Out of the Park Baseball 12 (OOTP 12) is another entertaining entry in the annual text-based sports series from Germany's Out of the Park Developments, though most of the new features will probably be of more interest to hardcore players than casual fans. Nevertheless, it's a title that offers an outstanding amount of depth for those wanting to go beyond a game-level simulation.
In fact, the sheer amount of things you can do can be intimidating at first, from the financial management to the ability to create fictitious organizations sustained by high school and college "feeder" leagues with randomly generated players whose portraits visibly age over time.
Yet there's no need to feel overwhelmed: if you want the computer to handle all business details so you can focus on managing your favorite (or fictional) team's roster on a daily basis, you can do just that.
You'll then be able to concentrate solely on calling the shots in the dugout and adjusting lineups and rotations in between games to deal with injuries, poor performances, and other developments as they happen. Don't want to manage games? No problem, the computer can take over this aspect as well.
If you've owned previous versions of the game, OOTP 12 offers a slew of improvements and tweaks, though they are mostly designed to refine the experience than to completely overhaul it. Part of the problem is the nature of annual releases in sports games -- outside of the expected roster and stat changes, it's hard to keep evolving the game in such a short time period. It's even harder when the game you're improving is already well received, as was OOTP 11.
So beyond 2011's opening day rosters, OOTP 12's focus is on making things work better, tweaking some interface elements, and fleshing out some of the previous game's features with more detail. You'll find a more realistic trading AI, significantly improved player negotiations, and a more interesting way to view your league's stories: an updated newspaper that presents stats, injury updates, offbeat lists, and the top performances of the day in a narrative format. You'll even read about owners dying or selling the team, potentially reducing (or expanding) the amount of money you can spend on personnel.
The computer won't agree to trades that are lopsided, at least on the hard setting, taking a more cautious approach than in games past. You also can save and resume games in progress as well as adjust the player development budget, which along with the quality of your team's international scouting, can go a long way to ensure your dynasty remains strong. Injured players can even be sent on rehab assignments to minimize the "rust" that occurs when returning to the game.
Keeping It Real
There's also the promise of a more painless online component, but this seems to still be a work in progress. At the time of this review, not all online league features were working correctly, particularly regarding 2011's rosters, and there's no online draft feature or trading options. If you were planning on purchasing OOTP 12 specifically for the reported online improvements, it's best to hold off and keep an eye on the official site for the latest patch updates. Other bugs and glitches have been addressed relatively quickly, with the game receiving two patches within a month after launch.
If you have played text-based baseball games in the past, you won't have to spend much time acclimating yourself to OOTP 12. Titles such as MicroLeague Baseball, Diamond Mind Baseball, APBA for Windows, Dynasty League Baseball, Baseball Mogul, ProSim Baseball, and various other games throughout the years all share the same basic premise: to capture realistic results based on real-life team and/or player data. Some, of course, do this better than others. Out of the Park Baseball is among the best in this regard.
While games in the past were notorious for giving you only a few historical teams to play with (then charging extra for season disks), OOTP 12 includes every season from 1871 to 2010. Of course, it's not just the teams and rosters that are important: it's the realism that makes the game so enticing for fans of the sport.
In a Boston versus Texas game, for example, starting pitcher C.J. Wilson was yanked early by the computer -- not because he was giving up a lot of runs, but because he was giving up too many walks to a patient Boston lineup -- an issue that has plagued this particular pitcher in the past. In the same game, catcher Mike Napoli couldn't throw out Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury if his life depended on it. So you can use your knowledge of player tendencies to an advantage when managing your club, which is incredibly satisfying since the results are believable.
How it Looks and Sounds
Fans of text-based baseball simulations understand that the presentation is usually secondary to the number crunching. OOTP 12 doesn't break any new ground in this area, with text-heavy menu screens and a play-by-play display that has each athlete's name superimposed on a ballpark photo background. Animation is limited to the ball only as it is put into play. While OOTP's budget and small development staff likely means that something similar to Major League Baseball 2K11 isn't possible, it would be nice to have animated 2D players on the screen.
The play-by-play script flows well and the sound effects are above average -- improved over previous versions of the game, but not offering much in the way of variety. The crowd murmur that plays in the background sounds entirely authentic, cheering and booing at appropriate times, but hit a grand slam at home and you'll find the result isn't much different than hitting a single with nobody on. Where is the lively organ music? The fireworks? The deafening roar? There are also some interface quirks -- it makes more sense to have an option to go to the bullpen directly on the play-by-play screen rather than click on a substitutions tab at the top, for example.
I also couldn't help but wish the play-by-play had a speech option, which was done so effectively in 1995's APBA Broadcast Blast by Miller Associates, which featured the late, great announcer Ernie Harwell calling each game as if you were listening to a live radio broadcast.
Put It On the Board?
It should also be noted for those new to the franchise that OOTP 12 -- like most text-oriented baseball sims -- isn't affiliated with Major League Baseball for authentic team logos and player photos, but names and real-life stats for each season are provided thanks to the hard work of some truly enthusiastic volunteers. The lack of official logos, ballpark pictures, and player photos can also be remedied by a quick search on the Internet (or from within the game itself), where you'll be able to download files and enhance the game to your liking.
So the big $64,000 question (actually, more like the $39.99 question) is whether OOTP 12 is worth its asking price. If you've skipped the last few installments and are looking to get back in the series, then it's a definite yes -- there have been enough changes over the years to make it worth purchasing. Yet if you're currently enjoying one of OOTP 11's historical seasons and don't have any problems with the computer AI -- or if you have an online league still going strong -- then probably not. The changes are more of a modest step forward than a leap.
Solo players looking for a more challenging computer opponent, however, will appreciate the improvements to the AI, making games more realistic and believable. Sim junkies who don't necessarily care about managing each game on the schedule won't have an issue with some of the presentation faults, as OOTP 12 does an excellent job at spitting out stats, scores, and standings for leagues within minutes.
As is true with each entry in the OOTP series, you're not just buying a game -- you're buying into a community -- one that is as passionate, educated and dedicated as any out there. OOTP 12 isn't quite a grand slam, but it definitely goes "deep" enough to satisfy one's needs to create, customize and control.