This review of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) 14 is divided into two parts. The first part talks about the game itself and is best read by those who are new to this game series. The second part discusses OOTP 14 as an upgraded version of this long-standing baseball simulation game’s last release, OOTP 13 and will delve into the changes and improvements made from last year’s edition.
I have been playing OOTP Baseball since version 12 and have been mildly addicted it to it ever since. While I primarily play version 13 in online leagues, I played version 14 in solo games and therefore, I can’t comment on online play.
Out of the Park Baseball
The OOTP Baseball series is a robust, statistics-based baseball simulator that makes for one of the deepest baseball management experiences available. It beats the management modes of MLB 2K games and MLB: The Show hands down. Do not mistake OOTP for one of these games; you do not control the players’ actions yourself. You only act as the General Manager and/or field manager for your team, but trust me. That’s more than plenty.
The game can be very overwhelming at first, especially if you’re not familiar with baseball. I can only imagine what a newbie might think when loading up the game: it must be similar to what I thought when I tried to play Football Manager. I was WAY out of my depth as someone who only has a passing familiarity with soccer (living in Europe for a year forces you to pay some attention).
Baseball is the perfect sport for this type of statistically based game. To paraphrase fictional pitcher Billy Chapel,* “It’s baseball. They count everything.” For statistical geeks who want to know not only what happened but how and why, OOTP makes it easy to dissect everything that goes on in the game. Despite being developed by a German company, OOTP offers deep statistical reports and analyses that give the player no end of information to pour over.
What makes OOTP so overwhelming at first is its flexibility. There are many ways to play, and even within each way, there are a huge variety of variables that you can choose to set that will shape the way that your world operates. Don’t like the DH? Get rid of it. Want to play with historical rosters and rules from the dead-ball era? Go for it. Want to create a completely fictional world with independent leagues, minor leagues, college and high school leagues, a complete Japanese league all within a single world? You can do that too. Want to play on your own or online with friends? It’s all up to you.
As a GM/Manager you are responsible for all aspects of player acquisition, lineup management, pitching rotation management, and promotion/demotion, all while keeping an eye on your team’s financial health. OOTP is fully customizable, enabling you to delegate any tasks that you just don’t want to deal with. And when I say “fully customizable,” I mean it. You can tinker with game strategy and lineup settings for hours, and scour waiver wires, free agent lists and trade possibilities for days. In addition to the ability to run the overall franchise, you can enter the individual game mode where you can take over the manager’s role, choosing strategies with each batter your team faces or sends to the plate. You can also simulate entire innings, or up to a certain point in a game. You can take full responsibility for your team’s actions, hitting and running, stealing, or intentionally walking, or you can simulate months at a time.
Combined with its depth, the game’s flexibility make OOTP one of the most replayable games you’ll ever find. You can create baseball universes that offer you as much or as little micromanagement as you want in as many different configurations as you can imagine.
There are three major game types. One is Major League, in which you can start with current (pretty close to Opening Day) major league rosters and the set up for the major/minor league baseball universe. The Rule 4 Amateur draft is modelled as is an International Free Agent system for player creation and development.
The second is historical league that enables you to simulate and manage games for any season in baseball going back to 1871. These games include actual players and rules from the eras and models authentic strategies (such as pitcher usage) and performances (like the dead-ball era).
The third is a fictional league. This is where, for the most part, your only limits are your imagination. You can create a league or series of associated and independent leagues with as detailed a minor league system as you want. You can begin with a fantasy draft where all the league’s players are created and you can select which ones you want in an inaugural draft format, or you can simply create teams. You can also fine tune your world’s financial systems, choosing to incorporate a salary cap if you wish.
Finally, you can play either on your own, or in online leagues. For most of the past two years, I have been playing OOTP 13 almost exclusively in online leagues (including serving as the commissioner of one). For my money’s worth, this is where OOTP really adds its enjoyment. You join a group of up to 30 (more is possible, of course) GMs from around the world and you need to interact with real people in order to make trades. Being able to get a feel for the other GMs in the league adds an important dynamic as you each compete for your league’s championship year in and year out.
While this game isn’t for instant sports action junkies, if you’re the type of person who craves the long-term “draft-and-develop” gaming experience that you’ll find in GM modes of more popular console baseball games, or even of “keeper” fantasy leagues, you will love how much OOTP Baseball has to offer.
The question OOTP gamers ask themselves every year is “should I buy the latest edition of Out of the Park Baseball?” After all, it’s a $40 investment if you purchase right away and if you’re still getting the most out of the previous edition, why buy a new one? Am I right?
While I’m not the deadest of die hards out there and I haven’t been playing as long as some, I’ve noticed significant improvement from update to update, and from one full version of the game to the next. Whether it’s cleaner interfaces, the addition of the “webcast” screen for in-game management that shows you pitch locations, or better AI trading in solo games, the little details have constantly evolved, largely based on feedback from gamers themselves.
So what’s new in OOTP 2014? Most of the improvements are “under the hood,” making this edition play even closer to reality than ever before. One of the few readily apparent additions is the new , “completely recoded player origin system.”
Essentially, this means that they’ve changed things to more accurately reflect the way that major league baseball finds players. The draft is only for players from the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico and the developers have included a brand new International Amateur Free Agent signing period. I’ve enjoyed playing through the International Free Agent part of the game a couple of times now. Each team has a budget in which they have to stay, and you compete against other GMs as players escalate their demands based on how much competition there is for their attention. Not only do you have to strategize about whether or not to go after certain players, but as the players you do choose to pursue increase their demands, you have to prioritize which ones you really want to sign.
I have also noticed the improved trading AI in OOTP 14. In OOTP 12, you could easily trade for top prospects without offering up much in return because the AI though that a bunch of bad players added up to one good one. Those days are gone! If you’re going to get a top prospect, you need to make a sacrifice. Or, if you want to get a major league star, you’ll need to cough up a top prospect or another good player. This definitely makes the solo game much more playable when you can’t automatically turn a bottom dweller into a champion in three years due to lopsided trades.
The user interface is fundamentally the same, but the usage of a different font and more square buttons improves the way the game feels to me. The developers have added a couple of screens that improve the experience in two areas of the game. The “playoff coverage” screen that allows you to easily track the goings on during the playoffs. In previous editions, there was a simple playoff tree that you could follow along and this is a big aesthetic improvement for a simple addition. There’s also a second option for the main screen for the in-game management portion of OOTP 14. This “webcast” screen gives you a better idea of where the pitcher is pitching, plotting the locations of individual pitches, much like you’d see on MLB Gamecast. If they added a place to see a runner’s speed and stealing ratings on this screen, I would probably never use the default one.
I have to say that I’m enjoying my experience with OOTP 14 so far. If you’re happy with OOTP 13 and don’t yearn for any of the new changes you could probably hold out for a year. If you’re like me, where little things can drive you crazy about a baseball simulation game, OOTP 14 is definitely worth the price. The game keeps getting deeper and cleaner. The interfaces are better this year and there is definitely a more realistic feel to the way players perform and the AI reacts. The development team has done a fantastic job improving an already addictive game.
* Billy Chapel was Kevin Costner’s character in For Love of the Game.
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