Out of the Park Baseball 9 Review (PC)
My first several years playing career baseball sims were spent heavily invested in Baseball Mogul. However, at some point, I developed a desire for a game that was deeper and more feature-laden. For my personal gaming tastes now, Out Of The Park Baseball has become the go-to option -- and the latest entry in the series, OOTP9, has taken up a good bit of my gaming time lately.
Over the years, the big three career text-based baseball sims (OOTP, Baseball Mogul, and Puresim) have appealed to different audiences. My number one impression from playing the newest version of OOTP9 is that it's pretty close to the ideal setup for the hardcore gamer who is looking for an all-encompassing baseball experience. OOTP has also come a long way in becoming more accessible to those who want a "lighter" gaming experience as well.
One of the great things about OOTP is that lead developer Markus Heinsohn interacts nearly daily on the message boards, and also plays the game.
What OOTP9 does best is immerse the user in a historical or fictional baseball universe. Thanks to the work of many users, there are full leagues, team logos, uniforms, and ballcaps available through the new "Add-On Central" feature which allows the gamer to download and install mods from directly within the game. Improvements to the FaceGen model in the game also help the game make big strides in bringing fictional players to life. That guy your scout found in Japan? He actually looks Japanese, has a Japanese name, and when he's traded from your team to another, the game changes his uniform. As he gets older, his player picture ages him as well.
One of the great things about OOTP is that lead developer Markus Heinsohn interacts nearly daily on the message boards, and also plays the game. As a result of his playing the game recently, he made some splendid additions to the Manager Home Page that have served to streamline the interface tremendously. The vast majority of functions needed to run a franchise can be done from this one screen now.
The newly-updated manager home page reates an outstanding base of operations to run your franchise with just a few clicks.
The financial model also received an overhaul for this version, and all indications so far are that it is for the better. For the first time in years of playing OOTP, I am able to estimate how much money I will have available to sign extensions and new free agents. Most importantly, though, the financial model serves to create variable degrees of difficulty for the gamer. Want a massive challenge? Then take over a team in a small market with fickle fans and a small stadium. Want to go crazy on free agents? Do the opposite. And everywhere in between is possible with OOTP. My personal desire is for a game that is challenging -- one where if I get a couple of injuries to key players, I may well finish as a second division. So far, that has been my experience with OOTP9, even as a "veteran" gamer. In 15 seasons of serious career play, I've made the postseason four times, won no world titles, and have finished under .500 five times.
OOTP9 is a worthy improvement to an excellent series.
Another fun and challenging aspect of the financial setup is that during free agency, there are true-blue bidding wars. It's great that there aren't a lot of star-caliber players available, and it's even better that those who are available usually get bidded up. The "free market" is very much at work in OOTP9 free agency. I've seen several instances of a guy starting out with an asking price in the $10 million to $15 million per year range, but because he's the only 3B, or C, or 2B or SP of his quality in free agency, he ends up signing for nearly twice the original asking price as multiple teams drive up the cost over the days and weeks.
The list of new features this year is too numerous to break down in detail. (Go here for a full list.) I would like to highlight one that is making a nice difference for me: the vastly improved number of news stories. The news stories, both regarding the entire universe and your team only, really help bring the game to life, and immerse the user in what is happening.
The game is not without its flaws, though. Many users have reported varying degrees of issues with the MLB Quick Start option. While the rosters were user-created, the ability to play with "real" players is a big selling point for many, and some have been disappointed in the quality of the roster set. Also, some users are reporting crashes right now. The development team has promised to continue to look into these, and with the solid track record of Markus Heinsohn in patching these sorts of issues, there's little reason to believe that they won't be addressed eventually.
OOTP9 is a worthy improvement to an excellent series. There are some lingering issues with the user-created MLB roster set, and a some quirks with the myriad of custom options in the game, but all in all, it's an incredibly fun, addictive, and immersive game -- especially for fictional play.