The date is September 28th, 2014. Arismendy Alcantara collects his final hit of the season while batting leadoff for the Chicago Cubs. Anthony Rizzo hits his 24th home run off of Milwaukee Brewers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. Carlos Villanueva pitches decently for the Cubs, giving up three runs in 7 innings of work, before he is lifted for pinch hitter Reed Johnson in the 8th inning. The Cubs ultimately come up short and finish their 79-84 season with a loss.
At least, that's how things ended in my 2014 playthrough of Out of the Park Baseball 15.
For those of you who have been missing out, "OOTP 15" is the latest edition of an annual baseball computer game. The game runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux, costs just $39.99, and is available now.
Here's a short walkthrough for last year's version of the game.
The OOTP series is the best baseball game I've ever played, and OOTP 15 is the latest and greatest edition of this long-running franchise. It's a text-based simulation game (although 15 does dabble in some cosmetic upgrades – but more on that later), so it's in a different category than MLB: The Show or Strat-O-Matic baseball, for example. However, one of my favorite parts of baseball is "managing" from the couch or the keyboard, so OOTP is at the top of my list.
The game allows you to take on various managerial roles. Fancy yourself a field manager, calling for pinch-hitters and balancing your bullpen? You can do that. Or maybe you'd rather play General Manager and only make the roster moves, letting the computer managers you hire set the lineup every day. You can do that too. You can set yourself up to not be fired and rebuild in peace, or try to to work your way up from minor league manager to big league manager to GM as your credentials improve and openings arise.
No matter what role you take on, there is a ton to do. Pretty much every single task in baseball is something you can do in the game. The game requires you to hire and fire coaches, sign players to big league deals or minor league contracts, set the lineups, set your pitching staffs, promote/demote players, check the waiver wire, set your ticket prices, participate in the draft, make trades, and so much more. OOTP 15 can truly put you in control of the rebuild – take over a team (like the Chicago Cubs) and play out many years in the future to see if you can take them to the promised land.
In OOTP 15, YOU decide when Javier Baez gets the call.
The player database in the game is astonishingly complete when you think of how many players are in MLB and MiLB combined. Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, Rock Shoulders, Lendy Castillo and more are in the game for you to promote and tinker with. For Cubs fans, following the beastly minor league system is a good chunk of the fun right now, so it's great that all the names we've come to learn are in the game. The same cannot be said for, say, MLB: The Show, which needs to wait until players make their big league debut and become part of the union before their likeness can appear in the game.
Each player has their own page (you can see Starlin Castro's at the top) which houses their stats, scouting report, contract status, and much more. Scouting is an optional feature I really enjoy in the game. Every team signs a Scouting Director who has their own set of skills. There's no "President of Baseball Operations" position in the game, so I put Theo Epstein in the scout's chair, and he's excellent at scouting the Major Leagues, outstanding at scouting the minors, "legendary" at scouting amateurs, etc. The computer generates reports based on your scout's proficiency. You can see Castro is a great contact hitter who avoids strikeouts, with average power and an eye that needs improving. The "true" ratings are based on Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system, so they're pretty legitimate.
You can slow down and manage/watch games day by day, or kick it into high gear and simulate weeks at a time. The world begins just before the 2014 season, but from there, the franchises and your league evolve. You can set up the possibility of an expansion draft, you can turn on and off foreign leagues for the possibility of superstars being posted, and so much more. All the while, OOTP 15 keeps your history written down in it's database so you can go back and look when Anthony Rizzo had that huge grand slam, or when Jeff Samardzija was traded for three future Cy Young winners.
Although it's a text-based game, the interface looks really great. All the information on your players is easy to access and it takes just moments to promote a player or place another on the disabled list. The default game comes with standard, unofficial logos – although OOTP can represent all the players by name, they can't use their team's official logos. That's where the community comes in. As you can see from my screenshots, my game has official logos, and that took me about 3 minutes to get by downloading from the third-party add-on center. So while the stock game doesn't look quite this pretty, it gives you the tools to make it that way on your own.
Nearly everything is customizable. Think that Javier Baez should have more power in his scouting report? Simply click on the "editor" tab and give him a bump. Want to live out your dream of the Cubs playing in the suburbs? Edit their name and stadium location, and you're good to go. Or perhaps you want to put yourself in the 2014 first year player draft – just find a prospect, and edit his name, likeness, and skills to match yourself and see which team picks you up.
You don't even have to play the 2014 MLB season, you can go back and play a game from their historical database, or make an entirely new fictional league of your own. Adjust the finances of the league, adjust the location, even change how managers set their lineups (traditional or saber-influenced). It's truly incredible the amount of stuff you can do in this game.
Most of this review has been geared towards potential new players of the game, so for my last bit I'll let returning players know of some updates they're in for. I've already mentioned the new foreign leagues and cosmetic updates. The ratings system has been updated, and the AI has apparently been improved, although that's hard to tell just by playing. (Not that I had any major issues before.) The big new feature, however, is 3D ballparks.
Taken directly from the press release:
(While the 3D feature is in a working state in OOTP 15, there are still some noticeable problems, and OOTP Developments is committed to fixing those issues with free updates throughout the summer. The company has hired a full-time 3D programmer whose only focus is this functionality. Please contact PR and Marketing Manager Brad Cook if you would like more information about 3D in the game.)OOTP 15 is the first step toward visualizing full 3D action on the field. Players can import 3D ballparks saved in the popular Collada (.dae) format, and the included ballpark editor lets them properly overlay the ball location diagram used by the game's simulation engine, including adjustment of wall heights, foul territory, and so forth.The result is a new optional in-game view that renders realistic 3D ball flight in the stadium model. Future versions of OOTP will build on this 3D engine and will eventually feature thrilling 3D animations of on-field play. Exciting times are ahead!
My play style doesn't usually stop and watch the games unfold pitch-by-pitch, so I don't use this feature too often. But I did slow down and watch my Cubs take on the Colorado Rockies in this new 3D feature for the sake of this review. You can tell that the 3D feature is still very much a work in progress, but it's a huge step forward for a game like OOTP. The ball flight works well, but there are no fielders on the ground chasing the balls yet. All in all, it's not something I'm going to use right now, but I'll check up on it often to see the updates.
Going into 3D mode has caused a few crashes for me, but I'm sure that will be fixed in due time. One thing I can say is my experience with this company has been very positive. They update their game regularly after it comes out and they fix the bugs that arise, so I have faith that 3D will soon be a selling point and that gameplay will be crash-less quite soon.
Aside from the potential for improvement on the new 3D features, I really have no big complaints about this game. There are minor things like a desire to hire specific scouts, more coaches and what have you, but those are just extra features I desire in an already jam-packed game.
If you've ever sat at your keyboard and read about the latest Cubs roster move thinking "I can do better," then here's your opportunity. Out of the Park Baseball 15 gets me the closest I will ever be to running a Major League Baseball team, and that experience is worth every penny. Buy it today.
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Author's Note: I originally received a preview copy of this game through the Baseball Bloggers Alliance press partnership with OOTP Developments, although this review is based on the final version of the game that shipped late last month.
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