Genre: Sports Management
Publisher: Sports Interactive
Developer: Sports Interactive
Release Date: May 31, 2006
Baseball is a game that can be as simple or complicated as you would like it to be. This season, there have been a plethora of baseball titles, each aimed at different niches in the market. Baseball Mogul was fantasy baseball for purists, with a season generator designed to give stat freaks (myself included) a rush of excitement. Out of the Park Baseball 2006 works in a similar vein but is far more complicated and extensive. With features on top of features and a powerful setup, the question remains: Does Out of the Park hit the grand slam or a short dribbler to the pitcher for an easy out? In this case, it's a bit of both.
Out of the Park is the newest game in the Sports Interactive stable, so those familiar with their previous titles will be able to jump into the game easily. However, those who have not played their other games, such as myself, have a steep learning curve ahead of them. With quite possibly one of the most complicated user interfaces in years to anyone unfamiliar, the game features a 350-page game guide meant to help you out. The interface is incredibly powerful though, giving players a lot of different options. Simulating the layout of an internet browser, the game sometimes makes you feel like you're skimming ESPN.com instead of playing a game. Most importantly, you can bookmark information to keep certain pages handy, something you will use quite often when poring over different stats.
Unfortunately, OOTP isn't meant for anyone less than a diehard fan of baseball. The amount of stat-crunching necessary to set up a single team – let alone several – will make non-purists heads spin. Previous versions had star ratings for players, but that feature has been removed. It had made it far too easy to manage players for those who knew nothing about baseball, but on the plus side, it made it easier to manage for those who knew nothing about baseball. It ends up being a serious problem for anyone who does not care to sit and read statistics for hours on end in an attempt to create the perfect team. Of course, what is more irritating is when the computer coaches then decide to readjust all of your lineups after you are done, for no particular reason. It's these little flaws that continue throughout the experience.
OOTP allows multiple fantasy leagues to exist, and the player is able to control any number of leagues. For those unfamiliar with the series, the standard leagues are composed of fictitious players, which is one of the biggest reasons you will spend hours poring over stats and trying to learn about your team(s). Yes, you can look directly at statistics and an individual player's abilities, but for diehards, it becomes a game of stat reading beyond that simplicity. Once again, it is something designed for those with high levels of baseball know-how, and lots of energy to spend working out the perfect lineups.
Those who are a bit lazier can import online historical databases of statistics and ratings from every year, which have been compiled by other baseball enthusiasts. This means you can play with Babe Ruth or the heroes of the steroid era, Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds, if that is what tickles your fancy. I find it strange to see entirely made-up teams and enjoy working with actual players a bit more, as I can at least understand who they are and know that what their tendencies are. It's hard for some people to play a game like this because there is no true face on these fictional players, and their existence is purely in numbers.
With the multiple leagues, players can then also scout other countries, looking for the next big-name foreign player. Finding a gem in the Korean, Japanese, or Cuban leagues is a nice addition, allowing players who spend time with the game the chance to develop stars. What was more interesting for me was watching as other teams made their choices too, trying to get the next Ichiro Suzuki instead of the next Kaz Matsui. This feature added just the right touch of realism to allow a player to understand how, even when we are dealing with millions of dollars and "sure things," it is still a roll of the dice when selecting players.
Simulating actual games is quite easy. Once in the game modes, you choose what players do from a list of options. There is a simulated spoken word summary of the plays as they develop, but strangely enough, they barely work. At times, it summarizes the flow of the game well, but generally, it just features strange sayings that mean almost nothing. Mostly, it just makes you wish there were actual play-by-play commentary, spoken by just about anyone, because in a text-based game, I am already doing enough reading. Additionally, it gets so irritating that you just stop wanting to manage these games and quick play them to the end.
The biggest issue that I ran into with OOTP was the questionable play of the AI general managers. Instead of making sensible moves, they seemed to continually make terrible decisions which jeopardize their team. For instance, they will regularly trade bright, young, promising players for washed-up veterans in their late 30s. These kinds of trades would make sense if the player were at least statistically sound, but most of the time, they are not even particularly great, thus removing any chance of winning in the future.
There is an online play feature, but to get it working is sort of complicated and not properly featured in the instruction manual. Thankfully, there are various web sites dedicated to the game, or I wouldn't have been able to check out this feature at all. It works as well as the regular game does, but it's not always easy as one might like to find a league of people who are dedicated to stat reading and playing a game like this.
For those who like to pick up and play, this title might be the least rewarding experience you have ever had. With the complicated interface and system, there is no way to truly jump into a game, but even when you can, you must still work hard to read stats of the fictionalized players. Of course, on the flipside, anyone who even wants to consider putting some time into the game or enjoys the hard numbers will find this a very rewarding version of baseball.
Unfortunately, the errors that arise make the game just too much to handle for anyone who is not aching to play with numbers. Although there are a lot of good things involved, it also feels as if there are just as many negatives. By no means a bad game, Out Of the Park Baseball is just not quite as clutch in game-winning situations as you might like, but anyone who loves the game of baseball should give it a try. Although it is by no means perfect, for the right player, it can deliver just the right mix of fun and excitement as your digital team wins the series.
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