I was first introduced to Out Of The Park Baseball (OOTP) last season after hearing great things about it online and was instantly hooked when I tried it out. So naturally when given a chance to pick up this year's version free in exchange for writing a review here, I jumped on it.
For those who aren't familiar, OOTP is a largely text based baseball simulation game. The game puts you in the shoes of a GM and (if you choose) manager at the helm of a team. You control all your team's roster moves while interacting with the AI GMs of the other teams in your league while working within the budget given to you by the owner. You can take the reigns of the big league club of your choosing, or begin as a minor league manager for whatever team is willing to hire you. You can play individual games or simulate large chunks at a time. Within games you have the option to make managerial decisions - substitutions, defensive alignment, whether to hit and run, etc. - but the actual outcomes are at the mercy of the game's simulation engine.
The first thing returning players will notice are some cosmetic changes to the game. The game has been given a facelift that makes it feel a little less like staring at a string of Excel spreadsheets. Also, a few of the menus and options have moved. The navigation buttons along the right hand side of the screen have stayed put, but some of the pages have a new layout and the commands that were previously along the bottom of the screen have moved up. It was a little disorienting at first when some things weren't where I expected them to be, but it didn't take long to adjust.
Among the new features to the game, there are two that I consider particularly notable, one mostly cosmetic and one that adds a great deal of depth. The former is the option to toggle in the in-game view from the 2D view of players overlaid on a picture of the ballpark that we've come to know with a new 3D model that allows you to feel more like you're inside the park and see the actual flight of the ball. By default the game only comes with one generic 3D park, but you can download and add parks that other players have created or if you're good with programs like SketchUp you can make your own. The developers readily admit this feature is still in its infancy and there are some bugs to work out, but it potentially opens a whole new experience for future incarnations of the game.
The new addition that really impressed me was the addition of international leagues. The game now includes the option to play with real major leagues in Japan, Korea, Italy, Mexico, Cuba, China and a few other countries with real rosters and a minor league for some of them. There was some serious homework done here and it allows for the addition of the posting system so you can bid to try to bring the next Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka to your team.
One other new feature that caught my attention is very minor and somewhat buried, but made me very happy. That's the ability to retire (or unretire) numbers. A nice little touch to feel a little more like the teams do have a history and whatever season your playing doesn't just happen in a bubble. There are a few other small additions and changes, but these are the ones that were most noticeable to me.
As far as the returning features that will be familiar to past players, but will be of interest to those considering trying the game for the first time one of the key things to note is the ability to customize nearly everything to your liking. The game truly does give you a massive sandbox to play in and the developers encourage players to modify things and make your game as realistic or as wild as you want. If that sounds a little intimidating, know that the game is also very user friendly and allows you to play with as much or as little customization as you choose, so new players can get their feet wet and gradually play around with things as they choose.
The game is very thorough with roster controls. Contracts, minor league options, arbitration and more are very much in line with real world rules. If you're the sort of person who spends way too much time on Rockies Roster, you're likely to be satisfied with the GM aspect of the game.
You can also play this season and into the future or go back in time. Relive Rocktober, take control of the 1927 Yankees or go way back to the early days and John McGraw's Orioles. Experiment with the sort of what ifs that make for bar discussions: How many HRs would Babe Ruth hit in today's offensive climate? What sort of numbers would the Blake Street Bombers put up in the dead ball era? How might teams have looked if the reserve clause have been eliminated decades sooner?
Or you can use the almighty power of hindsight to correct the mistakes of the past. Make better draft picks, get a better deal in the Ubaldo trade (or don't trade him at all), settle Purple Row's Great Catcher War of 2009, or help Ty Wigginton fulfill his destiny of playing all nine positions in a single game.
The game is also very friendly to the more stat oriented among us. In addition to the more traditional stats, the game also keeps track of things like WAR, wOBA, RC, BABIP, FIP and even the average number of pitches each pitcher throws per appearance.
One thing the game can understandably struggle with at times is projecting prospects realistically. Default player ratings are based on PECOTA's preseason projections, so players like Charlie Blackmon who have breakout years may be underrated, aging players who fall off may be overrated, and minor leaguers may just be completely out of line with how we perceive them.
For example, in the season I played through on this sim, Jon Gray got shelled at Tulsa to the tune of a 4.70 ERA and my scout only viewed him as an average three star (out of five) prospect before I edited his potential ratings to fall more in line with how many of us view him. On the other hand, Eddie Butler dominated the Texas League and continued his success in the majors for a 5-2 record and 109 ERA+ in nine starts before the Angry Rockies Pitcher Hating God struck him down for the rest of the season with shoulder inflammation.
The draft can be particularly tough for the game to deal with. The first draft class features mostly real players, but keep in mind this game was released around opening day of the MLB season and a lot has happened in the college game since then. As a result Brad Zimmer was the number one pick in my play through (real life pick #21) and Carlos Rodon fell to me at #8 (my scout projects him as a mid-rotation guy with 3.5 star potential). Kyle Freeland fell all the way to the third round and proceeded to dominate the Arizona League for Cincinnati's affiliate.
2014 Rockies Season
As for my play through, I took a very hands off approach and let virtual Walt Weiss handle nearly all the on field decisions. My only major roster move was to trade Nicasio, Culberson and Bettis for David Price, who I immediately signed to an extension. In hindsight, I probably should have also dealt Cuddyer at the deadline, as Dickerson took his spot as an everyday starter by the end of the season.
My season was mostly injury-free, though in addition to Butler I lost Rosario for nearly the entire year with a broken kneecap suffered in May and Ottavino sat out the final month or two with inflammation of his own. This mostly healthy team spent the year battling for the second and third spot in the division with Los Angeles while the Padres(!) held the lead for most of the year. San Diego faded down the stretch and I was able to claim the division title with an 88-74 record
Eat it, San Francisco.
I fell to Washington in the NLDS in five games and the Tigers won the World Series, beating St. Louis in six. Miguel Cabrera went nuts, winning another triple crown while posting an 11 WAR season (second best in the majors was Bryce Harper at 7.3).
My team finished as the best offense in the NL, with four players hitting over .300. My pitching staff was respectable, with Price, Chatwood and Chacin each winning at least 14 games and having an ERA under 4. Price was actually significantly better after coming to Coors. After posting .3 WAR in 17 starts for Tampa he put up 3.7 in 17 starts for Colorado with his K/9 rising from 7.8 in the AL to 9.5 in the NL. On the other end of the spectrum, Jordan Lyles was miserable. He posted a 6.05 ERA in 10 major league starts, then spent the rest of the year in Triple-A where he went 2-12 with a 5.01 ERA.
Tulo earned the MVP in the National League behind a .308/.381/.573 line with 38 HR and 93 RBI for a 5.6 WAR season. CarGo finished third in the voting behind Harper with 4.9 WAR. Nolan Arenado won his second Gold Glove, and Randy Johnson and John Smoltz were the only players elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Bottom Line
Overall, OOTP 15 is another worthy addition to an already great gaming franchise. The developers are constantly looking for ways to expand the experience and are also very responsive with updates through the season to correct bugs that players bring to their attention.
OOTP is one of the most addictive and immersive baseball games on the market. Amazing, considering the games are presented through play-by-play text and you have relatively little control over the actual outcome of your decisions. If you're the sort of person who grew up playing games like Strat-O-Matic (or in my case, MLB Showdown) this game is almost certainly for you. If you spend a lot of time on fantasy baseball, it's likely for you. If you're just a baseball fan, there's still a good chance you'll enjoy this. If you're still on the fence about dropping $40 on this game, I'll also mention that it usually goes on sale for half price around the all-star break.
Regardless, Out Of The Park Baseball 2015 is very much a game worth your time.