Normally, the release of the latest Out of the Park Baseball (just OOTP for most enthusiasts, thanks very much) would be a cause for rejoicing on two fronts: First and foremost because the leading baseball sim on the market always seems to up its game every year, but also due to the knowledge that a new real life baseball season was imminent.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak has thrown a damper on thoughts of balls hitting bats any time soon, but that hasn’t stopped OOTP 21 from arriving to keep the spirits of baseball fans up. As always, the dev team has made sure this year’s edition has been fully updated to reflect what baseball will look like in 2020 whenever it gets going, but there are also enough new features and additions to ensure everyone from first-time buyers to hardcore OOTP fans has a valid reason to pick up the new game.
What’s new in OOTP 21?
One of the greatest strengths of the OOTP series is also the very thing that can make it a bit daunting for newcomers. When you can create a sim of any kind of baseball league you can imagine, current, historical or fictional, starting at any year and with the rules tweaked to be exactly the way you’d like them, how do you prioritize the most important decisions you want to make and keep extraneous tasks off your plate?
OOTP Developments devised a tool called Game Flow to solve that very riddle. Put simply, it’s a way to customize the ‘Continue’ button so that every time you click on it, the simulation will stop for the exact events you want called to your attention. There are six different parameters, for your own team and your league, that can be toggled in Game Flow, as well as the time you want to sim once the current day’s game has been played. It’s a simple but very effective way to walk the line between giving players the exact information they need to run their teams — particularly in Challenge Mode, where virtual careers are on the line — and keeping seasons running along at a nice pace.
When playing your first season under current MLB rules, you might be a bit surprised by the number of players on your roster and how you can deploy your bullpen. That’s because the 2020 MLB tweaks are included in OOTP 21, meaning 26-man rosters and separate Injured Lists for pitchers and position players are in effect. Perhaps the one that takes the most adjustment is the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers; it’s a bit of a shock when you put in a specialist to face left-handed hitters and then get a message from the game that you can’t take him out because he hasn’t faced the required number of batters, but that’s the kind of realism the series has long brought to life.
In-game presentation has been spruced up as well, with new camera angles for the Modern 3D engine. Options to choose a different angle before and during the pitch, as well as after the ball is put in play, bring the level of customization for action on the diamond up to the series’ high standards for flexibility in all other areas of gameplay. What you shouldn’t expect is a ton of detail: The players still look like faceless ball-playing automatons, and they always take the field in home whites and road grays instead of making use of the wide variety of uniform combinations utilized by current MLB squads. Still, no one plays OOTP 21 for its cutting edge graphics, so its small but steady visual improvements are always welcome, and the game’s passionate mod community can undoubtedly take care of a lot as it always does.
Field of (your) Dreams
An even more ambitious visual upgrade comes in the form of the 3D Ballpark Construction Kit. As the name suggests, this tool gives you the ability to tailor a ballpark to your exact specifications, with control over the overall size and shape, field texture, seating sections, and the height and distance of the outfield fence in all areas. While most of the features simply provide a selection of five or six preset components, you could easily get lost in tinkering with the fence for an hour or two alone, seeing as you can set individual posts and then move them up or down, in or out as your heart desires.
The devs have been pretty open about the fact that this is a first stab at a 3D ballpark editor and that improvements will be released as the year goes on — and again, you can bet your star pitching ace that some ambitious mods are already being worked on. Regardless, even in its infancy, this is an impressive feature that is very much in line with the overall OOTP ethos of creating the exact baseball world you have in your imagination.
Perfect Team 21
There seemed to be a bit of a mixed reaction to Perfect Team when it first arrived in OOTP 19. On one hand, team-building modes are all the rage in sports games these days (though more commonly on consoles than PC), and the idea of one that was shot through with OOTP’s dedication to realism was extremely appealing. On the other, such modes are inherently seen as pay-to-win affairs that ask players to spend more money on microtransactions after already buying a full-priced game, which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many.
Still, Perfect Team has managed to stay on the better side of that debate so far, and even dabbling with it for just a few days is enough time to show how much promise it has in OOTP 21. Everyone starts with a handful of packs to get started before being placed in a pool of other beginner teams. After graduating from there, your squad gets placed into a robust league system with promotion and relegation a la European soccer leagues.
But the best part of Perfect Team in relation to all other team-building modes in other sports games is its pace. Games are simulated at regular intervals, leaving you time in-between to obtain new cards — which you can do for free by racking up Perfect Points from achievements — and make modifications to your lineup. This means that unlike other sports titles where modes like this need to be the main focus of your time, Perfect Team can be played alongside whatever regular seasons you are working on. The pay-to-win aspect may indeed be real for people aiming to get to the very top, but it’s fun for even casual play.
The list of missions has been expanded as well, so it feels like every card you acquire can help you make progress toward additional cards or packs. Add it all up and Perfect Team is worth a look this year even if you have ignored it to date.
OOTP Developments has what is in some ways an enviable task with each new release, because the OOTP series is already so well regarded that the devs’ primary goal is likely just not to mess things up. It’s to the team’s credit that they don’t rest on their laurels and continue to find ways to improve the overall experience. The result is that you don’t have to worry about OOTP 21 being “just a roster update,” as features like Game Flow, Perfect Team 21 and the presentation updates prove.
The 3D visual improvements still feel like a work in progress, and the overall code during my review time was definitely a bit unstable — so if you’re an early adopter, make sure you save often until OOTP Developments gets a chance to release more patches and squash all the bugs. Besides that, there’s everything to love about OOTP 21, and it can certainly help satisfy any baseball craving you have both for now and once the real thing is back.
Leave a comment for Nick or GM Games on reddit.