Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 14

August is a tough month for baseball fans. The All-Star Game is in the rear-view mirror, the trade deadline has passed, and, outside of one or two teams every year that put an amazing run together in the final two months, the playoff race is settled with 12 or 13 teams competing for 10 spots.

The same might be true for your fantasy team. Football is only just getting started and won’t have real games for a few more weeks. What’s a baseball fan to do? Video games.

Although this is the first year since 2008 that my hometown Red Sox are playing really well, I can’t say no to more baseball. Enter Out of the Park 14, the ultimate baseball simulation game.

My baseball video game past has been checkered with everything from Bases Loaded to Wii Sports to MVP Baseball 2004 (which still has one of the best soundtracks in a game). My simulation experience has included classics like Lemonade Stand, SimCity, DinoPark Tycoon, and the Civilization series, so it was a great sign that Civilization V lead designer Jon Shafer gave OOTP his seal of approval.

OOTP is unlike any other baseball game I’ve played. If you have ever dreamed about being a general manager or a George Steinbrenner-style active owner, this is the game for you.

Rather than just managing a roster in a dynasty mode or creating a player and taking him through a lengthy career with personalized stats, OOTP puts the player in charge.

You can start your manager anywhere from Short Season A ball to MLB and customize everything: the lineup each game, the 25 and 40-man rosters, AAA, AA — literally every league your organization has a team is at your disposal when you are in charge.

I started with Short Season A ball in the Orioles organization and planned on working my way up, but soon realized that would take me a lot longer than I was prepared to jump into for the review, so I took another challenge: the Houston Astros.

After swindling (or so I thought initially) the Mariners for Justin Smoak, signing Jeremy Bonderman, and getting Michael Bourn for a package lead by Ronny Cedano, I was sure I was well on my was to storming through the league and rebuilding in one season whereas the real Astros are taking several years to implement their plans.

But this is a simulation that knows everything. Players have injury histories and Michael Bourn is listed as fragile. Soon Bourn, Chris Carter, Carlos Pena, and my top four shortstops were on the disabled list, and I was wheeling and dealing to prevent having to use my Single A shortstop in the majors. And that only got me to the All-Star Break.

Like a real GM, you’re in constant contact with scouts, ownership, and more. The season kicked off with a nice message from Jim Crane, giving my fictional Terry Francona a long leash, but after releasing Rick Ankiel, things took a turn and fans let their anger be known.

Every piece of data you can imagine is at your disposal: injuries and recovery time, stats of all sorts, box scores, fielding stats, and WAR. That’s just the player side. You also have complete financial records for every player and transaction.

You can choose where players hit, build platoons, set anything from a one-man to six-man rotation and can even designate whether you want your starters available to pitch out of the bullpen.

You can craft an in-game strategy that uses pinch runners and hitters or not. Bunts or not. And all of the in-game decisions are made along a continuum: you get to choose just how often you team runs, bunts, or employs the shift.

This is not a game for casual players. If you are looking for NBA Jam, this is about as far away as you can get. But if you want to put your money where your mouth is, draft players in June, make trades, set lineups, and build a dynasty in the majors and minors, Out of the Park 14 will let you experience the entire process.

The baseball season doesn’t have to end in November, it can be year-round and under your control.

Cross posted at The Sports Post