Even before I became exclusively obsessed with baseball, I used to play sports simulation games all the time. In fact, I can’t even tell you the number of hours I spent playing the old “Championship Manager 93” soccer sim when I was in college. I played other soccer sims, too – my favorite of which was PC Futbol 6.0 which was a Spanish-only game that I stuck with long enough to learn all the way through when I was in Prep School. SO whether it was in English, Spanish or some other language, so long as I had a team to build and players to trade, I played the game.
And truth be told, not a lot has changed today. Even as a husband of one, father of two, I spend countless hours at night playing sports simulation games even though I’ve stopped playing almost everything else. I could care less about Madden. I don’t really like MLB the Show or MLB2Kwhatever. I have an Xbox but haven’t touched it in eons. I installed Windows 7 on my computer JUST so I could play games, and wouldn’t ya know – I hardly play those, either. I get up for Grand Theft Auto every few years and like most everything Rockstar puts out – but beyond that, I really don’t play much of anything anymore.
Everything except of course, sports sims – and more specifically- Out of the Park Baseball.
I’ve played the game for a number of years, having birthed my way into the Baseball sim world with Baseball Mogul – only to find myself finding it completely inferior once I picked up OOTP. I’m a guy who really CRAVES depth and detail in my sports sims. I love 40-man rosters and active rosters. I love having my out of option pitchers duke it out in Spring Training to determine who my fifth starter will be. I like lots of numbers, scouting reports, deep front offices, pay rolls, contract options, incentives, trades, prospects, drafts, rule-5 drafts and everything else under the sun. Thankfully, OOTP has all of those.
So as you can imagine, when I got the chance to review the game’s latest installment – Out of the Park ’14 – I jumped at the chance. And let me tell you – if you’re new to the game or a grizzled veteran like myself, you’re really going to like this year’s version. It’s deeper, easier to use and has a whole swath of new options that are an absolute blast to play with. As someone who’s played these games for a long, long time, Out of the Park ‘14 might be the best sports simulation I’ve played yet.
The look and feel of the game is much better
While the interface is largely the same as previous editions of the game, everything just looks, feels and reacts a lot better. The game reacts instantly to clicks without lag and all the new buttons or options featured in the game are organized and placed into menus and tabs that make sense.
While there still may be a sense of being overwhelmed that will linger for new players; veterans will certainly find the latest version of the game easier to use and far more intuitive than previous iterations of the game.
The STOP OFFERING ME THIS STUPID TRADE FOREVER button.
In past versions of the OOTP, the bad trades that would flood your inbox were like that insane ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend we’ve all had in our lives at one point or another. No matter what you did – whether it was rejecting them or ignoring them – they’d still call saying the same crazy things over and over again. Luckily this year, we’ve got a full-proof restraining order called the ‘NOT INTERESTED’ button.
That means no more Brandon Moss for Jurickson Profar trade offers. No more Scott Downs and Chad Tracey for Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmerman and your top prospects type-deals. Just eternal solitude and serenity should you choose to have it.
Trading difficulty seems way more even-handed.
One thing I didn’t like about past versions of the game was the staggering difference between trading difficulty levels. On fair, you could get top prospects for otherwise mediocre players. But if you bumped it up to hard- you’d be lucky to get B level prospects for top-caliber guys, even if they weren’t that expensive. On very hard – forget it. Trades were for the birds. You were stuck drafting guys with no pictures and being a slave to the almighty dollar for eternity.
This year, the difficulty seems far more even-handed and you get mostly fair offers for players. I played a season as the Twins (or should I say – spent a season tearing down the Twins) and was able to nab both Mike Olt and Leonys Martin in exchange for Joe Mauer and a meaty sum of cash. Summarily, if I wanted Jurickson Profar. The counter offer from the Rangers was that I had to pay a lot more on Mauer’s salary and Profar would be the only player I was getting in return. By baseball simulation standards, it was shockingly reasonable.
Fortunately, that trend kept happening over and over again as I played other games. I had the Royals for a season and Coco Crisp had been traded there the season before I took over. He went off the next year and led the AL in WAR by the end of the season. While I still had him under control, I figured that trading him at peak value was probably for the best, but found the return to be significantly lower that what it would have been in past games due to his age. While it was disappointing at the time, I appreciated the realism.
Speaking of that…
Trades in the ‘shop a player around’ option are much better on the whole
While emailed trades still leave much to be desired, the ‘shop’ function yields far better, more realistic results than it did in the past. Basically, you can forget about trading a resurgent John Lackey for someone else’s awesome prospects. While casual players might find this frustrating, players who’ve been involved with the game for longer will appreciate that kind of realism.
The “Cool, but I haven’t fully grappled with it enough to think I’m getting the full benefit of this new feature” Award goes to…
The International Player Development system!
Your scout now goes off and recruits international kids continuously throughout the year. They get stockpiled in your developmental school and if they pan out, you can add them to your Minor League system. Obviously, the concept itself is a really interesting one, although I’d have to admit that I’ve yet to play deep enough into the game where I’ve been able to take full advantage of it. So instead of going in-depth here, I’ll just mention my passing experience with it.
The first thing I noticed is that it’s harder to find SUPER talented kids. So basically, don’t expect your scouts to dig up Robinson Cano every time they come back from a trip. Instead, most of the players are incredibly poor with the exception of a few who come back at 3 and 4 stars. If you can nab one of those every year or two, they can make a difference. But again – just like real life – don’t expect to turn your development schools into factories that are overflowing with premium talent.
The other thing to keep in mind is that all the kids you get range from the age of 15 to 17, so even when they show talent, they’ll not only need seasoning at your development school, but will likely spend 2-3 seasons in rookie ball as well. Again – this is super-realistic and especially if you’re a person who likes to play tons of seasons with one organization, I can imagine this option is highly rewarding. If you’re only playing a few seasons, it’s not likely to be of much value.
Also, be sure to check out the International Prospects stuff, too. Every year, some highly touted, raw international free agents hit the market. You’ll have to lavish them with big signing bonuses to grab them, but they almost always rocket up your system and end up on your MLB team in short order. If you’re a smaller market team, these guys are a boon.
I love reports and because I do, I love this game
A huge new feature is the Player Development reports which you can have sent to you as frequently or as infrequently as you want. They specifically track which skills have improved and declined among your Minor Leaguers. If you’re a detail-to-detail player developer, you’ll REALLY love this feature as more often than not you’ll be able to compare a player’s raw skill to his statistical performance and sometimes see a much clearer picture of where they are in their development. That means faster/slower promotions, potential position changes, etc. On the whole, it makes player development a much deeper, exciting and more rewarding part of the game.
More fighting with your manager, or less
In OOTP 14, not only will you be able to pick and choose whom you’d put on your roster, but you’ll also be able to decide how to deploy them. If you only want Chris Young to hit lefties, then so be it. If you Javier Lopez to never face another right handed batter, that’s cool, too. Whatever you want to do – it’s up to you.
If you want to really have some fun though, you can leave depth charts, lineups and bullpen usage up to your manager. They’ll almost always do something that is at odds with your decision making and while this is a little maddening at first, it’s hilariously realistic when you’re trying to put together platoon-friendly lineups and Bobby Valentine decides you don’t know what you’re talking about and plays bench bats instead. In some cases, too – the manager will be right – and it’s you that needs to reconsider your position.
Again – while this can be frustrating at first, it makes for a more engaging experience overall. Choosing your manager and coaching staff become serious business, and not just a name to have on the personnel screen like it was in the past.
Just like in real life, you’ll have to find someone that will be more likely to assemble lineups that will reflect the form in which you’ve created your roster. Imagine that. Organizational harmony in video game!
There’s not a lot to be improved, but there are flaws in the game
Trade offers from the computer sent to your inbox still tend to be goofy. On a regular basis I found myself being offered backup/utility/surplus players for packages of top prospects. Like I said, you can choose to ignore certain deals, but it doesn’t prevent them from popping up on occasion.
Also, contract numbers still don’t seem to be quite as good as they could be. Perfect example was me playing as the Mets heading into 2014. Tim Hudson finished fourth in the NL in FIP that year and 3rd in WAR but was available on the open market for… $1,400,000. Meanwhile, Ervin Santana had a bloated 6.00+ ERA, a 5.08 FIP and his asking price? $13 million per. I get age difference and all but yeah… that could stand to be fixed. In it’s defense, it’s better than it used to be, but still is in need of some tweaking. Still it’s nothing that significantly takes away from the overall enjoyment of the game.
Overall, this game is a huge win
If you like baseball and sports simulators, this is simply the best game on the market by far. Not only is the game great on its own, but there’s a massive online community that comes with it – meaning you can use all sorts of mods and if you’re up for the challenge – you can join online leagues. It’s that deep and it’s that good.
So if you’re up for the challenge, scoot on over to Out Of The Park website and grab a copy of the game. You won’t regret it.