Publisher: OOTP Developments
Developer: OOTP Developments
Looking at Out of the Park Baseball 16 from a purely superficial point of view, you might expect the game to be as dry as anything. After all, it's basically this XKCD comic come to life, in that you're literally cheering for randomly-generated numbers and hoping they favor your preferred team. I suspect the entire premise behind the long-running OOTP series is how all those anti-Moneyball types believe that the more stats-inclined fans view the game.
Look a little deeper at the game, though, and you'll find there's a really undercurrent of weirdness going on just below the surface. See, not only does the game generate the players' numbers, it also creates all kind of stories to go with said numbers, too. For the most part, of course, these are pretty standard — stuff like "Player X on disabled list for 15 days", or "Player Y's hitting streak reaches 20 games". Admittedly, some of those injuries are strange (my favorite so far is the player who went on the DL with a cracked molar caused by a hard sesame seed bagel, though that's followed closely by the outfielder who hurt himself trying to unjam his garage door), but at the same time, baseball has a long, proud tradition of crazy injuries, so it's not completely insane.
What are kind of insane, though, are the slice of life stories. Stories about things like new Blue Jays cather Russell Martin attending leadership seminars in order to enhance his veteran presence as he gets older, or Red Sox pitcher Rubby De La Rosa becoming a cult icon in San Jose thanks to his awkward car commercials. Uplifting tales about Jose Fernandez visiting children at Miami-area cancer treament centres, or Zack Cozart walking away from baseball in order to donate part of his kidney to save the life of his ailing cousin. Soap opera-worthy stories about about custody battles over pets, or — my personal favourite — Baltimore catcher Caleb Joseph being suspected of using a "wood-chopping incident" as a cover-up for a secret extramarital affair with a massage therapist. (As the story helpfully notes, people began suspecting things when they saw Joseph and the massage therapist at a mall together, which followed closely after Joseph's pick-up truck was spotted at a motel in his hometown.) I know all those things probably happen in real life, and I certainly welcome the color they add to OOTP 16, but that doesn't make it any less weird to see them here.
Obviously, though, you're probably not reading this review to know how well OOTP 16 simulates off-the-field activities. You want to know how good a job it does at making you feel like you're in charge of a Major League Baseball franchise. And on that front, it delivers…obviously. I mean, the Out of the Park franchise has been delivering for well over a decade now, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it continues to do so this time out too.
That said, it's still worth noting just how impressive this game is. Where else can you take control of a franchise and shape it however you want it to look, everywhere from your big league team down to the very lowest rookie league team in your organization? For that matter, where else are you allowed to create an expansion team and build it from scratch? Honestly, OOTP 16's depth can even seem a little daunting, but it's important to remember that the game allows you to delegate much of the franchise's day-to-day duties.
Personally, I used the expansion feature to bring baseball back to Montreal (Viva Nos Amours!), and from there built the team into a dynasty. I drafted well, focused on high-upside players, found a few free agent bargains and managed to pull off some massive steals in trades (why yes, Angels, I will give you that so-so prospect in exchange for Mike Trout!). As someone who's always loved digging for prospects and creating youth-oriented teams, it was pretty fun.
Of course, as much as I liked it, there were some pretty apparent flaws. The player rating system didn't just seem off, it seemed to have virtually no bearing on a player's performance. Players like Eric Hosmer and Jose Reyes, for example, were mysteriously deemed one-star players with two-star ceilings, yet both were perennial all-stars. Meanwhile, I regularly found four- and five-star players who couldn't do anything right, yet their ratings seemed to stay constant.
This wonky rating system, in turn, seemed to make trades something of a crapshoot. Admittedly, they are kind of crapshoots, but it still made it weird to put a five-star player on the trading block and get nothing of value offered in return, while two-star non-entities could incite a bidding war.
Even with those complaints, though, I still had a blast with OOTP 16. It's the perfect game for anyone who's ever criticized their team's GM for doing a crappy job, since it gives you the opportunity to step into their shoes — and, with a few tweaks here and there, prove that all your criticisms are totally valid. It's wish fulfillment of the nerdiest kind, and I just can't get enough of it.