sportsmen aren’t exactly famed for their erudite post-game analysis, so perhaps such perfunctory nuggets are a deliberate nod to reality.
As for modes, the big new addition is the ability to replay any past World Series dating back to 1903. It’s an impressive developmental feat, and a commendable addition to the returning option to start the game in any year as any team, but once you’ve set right the failings of your real side (for me, winning the big one with the Red Sox in 1986 as if Bill Buckner’s infamous error against the Mets never happened) appeal is limited. If you had the time it might be fun to play them all in succession and compare against reality, but that would take months—if not years.
What will appeal most to returning fans are updated rosters, team logos and the like. Although these elements should be a given for any sports game that wishes to be taken seriously, OOTP presses hard for perfection. Licenses for both MLBPA and MLB.com mean real badges are used for even the most anonymous of minor teams, while ‘facegen’ technology—essentially, an accurate render of the relative player’s mug—enables them to visibly age season after season. The dev also promises to update every roster to exactly match real life come opening day (April 5th).
While it mightn’t pile on the new features to any noteworthy level, the salient point is that those delicate Jenga blocks remain snugly in place. A wealth of up-to-date licences and attribute ratings make OOTP 17 an essential purchase for the devoted player, while newcomers will swiftly grasp, and love, its relentless brilliance. For those not fussed about having, say, megabucks import Kenta Maeda on the Dodgers, the message is stick with last year’s. But whichever bracket you fit into, know this: whether this year’s or last, even the most minor of baseball fans needs to be playing OOTP.