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Have you ever wanted to build your own MLB farm system? Do you wish your team would only draft hitting prospects because of the limited risk involved? Have you ever wanted to lowball a player in arbitration? Do you ever think of trading for a player with a year left on his contract in order to get the draft pick when the contract expires? Wouldn’t it be great to fire your team’s manager?
If you answered yes to any of these hyper specific questions, congratulations, you’re a baseball nerd. Luckily for us, we have the greatest gift ever given to baseball nerds right at our fingertips and it’s called OOTP 16. Out of the Park Baseball has been around for a number of years and their latest game is their masterpiece.
When starting OOTP you are given the choice between a real world league (starting this season), a historical league or a customized league. You can play MLB, a number of international leagues or even the minors. You pick your team and your job. Want to be the GM and the manager? Done. Just the manager? Fine. Just the GM? Okay. The GM of the Durham Bulls? Done. Anything you want to do, you can do. If you start to feel overwhelmed by all your duties you can push some of them off to your assistant GM, bench coach or minor league managers. You can have as much control as you’d like to have over your franchise. You just have to do what the owner wants you to do.
Each team’s owner has their own set of personality traits and focuses that shape how they treat you. Some have a short leash like George Steinbrenner, others have more patience and others are super hands on. They set goals for you like “find a top 5 prospect” or “upgrade at catcher” that you have to accomplish in order to keep them happy. Fail at enough goals and you might be fired. I personally like to tear down and build up franchises, but depending on my owner I can’t always do that. You also have team popularity and fan loyalty to deal with. Play poorly for long enough and the fans will tune you out. The key is to hold on to popular players and win. The more popular you are, the easier it is to sell tickets. The bigger the market, the more you can charge. There is a lot of balls for you to keep in the air and it can be a lot of fun trying to manage them.
You can play full seasons of the game without every actually “playing a game” as the AI on the game is very intelligent and sticks to the strategy that you set for it. For example, do you want to keep your young pitchers on a pitch count? It does that. Strict lefty/righty platoons? You can do that. Aggressively steal bases? Done. The hardest thing about baseball games is playing all 162 games, but with OOTP 16 you don’t need to. If you wanted to though you could easily do so and the in-game controls allow you to control your team just like a real manager would. Double steals, hit and run, pinch hitters and everything else. It’s always on the players to perform to the best of their abilities, but OOTP 16 let’s you handle the strategy and set up the best match-ups. It’s true to life in this way. As the manager you’ll rarely be considered responsible if your team wins, but you’ll always be the first to blame after a loss.
Where the game really shines to me is in the player development aspects. All levels of the minor leagues are available and nurturing a player is important. Rush him to the major leagues too fast and he could easily bust. Take your time with him and it could pay dividends. Some players fly through the system, only needing a couple of months while others need years of seasoning in the minor leagues. The international free agent system is set up to mimic real life as you have a $3 million dollar budget each year and if you go over that budget you are penalized the following year. These players are typically 16 or 17 and need years in the international complex before you can send them to your minor league system. Rush them too fast and you might as well be burning your money as a 16 year old with potential will flame out fast in the minors.
Reading back through my review I start to think I might have made the game sound complicated. Maybe someone is looking for a game where they are in control of their favorite major league team and just want to worry about what goes on at the major league level. Well, you can do that. You can set all this other ancillary stuff to someone else’s control and just worry about the major league team. That, to me, is the beauty of OOTP 16. How many balls do you want to try and juggle? Do you want maximum control of everything your team does or do you want to pass some of it off to your team? You could do everything or you could do nothing just to see what happens and your team will keep on going.
While I have almost universal praise for this game there are of course some things that I don’t like. Trades go down too easily for the AI teams and often seem unrealistic to me. There is any easy fix for this as the game has AI settings that allow you to set trade sliders from “heavily favor prospects” to “heavily favor veterans”. I personally don’t like the crapshoot of scouting as I always try to hire the very best scouts and hate it when they are right on only like 1 out of 5 prospects. This could be true to life, but missing on first round picks happens a lot less for the top organizations. Well, there’s a slider for that too and you can adjust how “right” your scouts will be. This is one of those games where they’ve seemingly thought of everything.
If your team had a bad season or you don’t like the direction they are going down then now is the perfect time to start up a season in OOTP 16 and make things right. The rebuilding process can be slow and painful, but OOTP can speed right through that part and onto the glory years. Or if your team is in contention, now is the time to start the dynasty. OOTP 16’s greatest strength of all is it’s ability to fill the long void in between seasons.