Out of the Park Baseball 17 Review (PC)
Baseball is a rite of spring to many, and the annual release of our beloved baseball games is now part of that modern-day experience. Out of the Park Developments has just released their 17th edition of their baseball game, Out of the Park Baseball 17, and it's time to find out whether it should be in your starting lineup this season.
"Live-Action is an addition that is already beginning to revolutionize the sim sports world..."
Gameplay and Presentation
If you’re a veteran of this series, you're already aware that OOTP Baseball does not have traditional gameplay. There continues to be, however, a way to control the action in-game as a manager--or a very controlling GM--calling the shots from the virtual dugout. Just wanted to get that part out of the way...
3D Live-Action Gameplay is the Holy Grail for Sports Simulation
Live-Action is an addition that is already beginning to revolutionize the sim sports world, but now that we are seeing it in a functional mainstream American (German?) sports sim, it's going to continue to grow in popularity and demand. This new feature has come a long way since it was first demonstrated during beta testing, and I'm shocked at how clean and beautifully flowing it turned out.
3D Live-Action gameplay is the future of 'text' sims.
I find myself pumping my fist even while managing a silly demo game for this review--it's that awesome. I get excited when I see a long fly ball hit by Miguel Cabrera…and feel a bit deflated (and embarrassed) when I see the ball caught just in front of the warning track. When Nelson Cruz blasts a no-doubter, it's definitely noticeable visually. And to hear the perfectly-timed crowd roar as soon as a line drive gets past the SS for an RBI single is beautiful. The only possible negative I could find was that on a fly ball error committed by an OF, there was no live-action, just text--something that may actually have been patched in the release-day patch.
This addition opens Pandora’s Box for the ultimate sports game question: What will we see first, a graphical game that masters (true) simulation, or a simulation game that masters the visuals?
It’s not as obvious of a choice as one might initially think.
Presentation Update with Fully Licensed MLBPA and MLB.com
I was surprised to see this as OOTP 17’s primary advertised feature as it was something I haven’t really noticed being much different from previous versions. Granted, I was one of the people who modded my game to include things like facegen, which is now included right out of the box for MLB players (but not minor leaguers). The expanded licensing also includes “all the real Major League teams, players, and logos, including projected 2016 Opening Day rosters,” with projections based on ZiPS. Included too are “over 150 authentic Minor League clubs with real logos and leagues, along with eight international and several independent leagues, all with real rosters.”
Another new feature is a redesigned interface, but that is also something I haven’t really noticed being vastly different. There’s definitely some updated screens where you’ll see more team colors, a new splash screen, and your team logo appearing as a nice faded background in places, but the rest seemed very similar to last year’s game. Luckily, it all looked pretty nice already.
One example of how presentation could be expanded would be the manager’s screen, which is the first screen someone sees when starting a new game. The aesthetics for this page could use some updating as it doesn't give the feel of a MLB manager's office, but instead a screen with a lot of information on it, useful as it may be. By no means does this ruin the experience or anything, but with the full MLB licensing now, give us the look of a locker room through the window of your manager's office with some team imagery strewn about. In GM, perhaps a more corporate look to your digs.
The new game recap and win probabilities being added to a post-game box score is the perfect blending of something old with something new. I did find it a bit frustrating that these recaps only seemed to be available in games that are actually played, meaning that I could not go back and read all of the other game recaps around the league. However, after exploring around the game settings, it appears as though this feature can be turned on.
Smarter, More Cunning AI GMs and Managers
A team’s general manager and manager now have even more personalized approaches to their roster-building, scouting, and even their finances. GMs are still rated in Overall Roster Strategy, but that has been expanded to also include categories for Player Valuation, Trading Strategy, and Prospect Strategy.
In-Game Manager AI Needs Polishing Still
Perhaps the biggest negative I encountered was seeing bad pinch-hitting AI for pitchers still happening in AI controlled teams. Here you can see a video that should speak for itself during C.J. Wilson's at-bat, but I can’t imagine why there wouldn’t have been a pinch hitter used by the AI here considering there were bats on the bench. Can this be tweaked by fixing a million different settings? Perhaps, but shouldn’t this already be ready out of the box?
Improved Trade AI: Quality vs Quantity
One of the aspects I really wanted to pay special attention to was the improved trade AI, which is now supposedly more heavily based on team needs. I figured the best place to examine this was around the trade deadline, so I did a commish-only quick-sim up to July 29th and started taking a look around.
First, let's start with quantity: In order to give myself some sort of comparison, I checked MLB at last year's trade deadline. I looked at the 48-hour window between July 30-31, and there were 23 trades made (cbssports.com). In looking at the same two-day window within OOTP, I saw seven. I had the "AI Trade Frequency" set to "Average" up until July 29th, at which point I changed it to "Very High." Luckily, for that entire OOTP season through July--including those seven trades--there were a total of 42 trades. In MLB there were 32 up to that same point last year. So it seems the quantities match up quite well--even if it was more bottom heavy in MLB---as not every year is exactly the same.
Next, let's look at quality. For reference, here are the simulated standings on August 1, 2016:
One of the trades saw the Phillies add SP Brandon Morrow from the Padres for a 25-year old minor leaguer. This deal makes sense as the Phillies are (somehow?!?) just 1.5 back of the division lead and only a game out of the wildcard. Morrow is now their #4 SP.
The Yankees acquired SP C.J. Wilson from the Angels in exchange for SS Starlin Castro. Wilson is having a very good year going 9-5 with a 3.22 ERA thus far and is now the Yankees #5 SP, a nice fit for Yankee Stadium. Castro had a slash of .276/.304/.454 playing 2B and SS for the Yankees, and is now the Angels starting 2B after Angels 2B Johnny Giovatella has just a .649 OPS.
The trade that really sold the quality factor for me was the first place Indians acquiring OF Carlos Gonzalez on July 27th, along with $5M+ in cash from Colorado in exchange for 4 minor league pitchers. When you look at the standings, this is a perfect deal.
Other notable deals saw the now last place Tigers (sad face!) sending SP Jordan Zimmermann to the Orioles for CF Dariel Alvarez and a minor league pitcher (7-28-16), as well as Detroit sending an underperforming OF Justin Upton to the Blue Jays for two minor leaguers (6-25-16). Lastly, the Padres sold off everyone including SS Alexi Ramirez, OF Melvin Upton Jr., C Derek Norris, and SPs Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and the aforementioned Morrow. Sounds about right!
"...you'll be blown away with OOTP 17's historical offerings."
Historical: Exhibitions and Full Minors
While all of the previous game-specific modes still exist, such as fictional leagues, quickstart leagues, and carryover saves, historical games have received huge upgrades.
I personally don't play historical, but I know a lot of people buy OOTP Baseball merely because of its historical prowess. Well, if you were impressed before this year's edition, you'll be blown away with OOTP 17's historical offerings.
First is the ability to play a historical exhibition, which includes “any historic World Series matchup with accurate rosters.” The screenshot below doesn't do the mode justice as there are numerous options and settings you can choose from in preparing a game. Do you want to replay an entire classic World Series from yesteryear, or perhaps just that elusive game 7 your team lost with the same exact lineups and pitchers? How about putting two of baseball's greats, such as Hank Aaron's Braves versus Ty Cobb's Tigers, head-to-head in a 9 game playoff series? How about Babe Ruth versus Barry Bonds? All of these scenarios and more can be done using Historical Exhibitions, and best of all it can be done very easily with just a few selections to get a game underway.
In starting a historical league, the teams will now be outfitted with their real-life minor league teams and rosters for the time, with options between 1919 through 2015 to choose from; the entire database contains over 100,000 players. In essence, you can start up a historic game while some of the greats are still tinkering around in the minor leagues, and you'll be the one to make the call as to when their careers will get started.
If you've been playing OOTP Baseball and you haven't given an online league a try, you're missing out on a whole new level of engagement. There's no greater feeling than putting a winning team together against other like-minded baseball junkies and seeing your long-term plan come to fruition, or even a short-term plan for that game 7 strategy you put in place. While there isn’t much new with online leagues to report, that’s only because they are already a very stable and enjoyable experience. For the record, all of the new features as well as features past are available in the online model.
Another solid year in the books...
Now the OOTP Developments team must aim to be the absolute trendsetter and determine what is next in the sports sim genre. The expansion of their 3D live-action gameplay might just be that golden ticket, and their team must continue to push the envelope of innovation. As for you who's reading this? Go and buy this game!
Score: 8.5 (Great)