Review: Out of the Park Baseball 14 (PC)

Game: Out of the Park Baseball 14
Developer: Out of the Park Productions
Publisher: Out of the Park Productions
Genre: Sports Simulation
Release Date: 04/16/2013

The calendar has turned to April and it is time for Major League Baseball. For over a decade, each baseball season has been accompanied by another iteration of Out of the Park Baseball. Can the steady superstar of the baseball simulation world continue its dominance?

First, let me get this out of the way: Out of the Park Baseball is the most robust baseball simulation on the market today. Since the game is on top, it may be easy to just rest on your laurels. Markus and the Out of the Park team do no such thing. Every iteration tweaks, overhauls, and hones different parts of the game. This year the name of the change game is “player development.”

One part of OOTP baseball’s game is the audio – there is barely any to speak. However, as I say year in, year out – that isn’t the point. The game is about number crunching and keeping your team competitive. Could there be improvement? Yes. Is it necessary? No. The crowd noise, purely ambient, is nice for atmosphere. However, it can be a distraction. I listen to my music library or watch a movie or TV show while I simulate baseball game after baseball game. The game’s biggest weakness is really a non-starter.

The visual aspect of OOTP baseball depends on what you want to invest. The game, right from the start, will generate logos, faces for players, and uniforms. You only see those details when you’re looking at stats (uniforms) or everywhere (logos/player faces). The graphics are a cherry on top of a stat sandwich. They add another layer of immersion, but aren’t the greatest thing on Earth. You can import pictures of stadiums, create new logos, use real player pictures – those features help tailor your game experience. However, you’re not playing Out of the Park for looks.

Who is the target audience for OOTP? Lovers of baseball. Markus (the man behind Out of the Park) is a German who has a love of baseball and set out to create the best baseball simulation possible. The love of the game, attention to detail, and continued improvements done during the yearly releases show this affection for the game. The casual fan may get lost in the minutia, but if you love baseball, or even general management simulations, OOTP is right up your power alley.

Out of the Park 14‘s major improvement path is about player development and scouting. Last year added more complexity to the financial side (especially the Amateur Draft), while this year international free agents, international top amateur prospects, independent leagues, and international scouting discoveries have been revamped. This all fell under the umbrella term “Player Origin System”.

You see, Out of the Park Baseball creates hundreds of players over and over again (to fill the need for MLB quality players), but before the way players entered the league was a bit suspect (especially the amount of Aruban players that one of my leagues had).

While optional, the negotiating with top international prospects adds another new wrinkle to your general management duties. You have to watch just how much you’re spending on possible busts you sign. Added to the international negotiations is the international player complex. Academies, institutes, whatever you call them, many teams have facilities in other countries to help develop young players in hopes to find the next MLB level player. The facilities stash players until they reach the age of twenty or older, at which time they are sent to your regular minor leagues if not the MLB.

Then we come to a huge gameplay change – the option to tweak pitching roles and depth chart substitutions. While you’ve been able to tweak batter and pitcher usage tendencies (as well as team usage tendencies) changing those can be very time consuming and tedious. The addition of being able to set a reliever to a reliable middle reliever (who’s used more often than others), with a set up man being set to a secondary role as back up closer is a much appreciated addition.

Why? Well, if you simulate games, the CPU may rely on pitchers you have, but don’t care to use in certain situations. This is really important with the infamous LOOGY (or Lefty One Out GuY). These super specialized pitchers are meant to do one thing: get left handed threats. They usually come in for one batter (Tony LaRussa style), and then are banished back to the hell they came from. Why? Because left handed bats are dangerous (to righties and righties are dain’juss to lefties). So when a big bopper batting southpaw appears, you really want to have a same handed pitcher around to tip the scales in your favor. Having the CPU manager, during a sim, know to use your one left hander in the bullpen for the other team’s big lefty slugger is a nice, calming feeling.

Then there’s being able to set it up so your all stick, no glove left fielder is pulled from the line up in late game situations for a defensive wizard. While left field isn’t that important, positions like 3B, SS and 2B often have suspect, or less than optimal, gloves at their respective position due to offensive considerations. This can bite you in the butt and snatch a defeat from the tender caress of victory.

I sometimes do curse the injury algorithms – considering that I had six out of twenty-five man roster on the DL for at least a month (three with the same oblique injury), I can’t help but feel that it is singling out the player. However, the human brain can’t wrap its head about true random outcomes, so perhaps it is my limitations (and personal bias) that makes me feel annoyed by a rash of injuries.

Short Attention Span Summary
Year after year, it is easy to say: “This year I’ll skip OOTP,” but as someone who has, I will tell you that since that one year, there has been additions and tweaks that make the next year a must buy. The only OOTP release I didn’t get was 11, but every game has a stumbling period. From 2001 to 2013, I can say Out of the Park Baseball 14 is a wonderful testament to why this franchise is so popular.



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