The game is a remarkable simulation of running a big-league franchise from the front office to the field.
Slowly but surely, the Out of the Park Baseball series is moving into Championship Manager territory. Fans of the UK's legendary soccer management simulation know that that's no small accomplishment. One of the best-selling game series in Europe over the past decade, the Championship Manager line has captured the imagination of millions, set new standards for sports sims, and probably even broken up more than a few marriages along the way. Games just don't get more addictive.
Out of the Park Baseball 4 isn't quite at that stage yet. But the big-league management series is getting there, judging by the steady progress made with each new edition. One-man design team Markus Heinsohn has been fine-tuning his approach to provide a game that is more realistic in every area. Most of these improvements are of the minor variety, although they add up to an impressive overhaul that affects all aspects of the gameplay for the better. While a few omissions and some design oddities keep this one out of Cooperstown, there is no better sports management sim on this side of the Atlantic. Mind you, it is only available online at the official Web site.
What makes Out of the Park Baseball 4 so good is its sweeping focus. While rival baseball management series like Diamond Mind and APBA Baseball for Windows are fixated on a single season, Heinsohn's game lets you control teams over multiple years. You can take over the front office of your choice at virtually any point in baseball history and continue for as many seasons as you like. Accurate historical numbers are provided by an importer that adjusts player ratings for the time period selected. For instance, if you want to experience the dead ball era, just dial the beginning of your career back a hundred years. Authentic rosters can be downloaded using files from The Baseball Archive, a free online resource with player information going back to 1871.
There is a lot here even if you're not a historical baseball buff. You can play in single or multiple season mode, with either the default league setup currently used by Major League Baseball or an arrangement of your own using up to 40 teams in as many as two leagues with six divisions. Human players can take the reins of any number of the teams in a league, both on a single machine and via the Net. Online play, first offered in last year's edition of the game, remains a strong attraction. It is similar in feel to the fantasy leagues offered by ESPN.com but with much more interactivity and the welcome absence of subscription fees. As a result, hard-core baseball fans can really lose themselves. It's even easier for commissioners this year, thanks to a new FTP option that permits them to update online leagues in a single step.
The gameplay is true to life from the very beginning. You start from scratch with an off-season signing period in which you compete for coaches and scouts in a bidding war. The competition is cutthroat, and you typically have just one chance at the better people available. Bid high, since you can't really pay too much for the good coaches needed to develop players and the good scouting director required to obtain accurate assessments of players. Scrape the bottom of the barrel and your prospects won't develop on the farm. Even worse, you could wind up with a half-witted head scout who thinks that everyone is surefire pro material. Since much of your success depends on off-season drafting and trading and a 30-day free-agent signing auction, this can be disastrous. Still, the possibility that you're not getting the complete story adds a welcome dimension to the gameplay. Instead of being an omniscient god, you're an all-too-human boss delegating authority to underlings who sometimes don't know what they're doing.
Even when you do have the right people in the right jobs, players can still cause problems. In addition to the traditional statistical categories and skill ratings, each player is given ratings in six character attributes: loyalty, needs winning team, team leader ability, clutch performance, consistency, injury rating. Some of these characteristics are fairly straightforward. Someone with poor loyalty will leave for the first team to offer him more money, and someone who doesn't do well in the clutch can't be expected to contribute a game-winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth. Others lead to uncertain consequences. Wanting to play for a winner inspires a player in good times and brings him down in bad times, while a player with top leadership abilities might run into a "too many cooks" conflict on some teams. The result could be spending too much of your precious budget money on a player who has the right numbers but is still the wrong fit for your club. All in all, you're given a lot to think about. Much more than simple number crunching is required to assemble a winning team.
- Game Universe:
- Out of the Park Baseball 9 (PC, MAC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 10 (PC, MAC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 11 (PC, IP, MAC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 5 (PC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 4 (PC),
- Out of the Park Baseball II (PC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 3 (PC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 6.5 (PC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 6 (PC),
- Out of the Park Baseball 14 (PC)