Out of the Park Baseball stands as a unique case in the world of annually-released sports video games. It's so good at what it sets out to do that there are few (if any) flaws to address on a year-to-year basis, yet still there are significant improvements and additions provided to expand upon the experience with every new edition.
The 17th release in the series is no different, with all the functionality from the past returning and accompanied by considerable upgrades that elevate the product to an even greater level.
MORE: Top-ranked players in OOTP Baseball 17 | Michael Jordan, John Elway in OOTP Baseball 17
As far as simulation management games go, Out of the Park Baseball has long been the gold standard. The PC game gives people the opportunity to run a baseball franchise from top to bottom, whether that be with an MLB team, a team from year's past, a minor league club, or even one out of a foreign league. Everything from ownership and GM tasks down to the batter-by-batter managerial duties are available to take over in the game. Users have the option of automating whatever they don't want to do and handling only the assignments that are desired.
The sheer number of options, and barrage of statistics and ratings and menu screens, makes not just OOTP but all management games somewhat overwhelming for newcomers. Out of the Park Baseball 17 is a little more friendly in that regard, given again the ability to just assign tasks to the AI and handle as little as possible, plus there are a few modes where the focus is more honed in and simplified.
Still it can be frustrating at times. Something as simple as activating a player off the DL might send a person scrambling through a number of screens to try and find where the action is to be taken. For that example, a user most go to a player's profile page, click on "available actions" then "transactions" and activate from DL. If the roster is full, though, that won't be possible, so a spot has to be freed up before coming back to do that again.
Now, it all makes sense in terms of completing the moves, but navigating all over particularly when unfamiliar with the game can be tough.
Last year, the MLB.com and MiLB licenses were acquired for Out of the Park Baseball and that meant real teams, their logos and uniforms, and real stadiums were included for the first time. While player names have always appeared in the games Out of the Park Baseball 17 brings the MLBPA on board. The series now for the first time has the complete MLB licensing package.
The minor leagues are an extension of that. Not only are the current minor league rosters accurate but now there are historical minors going all the way back to 1919. It's astounding that 100,000+ real minor leaguers from history have been recreated for the game and follow their career paths from year-to-year. It means it's possible to discover and play with intriguing names from the past like Michael Jordan, Kurt Russell, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, John Elway and others.
The history of baseball is important to fans of the sport and OOTP 17 capitalizes on it even more with a new Historical Exhibiton Mode. It's yet another way in which Out of the Park Developments has gone above and beyond any reasonable consumer expectations.
The mode allows for any two teams from 1919-2016 to play against each other in a single game or full series. The number of options within it are great also, showing the dedication the developers have to doing more than just the minimum required. A series can be 3, 5, 7, or 9 games. The home vs away structure can be configured several different ways. On top of that, the "era" for the game/series is selected so the simulation engine knows how to manage them. The sport has evolved over the years and it's a great way to acknowledge that and see the effect it has on the results.
There are very few gripes to be had with Historical Exhibition Mode but one is that an in-progress series can't be saved. Exit out for whatever reason and it's lost for good. It was also noted that the stadiums displayed for the teams are incorrect.
Another new feature for OOTP 17 is "FaceGen", which provides the player portraits for the profile pages. Thanks to the MLBPA licensing they resemble the players but FaceGen goes well beyond that. Faces actually age over time and show their current emotional state. When moves to other teams or organizations are made they are updated instantly with the new uniforms and hats.
As cool as it all is in concept, there seems to be inconsistency when it comes to the display of emotion. I was able to find guys who were supposedly happy but didn't look as though they were in their pictures, while there were some very unhappy or angry players that were still smiling.
Other improvements in OOTP 17 include increased simulation speed — which will be very noticeable to veterans of the series — updated rosters for the new season, new GM and manager AI preferences and tendencies, and player models that actually move around the field during game action.
I took the simulation engine for a spin in predicting the upcoming season by running through it several times. It seems to really like the Mets, Rangers, Yankees, and Indians above what most people are predicting for them. In a full sim that extended through the postseason, the Blue Jays beat the Nationals in the World Series in seven games. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were the MVPs, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber the Cy Young winners..
There's never been a game that celebrates the history of a sport quite like Out of the Park Baseball 17. From playing out matchups that until now could only be fantasized about to accurate minor leagues going back nearly 100 years what has been done with the product is remarkable. The full MLB licensing further legitimizes the series as best-in-class. Management-style games definitely aren't for everyone but baseball purists and aspiring general managers alike will find themselves in heaven with Out of the Park Baseball 17.
Out of the Park Baseball 17 is available for PC and Mac through Steam and the Out of the Park Developments website. A mobile version on iOS and Android will be releasing soon under the name MLB Manager 2016.
Bryan Wiedey posts sports gaming news and analysis daily at Pastapadre.com , has co-founded the new site HitThePass.com , hosts the Press Row Podcast , and be reached on Twitter @Pastapadre .