Out of the Park Baseball 15
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: April 21, 2014
With the arrival of spring every year, there are two things that excite me even more than the warm weather: Opening Day, and the annual release of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP). Strategizing and analyzing baseball statistics brings me just as much joy as Ben Wyatt gets when he receives a stack of accounting ledgers on Parks & Recreation. Out of the Park has successfully fed my addiction for 15 (!) years now, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
First and foremost, OOTP 15 is a text-based simulator, and it is geared more toward hardcore fans. If you enjoy reading box scores or have ever fantasized about running your own team (and really, who hasn’t?), then chances are you will love what the series has to offer.
OOTP 15 can be a bit overwhelming at first, simply because there are so many ways to play. From the title screen, you can opt to start a 2014 season (with accurate Opening Day rosters and ratings based on PECOTA projections), a historical season (anything from 1871-2013) or a custom game (whatever you want). This year’s edition boasts the inclusion of seven new international leagues, providing the opportunity to play as general manager of teams in Japan, Korea, Mexico and even the Netherlands. I got a real kick out of dabbling in the world of Japanese baseball, a fun mix of Japanese stars and forgotten MLB guys (i.e. Matt Murton, Randy Messenger, etc.).
Once you have picked a league and season, the sky’s the limit in terms of how you can play. If you like, you can start unemployed, pick up a GM/coaching gig with a low-level minor league team and then try to work your way up to a prominent MLB gig. You can start as any number of professional teams, and there’s a handy option that grants you immunity from being fired, if you desire. You can even play in “commissioner mode”, meaning you have access to every team with the ability to override trades and pretty much control every aspect of the league. Most, if not all, scenarios you can think of can be reproduced in the game.
If you decide to just take on a job as one team’s general manager (as I usually do), you can preside over every facet of the team. Players can be promoted or demoted simply by dragging their name, different lineups can be set against RHP and LHP, regular days off can be scheduled, team and individual player strategies can be tweaked (i.e. aggression on the base paths, frequency of pinch-hitting, etc.), ticket prices can be changed, scouting budgets adjusted… basically, you can do as much or as little micromanaging as you want. It’s rather absurd just how specific this game can get.
As mentioned earlier, this will almost certainly be overwhelming to new players. However, the user interface is fairly easy to get the hang of after a while, as every major function is conveniently sectioned by category. Plus, if you ever get stuck, there’s an incredibly helpful and active online community that can likely solve your problem. Every time I have asked a question on the company’s official forum, I have received a helpful response within hours. OOTP is a series that has an extremely passionate fan base, and the game’s developers are constantly providing support throughout the year. That level of connectivity is a big reason why this franchise has grown so much over the years.
For this review, I thought it would be fun to act as a commissioner and simulate this year’s season. There were quite a few surprises… here are some highlights:
- The Reds beat the Yankees in five games to win the World Series, outscoring them 33 to 15 overall.
- Other playoff teams: Boston, Kansas City, Seattle, Los Angeles Angels, Washington, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers.
- Seattle (!) had the best record in the AL at 99-63. San Francisco led the NL with a 93-69 record.
- Biggest surprise (other than Seattle’s impressive season): Miami finishing 89-74, losing the wild card play-in game.
- Houston and Arizona tied for the worst record in the majors at 63-99.
- Reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera missed most of the year due to a broken kneecap, essentially derailing the Tigers season (they missed the playoffs).
- Chris Davis (45 HR) and Giancarlo Stanton (42 HR) led the league in home runs.
- Mike Trout (.328) and Matt Carpenter (.339) were batting champs.
- Nick Castellanos (.318, 15 HR, 72 RBI) and Oscar Taveras (.269, 16 HR, 54 RBI) won Rookie of the Year.
- Justin Verlander (19-6, 2.98 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (22-7, 2.23 ERA) won Cy Young awards.
- Mike Trout (.328, 32 HR, 97 RBI) and Joey Votto (.330, 29 HR, 85 RBI) won MVP awards.
- In a bit of odd news, MLB changed two rules at the end of the season: the disabled list length was decreased 13 days, and the waiver length period was increased to 5 days.
- Four managers (CLE, MIN, MIL, SD) and four GMs (MIN, TEX, ATL, MIL) were fired at the end of the season.
- A whopping 77 trades were conducted during the regular season.
What’s great is if there is something that bugs you (i.e. like this example’s high trade frequency), you can go in and tweak a setting to make it fit your style. For trades alone, you can adjust the frequency from “very low” all the way to “very high”. It might take a season or two to get things the way you want it, but playing around with the settings is half the fun.
Now, for all of its positives, OOTP 15 does have a couple of noticeable issues this year. For one, the brand new addition of 3D ballparks with 3D in-game ball flight has been a disappointment so far. This feature, which is completely optional, is quite buggy at the moment, and the 3D stadiums look rather crude (think PS1-era graphics). It’s still a work in progress, and the game even mentions as such when you switch to that mode, but I can’t help but feel it shouldn’t have been added until it was more stable.
I also ran into more game-crashing bugs this year than I have in the last three years combined. One particular crash was especially brutal for me, as I had manually played through a month’s worth of games only to have all of this progress wiped out when the program inexplicably shut down. Even with the latest update (released just a few days ago) I have had to deal with a couple of crashes. This has never been an issue in past editions for me so I’m not sure what’s causing the problem now all of a sudden. I have faith that the OOTP team will get this taken care of sometime soon, but in the mean time I will just have to remember to save more frequently.
For those who already own OOTP 14, it’s a bit of a toss-up as to whether this is worth the upgrade just yet. The new international leagues are a pleasant addition, but the 3D ballparks are a bust so far. Also, the new user interface takes some getting used to, though there are subtle changes that I greatly appreciate (i.e. having an “acquired” field in every player profile that states how he ended up on his current team). Aside from the 2014 rosters, many of the other new features are relatively small, such as teams having the ability to retire uniform numbers, and accepting non-roster invitees to spring training. A full list of changes can be found in their newsletter.
In the end, even with its minor issues, Out of the Park Baseball 15 proves that the OOTP series is still the reigning king of the genre. The only limit to the game is your imagination, and it’s the best way to tap into your inner general manager. I have spent countless hours tinkering with the game’s plethora of options and ways to play, and I can’t imagine ever growing tired of it. Maybe this is the year I take over the Cubs and finally bring them their coveted World Series… or maybe I will build a Taiwanese dynasty from scratch. The possibilities are endless.
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)