The long-running, independently developed Out of the Park Baseball series returns for another spring to give baseball fans an outlet for their stat-fueled obsession. The underlying simulation model is once again excellent, as always, with impressively realistic results based on a player’s ratings in various offensive and defensive categories.
More importantly, there is enough plausible variation in your simulations to make for intriguing seasons that can largely be shaped by injuries, storyline-related incidents, and your managerial skills. Send a runner on catcher Yadier Molina, and he will likely be gunned down like a clay pigeon. Trot out Mark Reynolds against Justin Verlander (or just about any pitcher) and brace for the gale-force winds coming from home plate.
Sight for Sore Eyes
Yet Out of the Park Baseball 13 does so much more than deliver a faithful simulation of baseball on an individual game basis -- its scope is broader than Prince Fielder’s belt. As with earlier versions, the biggest part of the game’s attraction is drafting your own motley crew of players in a fictional league, seeing how they develop over time as they grow old (and expensive) while you attempt to build a dynasty to rival the Yankees. You can create your own logos, team names, uniforms and farm system, and you'll be able to play alone or manage your league online.
While owners of previous versions of the game are doubtlessly still enjoying their game, Out of the Park Baseball 13 offers plenty of incentives for fans to consider upgrading. First and foremost is the completely revamped user interface and menu system, with screens offering a more unified look and sharper appearance (although there might be a bit too much of the color “blue”).
There are a lot of features in OOTP 13, but these features are much easier to access thanks to the redesign. The top of the screen has clearly delineated buttons for "manager," "league," and "team," and clicking on one of these buttons opens up a well-organized menu with a complete list of options for each role. Players can also use an optional hot bar positioned along the right margin, allowing them to click directly on an icon to jump straight to popular options, such as league leaders or your team's home page. Those new to OOTP can also mouse over each icon to read a helpful tooltip of what the particular button does to minimize confusion.
A Lot to Manage
The interface is an improvement over previous versions, but it’s not quite perfect. The play menu, for instance, is a bit confusing. Say you are starting a new season as your favorite team. Clicking on the play menu doesn’t list an option to "sim until next game."
You’re able to finish the current day and choose a specific date on the calendar to simulate through, but what if you’re not sure when, say, Boston plays its next game? If you don’t know the specific date, you can look at the team’s schedule to determine when they next play, and then manually enter in that date on the play menu. This will get you where you want to go, but it’s a bit convoluted.You can’t right click, for example, on a calendar day from the team schedule page and select "sim until this date" or "play this game," which is a bit of a hassle. Is this a make or break issue? Absolutely not, and I’m probably missing something painfully obvious, but there are times when things don’t seem as clear as they could be. The weird thing is that there are plenty of other auto play options from the play menu, allowing you to sim your season until specific milestones, such as the All-Star break, trade deadline, or the playoffs.
For those with widescreen monitors, the game now automatically adjusts the position and size of the windows to create a deluge of data. You have team box scores, information on available pinch hitters and relievers (with each name clickable so you can see their profiles), a pitching card with the hurler’s in-game stats and ratings, a batter card with his current performance, the scoreboard, scores from around the league, a lineup card, and quite possibly the coolest part: the pitch sequence display, showing you where each strike or ball was thrown in relation to the batter.
Expanding the Game
Once again there is no official MLB license for real logos and team names, but several fan-created options are available to remedy the situation. OOTP 13 has support for these player-created mods built into the game’s interface, allowing players to easily check what’s available, download the update(s), and install them with just a few button clicks.
You don’t have to scour the Internet looking for a specific mod, and you don’t have to spend an hour making sure every file is in the right folder. This is a great feature that will allow fans to customize their game the way they want to without frustration.
The next test for future versions of OOTP Baseball is to update its play-by play screen to include more accurate animations. I would personally love to see the ball react in a more realistic manner, runners actually move around the bases, and the ability to actually see the defense shift to guard the lines, move back toward the wall, and so forth when selecting the strategy.
It doesn’t have to be a complex 3D engine, as little stick-figured sprites would be an improvement. The sound effects could also use a few tweaks here and there, as the booing you’ll hear sounds like two guys yelling in a broom closet. More organ music, more vendors, and more diverse crowd reactions would be welcome.
The rest of the changes to OOTP 13 help polish the game to showroom shine, though to be fair, most aren’t as immediately apparent as the UI tweaks. Trade logic has improved, making it less likely for the computer to give away touted prospects or superstar athletes unless it’s aiming to unload expensive contracts. A new real-time simulation mode makes it feel like you are part of a dynamic world instead of a static one.
Enabling the real-time simulation mode will let other teams from around the league play out their games as if they were "live." You’ll be apprised of key situations through a ticker display, allowing you to jump to a specific game to watch it unfold. While it’s a seemingly minor addition, it nonetheless adds another degree of authenticity to the experience.
So what else is new? Players who are commissioners of multiple leagues can now link them together as part of an association, allowing them all to share certain rules, compete against each other in playoffs, and use the same draft pools. The storylines have expanded to include more offbeat happenings in a player’s life in and out of the game.
In one particular storyline option, players can actually shape the outcome by clicking on one of four responses (fine and suspend, do nothing, release him, or put on trade block) to address a potentially detrimental player’s behavior. If you want to shake things up in your draft, you can now allow for random historical players to appear regardless of year, allowing you to consider drafting a young Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, and many other greats in your league.
And these are but a few of the changes and additions you’ll discover in OOTP 13. If you love poring over box scores, spending hours getting lost in the numbers on Baseball Almanac, or reminiscing about the dice-rolling, card-carrying days of APBA or Strat-O-Matic when you were younger, Out of the Park Baseball 13 will become your new daily habit. Just one more pitch will become just one more game that will become just one more season, until you’re hopelessly hooked, like Boggs and his chicken, Jeter and his bubble gum, and Canseco and his "juice."