Baseball video games have come a long way since the good old days of RBI Baseball for the Nintendo Entertainment System. In that span of time, pixelated ball players have been replaced with near photorealistic recreations of their real world counterparts. Stadiums from across the country have been given the same care, complete with colorful commentary and the occaisional heckler. Out of the Park Baseball 15 is, if you’ll forgive the cheap joke, a whole different ball game. It removes all of the visual advances and revolutionary pitch controls for something far more simple and comprehensive.
OOTP 15 is strictly a numbers game. Played from the perspective of the team manager, your job is to oversee the health and success of a team and guide them to victory in the World Series. Getting there and maintaining a financially healthy club proves far more challenging than winning one of the biggest sports contest in the country. OOTP takes you out of the baseball diamond and into a computer desktop space containing data and spreadsheets on the club’s financial health, league standings, and email. The desktop is completely customizable, allowing you to choose what information you want displayed at all time and from this command center, you’ll determine the fate of your players by shuffling them between Major and Minor leagues, conduct trades, purchase free agents, renew contracts or fire them.
The baseball games themselves are mostly a hands off affair – if you want them to be. Before the game, you are free to determine what behaviors, such as defense and substitutions, are controlled by yourself or the AI. These games do not take place in real time and instead are simulated to specific points in the match, allowing you to micromanage accordingly. When the game is over, win or lose, you’re sent back to the manager’s desktop to prepare for the next game and address any issues that come up as a result of play (injured players, for instance).
OOTP is not a graphical powerhouse, nor does it need to be. Strongly driven by data, it is important to present the information in a manner that is clean and easy to understand, of which the game does wonderfully. Beyond the design of the Manager’s screen, baseball games can be played through two different views, broadcast and webcast. Broadcast displays the most comprehensive information about all ball players while the webcast view is a bit more slimmed down and resembles something you’d see on Yahoo.com. Outside of these views, there is nothing in the game that carries “wow” factor. It entertains a comically minimal manager and team logo customization option but don’t expect anything on the level of Skyrim. Unfortunately, because Out of the Park does not carry a license from Major League Baseball, team logos and mascots are sorely absent from the experience. Fear not, however, as this is where the game’s surprisingly robust and powerful mod community comes to the rescue.
The community surrounding Out of the Park is more than active. It is insane in the most awesome way possible. The wealth of mods and resources available is due to the ease of which the game can be modified. Don’t like the bland team logos? A community member has recreated 8800+ logos for all major, minor and international teams. Another developed image sets for teams spanning the years 1871 to present day. How about downloading files that will turn your player profiles into virtual Topps baseball cards? TOPPS BASEBALL CARDS. Spanning Out of the Park Baseball’s release history, the sheer amount of community made content reflects a fan base that is religiously devoted to baseball.
As an extremely casual fan of the sport, I found Out of the Park Baseball to be overwhelming to the point of terror. But lightning strike me if I don’t believe it to be the most amazing and fascinating thing I’ve ever seen. I only wish it was a bit more welcoming to newbies. Out of the Park greatly assumes the player has an thorough understanding of baseball’s rules and concepts. There are no in-game tutorials to explain the numerous screens and data thrown at you. This makes understanding and performing various transactions, contract negotiations, player rotations and DL lists – all of the elements the AI manages for me – a severely daunting prospect. There are a series of videos on the official website, the game’s windowed mode makes switching to and from them effortless, but it would have been nice to have someone standing over my shoulder, so to speak.
Out of the Park 15 is clearly intended for those eat, breath and live baseball. Understanding and knowing how to manipulate data replaces the “traditional” video game baseball experience. It will easily delight a niche group of players, especially those engaged in fantasy baseball leagues. There are even historic games to manage spanning the sport’s existence from 1871 to 2013. Returning managers can even import their game profiles from Out of the Park 14 and carry their team into another season. If the idea of a baseball video game involving spreadsheets and player statistics doesn’t sound appealing, Out of the Park 15 will be hard to approach. There are prerequisites to the simulation and despite the active community and video tutorials, the game prefers to immediately get out of the player’s way. This left me feeling a lot like Homer Simpson confronted with a nuclear monitoring station during an imminent meltdown. Many of my management decisions were often the result of Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe.