Bats and Bytes Review: Out of the Park Baseball 18

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

Let’s start with a disclaimer — we love Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) around here. We reviewed last year’s game with high praise. We even spoke with Richard Grisham of OOTP Developments.

Some would say we’re biased. To that, I say – hell yes, we are. We’re baseball fans. We love games. And no sports simulator brings you closer to the complete baseball lifestyle than this series.

That’s not to say we’re not looking with a fair, critical eye, of course. But if you’re looking for a nitpicky critique about graphics and load times, we recommend looking elsewhere. However, if you want to create (or recreate) an amazingly immersive experience, OOTP is your answer. And OOTP 18 is the most complete edition to date.

First, a little background…

For the uninitiated, OOTP 18 is the latest in a long line of deep digital baseball simulation games that give the user complete control of a team, a league, or even a historical franchise. From monitoring each at-bat to budgeting stadium ticket prices, negotiating contracts and gauging player happiness, no stone is left unturned when it comes to detail.

To new players used to graphic splendor and controls optimized for a gamepad, OOTP is going to feel like a hell of a lot of work. And it can be, if approaching the game from that perspective.

However, once gamers become accustomed to the menu-driven control scheme, and learn to become active, engaged managers, things change. Rather than simply focusing on game-to-game operations, there’s a moment when OOTP’s style “just clicks,” and soon becomes an addictive, difficult to put down experience.

How does it OOTP 18 work?

On a surface level, OOTP 18 is a deep fantasy/coaching simulation that encourages users to proactively interact with scouts, communicate with players, and monitor minor league progress to ensure your squad is always fielding an optimized lineup.

Of course, the amount of micromanagement is left entirely to the player. Should you choose to only hit a few keys and play a game or two, OOTP functions perfectly well. But to do so is to potentially lose the point of the title. While the game’s statistics-driven simulation performs in accordance with player happiness and health, watching those situations play out behind the scenes is where the magic really happens.

For example, if I continue running the same lineup onto the field every day, the gamer will see players become tired, perhaps opening themselves up to more injury and reduced productivity.

However, by monitoring your team’s day-to-day morale, contract satisfaction, playing time and the like, you can predict how players are trending, see their performance against certain pitchers, and situational success.

When balanced correctly, you will see improvements in player morale, team morale, overall performance and more. While describing it here makes it seem as if it’s nothing but a number-crunching exercise, the end result is satisfying beyond belief.

Balance, balance, balance…

In turn, the game rewards fairness. In one of my many game saves, I attempted to override OOTP’s trade negotiation system and force trades to build a superteam of sorts. Though the trades were woefully unbalanced in my favor, and soon saw my beloved Mets starting an infield of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitski, Freddie Freeman and Daniel Murphy, the team’s performance was dreadful.

A look behind the scenes showed that having too many equally balanced players likely made it difficult for them to see better pitches, and caused several to question their positions on the team. Plus, a number of players demanded highly lucrative long-term contracts, many of which had to be denied to stay within budget. Before long, the team’s locker room morale was beyond poor, and the on-field play suffered.

On the flip side, fielding the actual 2017 Mets lineup produced results that are strikingly (and upsettingly) close to real life, with a talented team struggling to overcome injuries and a growing deficit in the standings.

No one likes a cheater, especially the creators of OOTP 18. Be warned, lineup stackers.

How does it look?

Visually, OOTP 18 is pleasingly familiar for series veterans, with significant improvements on several fronts. For starters, the game’s 3D Mode, which allows the simulation to play out in near real-time, features all new animations and more detailed action. In turn, many of the series’ occasional glitches and hangups have disappeared, with on-screen representations more accurately reflecting what is described in the text.

If you come into OOTP expecting The Show, you’ll likely leave confused and underwhelmed. But once you see how 3D Mode serves to enhance your management and maneuvers, it becomes a harmonious extension of the game’s playability.

What about customization?

OOTP 18 allows players to craft their ideal experience, with a bounty of options available from the outset. Gamers can choose from current or historical MLB rosters, generate new players from random pools, or dive into MiLB, and countless foreign leagues and tournaments.

If it exists in the world of organized baseball – or happened in organized baseball since 1871 (!) – chances are you’ll find it here.

Plus, users can also choose to play single seasons, full career franchises or custom tournaments, using any of the lineups mentioned above. And they can do so as solely an on-field manager, or as a full franchise owner, opening up new levels of depth and immersion.

Commissioner Mode also returns, which acts as a sort of “God” mode for baseball enthusiasts. When in use, the league is your blank canvas. Players can be made stronger, trades can be pushed through at will, and AI sliders are at your disposal.

Of course, you can use this power to make things more difficult, but it can also let you make your favorite players and teams perform as desired, if not entirely as expected.

For the truly hardcore OOTP fan, this year’s edition includes Challenge Mode, which limits certain aspects of management to ensure a more intense simulation. Here, auto-play, player editor, and AI settings are more restrictive, offering adequate challenge to even the most seasoned gamers.

It can’t be perfect, can it?

Unfortunately, there are still a few gripes with this year’s edition of OOTP. First and foremost, it feels as if the game’s creators assumed that its audience is already familiar with the series. There are no detailed walkthroughs or extensive tutorials to guide newcomers along, leaving much of the work to trial and error.

Though nothing in the game is difficult to figure out, and the menu systems are well-designed, a little hand-holding would likely broaden the game’s audience considerably, especially since the best parts of the game come well into a season or franchise.

Likewise, the much-improved visuals still fall victim to occasional glitches and even game reboots. I tested the Steam version of the game which was nearly effortless to install, but I’ve been forced to relaunch the game after certain visual hiccups caused the game to stall.

In the end, these complaints are downright minor (and possibly not even related to the software). When you consider just how much gameplay is packed into OOTP 18, it’s even more nitpicky, but nonetheless, worth noting.

Now, the real question…

Is OOTP 18 fun? Without question. I’ve played several iterations of the series, and this one represents the most thorough, fair and complete simulation of the game we love so much. The developers clearly listen to the active and growing OOTP community, and have seemingly addressed last season’s concerns in grand fashion.

Newcomers may feel a touch intimidated by the sheer depth and scope of the OOTP universe, but make no mistake, ANYONE can get into this game – even the guys who only want to hit one button to make their brand of baseball magic happen.

For longtime fans of the series, this is a no-brainer. OOTP 18 is the deepest, most fluid and playable edition to date, and a perfect way to further test your baseball acumen. If you enjoy the nuances that make baseball so special, look no further. Your next digital addiction is here.

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