Out of the Park Baseball 11 Review (PC)
Despite playing basically the same song over and over again, AC/DC remains one of the most popular rock bands ever. It would have been easy for Out of the Park Baseball to take an AC/DC-type career path, adding token features here and there and simply riding the wave of its past success with each subsequent new release.
Thankfully, unlike AC/DC, the OOTP developers remain hungry and do not continue to repeat the same exact formula with each release.
OOTP 11 is no exception. The latest version of the acclaimed baseball text sim features a revamped fielding engine, improvements to historical play and several other enhancements that collectively add up to another stellar and highly addictive game.
OOTP 11 is a text sim, which means you do not manually control what happens on the field by pressing buttons and maneuvering a joystick. Instead, you take full control of a historical, modern-day or fictional baseball franchise the same way a general manager would. This includes managing rosters, setting up your minor leagues, hiring coaches and scouts, drafting and signing free agents and trying to build your team into a consistent championship contender.
The best thing about OOTP is the ability to customize the game how you want to play it. You can toggle almost any feature or aspect of the game so it works like you want it to work, or you can just turn a feature off entirely. You can also format your league in a way that fits with your own perfect baseball universe. All of this can be daunting for new players, but OOTP 11's smooth interface, easy to navigate menus and strong tech support help newcomers catch on quickly.
If customization is not your thing, OOTP 11 plays great out of the box. You can choose to manually play out your team’s games, or you can sim through large chunks of time to quickly play multiple seasons. Either way, OOTP 11 produces realistic results and keeps track of several traditional and sabermetric statistics to help better evaluate your team.
The core gameplay and AI of OOTP 11 remains as strong as ever. Unless you manually tweak the settings or player ratings, you are not going to see unrealistic stats, numerous mind-boggling trades or players on your team mysteriously being released. The game ships with real rosters and teams, as well as a historical database of past players and teams. Logos, pictures and stadiums can also be easily imported using third-party mods.
A fielding engine was recoded for OOTP 11, which makes defense more important than ever. I found myself spending extra time researching a player's defensive ratings -- like zone rating and defensive efficiency -- to try and build a winner. The changes seem to have taken effect. Like in real-life, putting together a team of good defenders and ground-ball type pitchers yielded positive results on the field.
Other New Features
Players interested in history should also be pleased with the improved historical player-rating system, and the ability to compare the results of your OOTP 11 historical season with the corresponding real-life season. To be honest, I was a little worried when I first heard about the comparison feature -- part of what makes OOTP so appealing is its realism while still maintaining enough randomness to allow players with mediocre ratings to turn into big-time players once in a while. I was worried that OOTP 11 would take the game into more of a strict historical replay direction, focusing more on mimicking real-life results instead of maintaining a delicate real-life/random balance.
Thankfully, that is not the case. The comparison screen turns out to be just another valuable tool that can be used to enhance the OOTP experience. Players looking for more true-to-life single-season replays will be happy with the maximize-ratings-for-current-season option.
Drafting has always been more of a chore than fun for me in OOTP. Prospects in OOTP 11 now have bonus demands, which might make you think twice about drafting that five-tool stud if he is demanding an outrageous signing bonus. You can also negotiate contracts with players you draft. The draft enhancements help further pull you into the draft and make it less of a chore -- at least for the first couple of rounds.
Two other new features that proved useful were the mass-select tool and the player-comparison tool. The mass-select tool allows you to complete transactions involving multiple players with a single mouse click (very handy for demoting groups of players during spring training). The comparison tool allows you to compare two players side by side from any era. You can also generate a list of comparable players if you are tired of looking at just stats and ratings.
As a text sim, OOTP 11 should not be judged against console titles like The Show or 2K in the graphics department. Instead, the focus should be on the game’s menus, presentation and navigability. OOTP 11 shines in all of these areas. You can get to wherever you need to go in the game with minimal mouse clicking and searching. You can easily sort and search for players by stats, ratings or name. Each screen also offers all the information you need to know in an easy to read and accessible format.
OOTP has consistently made strides to improve its presentational elements. One thing that might enhance the experience even more is some sort of graphical element. Baseball Mogul offers a graphical presentation while playing out games and, in my opinion, it works well. And since OOTP already does so much so well, I think the developers could successfully add graphics as well. Besides, like everything else in OOTP, you could always choose not to use it.
I would classify myself as a contrarian (some may use other more colorful terms). I am very hard to impress, especially when it comes to music, movies and games. OOTP 11 really impressed me. I have been playing OOTP for over 10 years and OOTP 11 is the best version yet.
I am certain a lot of people will agree with my sentiments, so I tried hard to find major flaws to cite in my review -- that is what contrarians do. However, flaws were few and far between. If I was looking for something to complain about, it would be this: OOTP has grown into a monster. There are so many options and so much to do, sometimes you find yourself tinkering instead of actually playing the darn game. In addition, some people will of course find fault with the usual stuff like player ratings, trade logic and other areas where there will never be unanimous approval. Oh, and there seemed to be a few too many bench-clearing brawls resulting in suspensions for my taste.
Either way, if you are looking to completely immerse yourself in a game, OOTP is for you. However, be careful. Once you get hooked, your significant other will likely file for divorce, household chores will go unfinished and you may never leave the house again.
On the Field: Whether playing out games or simming, the core gameplay of OOTP 11 is even better than in previous versions. The new fielding engine makes it known that the game takes defense seriously, giving you another option to build your team into a winner.
Graphics: The menus and presentation are excellent. However, it might be time to try and incorporate some graphics.
Sound: There are some sounds when playing out games, but they are annoying. Turn them off.
Entertainment Value: Be prepared to dive into the deep end of the pool. OOTP 11 will likely get you hooked and lead to hundreds of hours of entertainment.
Learning Curve: There is a steep learning curve, but most screens are fairly self-explanatory, and the tech support is strong on the game’s forums.
Online: There are several online leagues that use OOTP. You just have to search them out.
Score: 9.5 (Instant Classic)
OOTP will be released on April 12 for customers who pre-ordered and April 14 for everyone else. To learn more, visit www.ootpdevelopments.com.