Review: Out of the Park Baseball 7.0

Title: Out of the Park Baseball 7.0 (website)

Developer: OOTP Developments

Release Date: March 23, 2007

About the game: OOTPB 7.0 is a baseball simulator aimed at hardcore baseball fans, particularly stat-oriented ones, with a desire to recreate the experience of being a general manager.

Basic features: Pitch-by-pitch game simulation, offseason simulation, and excellent CPU strategy, overall extreme customization and detail

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Out of the Park Baseball 7.0 represents a new level of achievement for baseball simulation games.  While Baseball Mogul was the industry leader for years, the console games took notice and eventually caught up with their franchise and dynasty modes, including details like the Rule 5 draft, but most of them still miss the mark on realistic simulation.

The current iteration of MVP Baseball (EA’s pro-turned-college baseball game) lacks some of the details that make stat-heads like me happy.  For example, they set a maximum for Slugging % and OPS at 1.000, which is incredibly frustrating when you have a guy hitting .500/.600/1.100 and really want to see the 1.700.

OOTPB picks up where these games leave off, going much farther in their statistics sections, even calculating a rough version of VORP for you and letting you export stat files in a number of different text formats for you to do your own analysis.  The simulation engine is fantastic, taking a page out of Tangotiger’s book and basing player aging models on skill sets, rather than whole players (or seemingly random chance).

In OOTPB, you can set up a league in different countries, with full minor leagues, and with pretty much any number of teams you desire.  You can extend or shorten the regular season and playoffs, or play a nine-game series if you prefer.  The season, and pretty much every other event (like the amateur draft and the Rule 5 draft) can happen when you want it to.  Player morale, multi-year contracts with options, minor league options, arbitration, and even a player’s popularity are factors.  Don’t set the ticket prices too high or trade your aging star for prospects, or your fans really will leave you.  You can play in a big market, small market, or your own customized market.  The same is true for ballparks: you set the park factors, seating capacity, and everything else.  With very, very few exceptions, it’s exactly like running a major league team, and you create your own little world for it all to happen.  To me, that achievement is nothing short of incredible.

The gameplay on a single-game level is similar to EA’s “Coach Game” feature, where you make all the managerial decisions, except in this game, you can control things on a pitch-by-pitch basis (on top of making defensive shifts, etc.).  It covers the decisions for pretty much everything except the physical act of pitching, hitting, or fielding the baseball.  Leaving that to the console games was a smart move, as this game excels at the rest.

There’s also a mode for online play, and if you search for OOTPB leagues, you’ll find very well-designed websites devoted to just that.  However, this is my main criticism of the game, as the online mode only allows you to simulate the games day-to-day, leaving only the GM-style decisions for you to make.  You can customize your game strategy (i.e. less sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, and defensive subs), but you don’t make the in-game decisions yourself like you can in the regular mode.  This takes away from what is an otherwise very solid online presentation, because a PC game with an online mode ought to give you the complete functionality of the game.  As it is, players just upload game files with their managerial decisions and wait for the next day.  That can still be interesting, but not as interesting as playing out the games would be.  I could still spend hours reviewing my managerial decisions and the activity in the rest of the league, which would turn it into a second (and possibly more interesting) fantasy team of sorts.

The online mode seems like a minor criticism, but it does keep the game from being truly remarkable in my mind.  Still, you have to give the developers credit for turning what was once a very buggy and unrealistic simulation game into the clear leader in that category.  The current version of the game has very few bugs and offers a phenomenally rich simulation.  While the interface is not perfectly intuitive, I can see how it must be tough to make it any better for such an incredibly deep game.  Improving that aspect of the game, as well as the online mode, could turn this into a must-own for any baseball fan.  As it is now, the $35 price tag is perhaps a little steep, even though the game is definitely fun.

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