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Out of the Park 18 offers an immersive, customizable baseball world

OOTP 18 is an imperfect but very customizable and highly-detailed baseball management simulator.

The startup art for OOTP 18

The first and very most important thing one must know about Out of the Park 18 - frequently abbreviated as OOTP 18 - is that, while it is a baseball game, it is not designed to satisfy the fantasy of being a Major League Baseball player. It is instead about taking the reins of the team as the on-field manager, the general manager, or both. Once you’ve got that firmly in mind, it’s time to dive into the game. Or, well, to go check out the manual or YouTube tutorial videos.

If you thought being a GM or manager was easy this game will quickly disabuse you of the notion. This game is very complex. And it has all the bells and whistles you could ask for, and then some. There’s even an option to have an image of a microphone in the play-by-play text box while you’re managing a game in order to allow users to just see what they need to see or to feel a bit more like they’re listening to the radio.

Let’s just go ahead and get the bad stuff in this game out of the way first. I found the interface to be exceptionally slow, complex, and generally confusing. As I spent more time with the game I eventually become accustomed to some of it’s various intricacies and nuances but even after ten hours of play I was having trouble always locating everything I was looking for. And they have a kind of browser-like navigation which means that if you can find a screen once you can hit back to find it again. One thing that might benefit future editions of this game would be to have a search function or even the option to use a plain-text list of the options.

Frustratingly for a game that is mostly just menus it can also be very slow to load - especially when you’re starting a new game where it usually took me 3-5 minutes of setup before I was allowed to continue.

Get used to seeing this image.

The waiting screen would show up at random other places as I attempted to navigate the menus as well and I never was able to determine any rhyme or reason to it. To be fair, the wait times are at least countered a bit by having interesting little tidbits about the game like in the above image. I even saw, though I failed to capture, a couple Hud-isms including one from his time with the Angels about noted free-swinger Vladimir Guerrero, “From his nose to his toes, that's how Vlad goes.”

Despite or perhaps because of their re-work of the injury system to make it more “realistic and interesting” I found the system extremely frustrating. When I tried to sim a few seasons as the Royals GM and/or Manager I found myself abruptly pulled out of the sim every couple of days as yet another player developed a nagging injury. Later I did discover that you can adjust the auto-play feature so that it doesn’t pull you out for every little thing. New games probably would benefit from starting on this screen as their are a variety of manager options - including a menu in the same section for reducing the number of injuries.

I was disappointed to find, when I finally decided that I might do better with some instructions, that rather than the fairly common in-game tutorial this game is accompanied only by a YouTube playlist tutorial which requires a user to be on-line to access. The tutorial is also for the 2016 version of the game, which draws attention to two flaws - first that the tutorial is out of date for the current version of the game and second that the game has apparently changed little enough in the last two years that the creators have not deemed it necessary to update this tutorial.

In addition to those big issues there was an exceptionally nitpicky thing that just grated on my nerves but probably won’t bother most people. Unlike a lot of the higher-budget player-fantasy games you’ll see out there, this game features some sort of computer imagined or digitally drawn images of players instead of their actual photos. Some of these are actually not half-bad:

A computer-generated image representing Salvador Perez from OOTP 18

Others were a bit less-identifiable:

Jason Vargas. Allegedly.

It’s up to you to decide if the game is better with these images or without; you can, of course, remove them or even replace them with real photos because OOTP is a game that let’s you do anything.

That is the true strength of OOTP 18. Do you want be responsible for assembling the talent for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1955? You can! Do you want to take over for Trey Hillman and manage the SK Wyverns from the Korean Baseball Organization? You can! They’ve got every baseball league you’ve ever heard of and probably some you haven’t; you’re a much bigger fan than me if you’ve heard of the Honkbal Hoofdklasse in Netherlands.

You can even participate in the World Baseball Cup. You can play in 1927 and remove the color barrier. You can set up a league that has Babe Ruth, Frank White, and Mike Trout all playing for the same team.

And then, after you’ve set up whatever kind of league you want, that’s when things really start to open up. As a manager you are responsible for setting the daily lineups, the pitching rotation, calling the shots from the dugout and everything else you’d expect. But it goes even deeper, even clubhouse chemistry is accounted for in this game. I was approached multiple times throughout the game by players expressing discontent with their playing time.

There’s actually a wide variety of ways you can set up the lineups, too. You can manually set them on game day or you can manually set them for the next week based on the matchups you see. and you can have standard lineups for vs RHP and vs LHP with and without DH.

If you choose the latter then you can assign primary, secondary, and tertiary backups to each position and a ratio for which you want them to play. So, for example, I might set up Lorenzo Cain as my primary centerfielder and then make Billy Burns his primary backup and indicate that he should play once every five games. The only flaw here is that you can’t set another starter as a backup. So, for example, I wanted Brandon Moss to be my starting designated hitter but also the primary backup in right field and first base. The game won’t allow me to do that.

As GM you can make trades and sign free agents. You also make the calls about when to put players on the disabled list, when to cut them, when to promote from the minor leagues how and when to sign extensions, and participate in the amateur talent draft as well as the international signing period. There’s so much to do there that frankly I found it a bit dizzying.

The rosters, outside the player images, are incredibly detailed. I looked through the Royals farm system and found all kinds of guys that I recognized. Chase Vallot, Jake Junis, and Kyle Zimmer for sure. But I also saw Meibrys Viloria, Richard Lovelady, and Marten Gasparini. The game does make some amusing roster decisions to start, though.

For some reason the 2017 Royals start with Zach Walters as a backup infielder on a roster that already includes Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon, and Cheslor Cuthbert. The creators also seemed to think that Brayan Pena would beat out Drew Butera for the job of backup catcher and that Jason Hammel was the ace of the staff. These, of course, are easily remedied issues.

Another amusing anecdote comes in the form of another cool feature - as the manager of a team you will receive goals from the GM or if you’re the GM you’ll get those goals from the owner. The first time I tried to be the general manager of the Royals David Glass told me that my goals were to reach the playoffs this year, to improve our production at second base, to improve the roster to make sure we can compete for the playoffs again in the near future, and to make sure I extended the contract of Chris Young. The latter of which seeming to be pretty contradictory toward most of the other goals.

Speaking of simulations, I ran a bunch of them. One of the features of this version of the game is that all of the players have stats based on Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system. Unfortunately for the Royals that means no one was projected to do particularly well so the team didn’t do so hot.

In my final attempt at a simulation I picked out five players on the MLB roster that I had figured would exceed their projections this year anyway and decided to play in commissioner mode - which allows you to customize the game even more - and boosted them a little bit. This is where we get to my favorite tool in this game, the player editor.

Part of the player editor section from OOTP 18

Look at all the things you can control there! And that’s not even the entire thing. And while the game follows along with other sports game traditions of giving more or less indecipherable ratings to everything which obscure exactly what the impact of your changes will be, it also has an area which gives you an idea what stats your changes might result in. It even allows you edit fields there which you can then apply to their ratings, allowing you to get much closer to your intended result than guessing whether you should boost a player’s power to 150 or 200.

The resulting stats section of the player editor. My new best friend.

So I went to Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Whit Merrifield, Mike Moustakas, and Nate Karns and updated their resulting stats to be the same as the stats they’ve actually acquired so far this season.

This had the effect of turning Moose into a monster who broke the home run record before the All-Star Break and ended up leading the American League in home runs (49), RBIs, and OPS. Unfortunately Jason Vargas got only one out before being injured and was out for the season, Danny Duffy made 11 terrific starts before suffering a similar fate, and Nate Karns and Whit Merrifield did not receive enough of a boost to help the team out. The simulated Royals went 65-97 and finished fourth in the AL Central ahead of only the White Sox. Cleveland ran away with the division as they were the only team with a winning record and finished the year with a 94-68 record.

East Coast bias was also strong with the simulation. The Yankees won the division with a 95-67 record but the Red Sox won the first Wild Card and the Rays and Orioles both tied for the second Wild Card, which means 4 AL East teams made it into “The Playoffs”.

By the way, if all you really want to do is let the computer simulate stuff without actually making any decisions that can be done. The easiest way to do it is to make start a new game as an unemployed manager and/or GM. You can use the manager options to have the game make a lot of the choices for you during a sim, but it won’t do all of them - it specifically excludes trades for one thing - so this is the easiest way to get an interference free result.

I didn’t try it out because I knew my skills were not up to the task, but every purchase of OOTP 18 comes with the ability to register up to three online accounts. You can use these to create and participate in tournaments and leagues with other OOTP 18 players online.

Overall OOTP 18 is a very intricate, detailed game that is held back ultimately only by it’s poor user interface but was clearly designed by people with a love for baseball who really wanted to make sure they didn’t overlook even the tiniest of baseball details. It won’t be for everyone but if you think you might have what it takes, it might be worth giving it a spin. It’s currently on sale on Steam for half price at $19.99 until July 14th.

So how about it? I know a bunch of you around here have played this game. What thoughts does everyone else have?

Disclaimer: A free Steam code was provided for the purposes of this review.