Reviews

September is upon us, meaning that some lucky fans get to cheer their teams to pennants and wild cards, savoring the anticipation of postseason glory. Meanwhile, followers of teams like the Cubs, Pirates, Mets, Royals, etc. are left watching veterans play out the strings and call-ups getting their feet wet. And all of them are thinking along these lines: "If only our GM had signed right-fielder X instead of Y!" "Why did we give that big contract to an aging veteran in the first place?" "If only prospect Z had been promoted two months earlier, we might still be in it." For all those would-be GMs, we have good news: Out Of The Park Baseball X is now available for download.

 

OOTP X is the tenth and latest installation of the popular baseball manager. The franchise has undergone major changes after the well-liked version 6.5, becoming much more complex, though some say that the increased complexity came at the price of decreased accessibility. As an ardent player of version 6.5, I never really warmed to the new versions. Is OOTP X any different? I had to try out.

Because current MLB rosters are included with OOTP X, I started a new 2009 season, simulated a whole year and then became GM of my beloved Angels, fired the whole staff (sorry Mr. Scioscia), hired new personnel and then started the 2010 season with an inaugural draft. That means that all players are released and then drafted in serpentine rounds by all 30 teams. After I assembled a young, but talented team, I set up line-ups, depth charts and the pitching staff, gave responsibility for my farm to the minor league managers and was ready for the season. I decided not to play out actual games, but do a day-by-day simulation, stopping when a player got injured to make the necessary adjustments. Do I trade for a replacement, sign a lousy free agent or look in-house? Do I promote a shortstop from the minors or do I let the second baseman handle short for a while? Sometimes, players may complain about their role on the team, asking for a starting job or demanding a trade. Do I comply or risk upsetting the player even further, possibly hurting their performances?

Despite a bit of bad luck with injuries, I kept my team in the race through a lot of wheeling and dealing. I was rewarded with a season for the ages: Thanks to the draft, the AL was very balanced, no team had more than 89 wins. Seattle won the West with 88 wins, my Angels came in second with 86 and both Texas and Oakland had 85 wins. From the last day of the season on, I managed the games myself. One game behind in the wild card, I took on the A's and won, putting pressure on the Yankees, who promptly lost to the O's to force a one game playoff for the final postseason berth. I barely won 4-3 after my closer gave up one run and loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth. In the ALDS, I swept the White Sox, thanks to a 8th inning pinch-hit inside the park home run by Derek Jeter in game two and a walk-off single in game three. Then, after leading 3-0 in the World Series against the Cardinals, my ace Ricky Nolasco got injured and I lost four games in a row, including an extra inning affair in game 6 after my closer blew the save and a 3-2 loss in game 7. Boy, that was exciting!

If you don't want to play a current MLB season, there are plenty of other options. You can load a historic database and re-play any MLB season since 1871 or you can create completely fictional leagues anywhere and anytime on the planet, with or without minor leagues, scouts or coaches, just as you like it. There is even a world template available on the web that has more or less every league in it that exists on the globe today. Once you have set up your game, you have to decide what role you want to take in the simulation. Are you the commissioner, able to make changes to every team, the GM of your favorite team or do you start a career as a coach in the minor leagues? Can you be fired by your owner or do you prefer job security? Once you take control of a team, you can micromanage every single game or rather every single at-bat, call for hit-and-runs, suicide squeezes, steals etc., set lineups, depth charts, rotation, bullpen roles etc., or you can leave these mundane jobs to your manager (that is what you are paying him for anyway) and limit yourself to financials, trades, extensions and free agent signings and maybe call-ups and demotions.

As I said, this complexity comes at the cost that new users may feel overwhelmed at first. For those, OOTP Developments offers an online manual, a few video tutorials and a message board where players can find help. Compared to other post-6.5 versions, OOTP X is a little easier to get used to, but if you have no previous experience with the franchise, you probably want to let yourself be guided by the manual at first, which is really helpful. However, the game i's not that complicated that you won't be able to play on your own sooner than later.

While solo play can be a lot of fun, the computer probably is no real challenge in the long run. If you rather want to play against other human GMs, you can join one of the many online leagues out there. Most leagues have a home page or a forum where news and standings are posted. Trades are discussed using e-mail or instant messengers like AIM or ICQ and you can use the game to export your moves and import the results. If you find a good league with a dedicated commissioner and active GMs, it's twice the fun than you will ever have playing the game on your own.

The Good:

+ Complexity: you can tweak almost anything
+ GM experience: free agents, trades, arbitration, luxury tax, bonuses ...
+ Manage games: call for steals, pitch-outs, hit & runs, suicide squeezes etc. from the bench
+ Realism: Players have a mind of their own, different work ethics, loyalty ...
+ Major league rosters: Play the 2009 season with accurate names
+ History: re-play the past with the stars of old
+ Lots of statistics: Splits, VORP, RC
+ Reasonably good AI
+ Automatically generated faces make it easier to relate to fictional players
+ big online community

The Not So Good:

- A few text errors remain (but very few, hopefully the final patch will solve this)
- OPS+, ERA+ and Win Shares still missing
- Ratings of players in the MLB roster set sometimes debatable (but probably unavoidable)
- Ratings sometimes vary too much by default, especially for prospects (at least for my liking, tweakable though)
- With default settings, players age too quickly (again, this is adjustable)

If you are not sure if OOTP X is right for you, you can download a fully functional demo version of the game that will run for one week, long enough to decide if this game is for you.

My final verdict: OOTP X is not the perfect baseball simulation yet, but it's getting there. I give it 3.5 Balls.

AtHomePlate.com writes its reviews with the following rating scale in mind:

Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.