Bats & Bytes Review: Out of the Park Baseball 17

MLB 2K, Xbox One, Out of the Park 17, baseball video game, sports gaming, PC gaming, game review, simulation game, Bats & Bytes

A long time ago, a little baseball website gave me the chance to embrace two of my favorite pastimes – baseball and video games. While this doesn’t say much for my cardio, covering baseball gaming from past and present made for some memorable writing moments.

Over the last few years, baseball video gaming has declined. From annual, uninspired rehashes, to flat-out ridiculous reboots, this once thriving game genre now finds itself gasping for air. I’m happy to say that The Spitter will continue the Bats & Bytes column, so fans know exactly what games are worth their time, and which ones should gather digital dust on their hard drives.

Thankfully, our first review won’t have any such problems. Out of the Park Baseball 17 (OOTP 17) is an excellent update of an already deep series, and any baseball fan who thinks s/he can outmanage the pros should give it some serious time. It may not satisfy casual gamers, but if you prefer stat graphs to showy presentation, look no further.

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Quite simply, OOTP 17 is a gold standard for pure sports simulation, meaning graphics take a backseat to an ever-deepening collection of stats, scenarios and menus. Rather than assume the role of player, GM or team manager, you instead take on all three. Contracts, playing time, infield shifts, swing or take — all of this is under your purview, and the heavy choices are yours to make.

Rewrite baseball history

Indeed, there are choices. Before you even tell your little guy to swing away, you first select your team. Here, you can choose from a wealth of professional leagues, as well as a full slate of MLB, MiLB and international squads, past and present. You can even import historical teams and try to rewrite some wrongs that may have ruined your childhood fandom.

(1988 Mets, I’m looking at you…)

Overwhelming? Maybe. But with more than 150,000 historic players on the minor league rosters alone, there’s no excuse for not building your dream nine.

If (somehow) you can’t build your own perfect sports scenario, the growing OOTP community will let you download theirs. It’s seamless, and easier than ever for users who may have been intimidated by sim games in the past.

I found this mode to be a nice addition, if not a reason to own this title. Reliving these old scenarios brought back some fond (and aggravating) memories, but because the statistics engine is so deep and accurate, there was little surprise when these games played out exactly as expected.

In the end, this is a fun mode to tinker with, to see fantasy matchups come to fruition, or to settle some bar bets. But make no mistake, OOTP is more engaging when it has both feet firmly in the modern era.

Brains over thumbs

Gameplay is also incredibly simple, but might seem too visually basic for people used to The Show or RBI Baseball. Instead of timing swings or placing pitches with an aiming reticle, OOTP takes the bat out of your hands, and forces you to think hard about things other titles gloss over.

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Most of your time will be spent looking at lineups, studying matchups, reviewing progress and regression, and making tough decisions to control player happiness.

For example, in a traditional baseball video game, when you’re controlling a fastball pitcher, you likely don’t think too much about pitch counts and a lefty trio waiting to bat. You simply slog forward, and hope you nail your pitch location.

In a strategic sim, with decisions left to stats and logic, you’ll definitely find yourself watching for signs of fatigue, and paying close attention to who the opposition is sending up in the next inning. While there are no real visuals to speak of, the text progression paints a more vibrant, urgent picture than any other baseball game I’ve played.

Unlike many sports simulators, which seem to develop players based on a handful of factors, OOTP 17 allows players to evolve through a thorough balance of performance and potential.  You’ll quickly learn how to mold an unproven player into a superstar, and also when to pull the plug on an aging veteran.

On game days, you can choose to control the on-field action a few different ways. If you want to play each game pitch-by-pitch, you can do so. This is time-consuming but allows you to make the same granular decisions as an actual manager.

But before you run away in fear of cumbersome digits and ominous LOOGYs, know that a selection (e.g. swing away, bunt, take) boils down each at-bat to a single action. It’s odd at first, but once you realize the game embraces baseball logic and common sense, it helps move things along.

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If you don’t care to play the games, there is a super-sim option that plays all games in the background while you make changes and review information as it comes in. Whether done at high-speed, or in real-time, this is where OOTP 17 actually becomes much more engaging.

Within a few innings of watching data unfold, I began to feel like a digital dictator, plotting new lineups, looking ahead to pitching matchups, and keeping a closer eye on contract scenarios. With each passing game, strategy and planning become paramount.

Before long, you’re weeks into a regular season, and looming trade deadlines weigh on you heavier than tax day. Controlling my beloved Mets, I was aiming to extend Neil Walker (who wanted $12M per season for five frickin’ years), and sadly, trying to find a way to trade David Wright (who was performing as expected).

Once the first campaign came to a close, and my mismanaged Mets missed the postseason, I didn’t start writing the review. I started planning for the upcoming season, fully intent on rectifying this miscarriage of justice. With nary a graphical flair, OOTP managed to worm its way into my gray matter more than any baseball game — sim or otherwise — since MVP Baseball 2005.

(Yes, that’s eleven years.)

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It should be noted that OOTP 17 features a full online component, which allows you the same level of control and customization as the solo game. There is always fun to be had when trying to out-manage a live opponent, but for once, I didn’t feel live competition provided any significant benefit beyond the single-player game.

In fact, on several occasions, I feel the computer’s much-improved AI outperformed more impulsive human managers. Still, intense, lag-free online gaming is just more gravy on a title chock full of features.

A little hair-splitting, for parity…

So, what went wrong? Well, nothing really, you cynical monsters. But, for console sports gamers who want to dip their toes in sim waters, or the frustrated Xbox owners just crying for SOME kind of baseball this year, OOTP may have several drawbacks.

(We’ll cover the Xbox travesty in another column. We promise.)

For these gamers, the lack of graphical polish and interaction may be a problem. Even with this year’s addition of a “3D” mode that adds a little action beyond a text description of a play, the minuscule sprites are laughable as they trot around a far away diamond.

Perhaps the game’s creators can find a way to include a pitcher/batter perspective in future editions. Not that we want OOTP to become a 2K game, but a little extra visual flair might move skeptical gamers off the fence.

Plus, in this mode, the game’s text play-by-play sometimes lags behind the action, forcing slight delays between each at-bat. Over the course of a nine-inning contest, these seconds can add up. Granted, this isn’t a “quick hit” kind of game, but considering the sheer amount of stuff there is to do in maintaining your ballclub, waiting is a hindrance.

Perhaps some “out of the box” baseball next time?

Another mild criticism is how in the world of OOTP, baseball remains lily white. Modern baseball fans are WELL aware of the sport’s fall from grace, as each day we’re forced to hear about PED violations, arrests, clubhouse fights, etc. Yet, OOTP keeps the drama limited to balls, strikes and on-field injuries.

(Let’s be real — where would baseball be today without A-Rod and his controversies?)

Joking aside, even the most ludicrous contract disputes never dip below “polite,” when we know full-well that in real life, the media circus would turn negotiations ugly in a heartbeat. No one is expecting “OOTP Blitz,” but part of being a realistic simulation is including every element of the game, warts and all.

That said, any complaints I have are minute. This is a near-perfect simulation of a sport very few people appreciate for its depth. With an active player community, regular game and roster updates, and developers that genuinely love the national pastime, OOTP 17 is a gem that gamers and baseball fans alike should have in their collections.

TL;DR

Pros:

  • Ridiculous amounts of customization and depth
  • New 3D mode helps enhance the experience beyond text
  • Accessible for newcomers, deep enough for ardent number-crunchers
  • Regular updates and an active community

Cons:

  • Stronger visuals in 3D mode would better connect decisions with actions
  • Needs to implement off-field activity and more real-world scenarios
  • Some player demands are too far-fetched during negotiations
  • Slight lag between decisions and actions in 3D mode

 

Six-Word Verdict: You should already be downloading it.

 

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