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If there’s one word to best describe the latest offering from Out of the Park Baseball, it would have to be “sucked in.” Okay, that’s technically two words – would you settle for a phrase? But honestly, having played this game for a better part of a week and a half now, I just keep coming back to that phrase. This game will suck you in, and you’ll easily lose track of time.

Out of the Park (or OOTP to its friends) has been around for years. It was originally conceived as a baseball version of the hugely popular Championship Manager soccer simulation game. In fact, for a while, OOTP and Championship Manager’s successor, Football Manager, were under the same Sports Interactive development stable. While separate now, OOTP has certainly learned from its time with SI, particularly in terms of interface. The newest version – OOTP 10– keeps the same pre-game look while refining some of the in-game controls (more on that later).

Are you the type of person who would like to simulate the 2009 season, or perhaps feel you could do a better job than your favourite team’s manager or GM? No problem – you can start trying your luck at managing a major league (or minor league) team within ten minutes of installing the game. The rosters are accurate as to Opening Day, and the ratings of major and minor leaguers are fairly accurate. Plus, if you make it to draft day without getting fired, and your team is bad enough, you may get the chance to draft Stephen Strasburg or Dustin Ackley, the top two draft picks in this year’s draft. Almost all of the players generated by the system for the draft are made up, but to include these two is a nice little touch.

To start out, I simulated the 2009 season (the Yankees won the World Series, by the way). But then – there’s that word “sucked in” again – something happened. I had only intended to run through 2009, and then start my next game. But I happened to catch some news reports that the Reds made some intriguing off-season transactions, such as trading for Jered Weaver and signing free agents Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Eric Hinske. After that, I just had to see how the 2010 season fared. Good thing I did, too – the Reds finished 90-72 and made the playoffs as a wild card, clinching the berth on the final day of the season.

Of course, I had to see if they could build on that success (they didn’t). Next thing I knew, it was the end of the 2012 season and the Mariners were celebrating a World Series success. At the rate I was going, it would be the turn of the century and my computer manager would be dozing in the dugout between innings because he was 122 years old.

I finally tore myself away from MLB to create a totally fictional league. This is the other side of OOTP, and where the game really shines. You can set up your fictional leagues pretty much any way you want – control the number of teams, cities, nicknames, ballparks, team colors, etc. You can also decide all the financial aspects: free agency, salary caps, scouting budgets, player contracts, even the average ticket price (set it too low, you won’t be able to afford elite players; too high for your market, and you’ll suffer from poor attendance). You can even decide if you want your league to mirror present-day baseball, the dead-ball era, the Babe Ruth-inspired 1920s, the pitching-friendly 1960s, or the juiced-up 2000s. You can spend a lot of time testing various settings, if you wanted to -did I mention how this game will “suck you in?” – I spent more than an hour getting everything just right in my little six-team test league.

Once the game starts, you can decide your role. Do you want to just be a GM in charge of personnel decisions, leaving the in-game work to your field manager? Or do you want to call every pitch and make every substitution? There’s even a commissioner mode, which ensures that you won’t get fired, no matter how bad your team does. I’m sure Jim Bowden wishes that existed in real life.

One of the great things about OOTP is the ability to customize the game to suit your needs. Say I’m playing a replay of this current season, but I’m the type of person who loves blockbuster trades. The bigger, the better (I do like a good trade, by the way). All I have to do is go into the game setup screen and set trade frequency to “Often” and “Heavily Favor Veterans.” As the season progresses, I should see a lot of trades, and some big names.
Another extremely customisable section is the interface. While the game doesn’t come with team logos or player pictures due to licensing issues, a very active online community has made plenty of sets of both available with different styles to suit almost anyone’s taste. For game play, a new feature of OOTP 10 is the introduction of widgets – the ability to modify the in-game menu to show everything from the field of play and the line-up to new features such as available subs, pitch location, and an out-of-town scoreboard.

Of course, there are some problems. The in-game news reports can be humorous at times (such as when Dan Haren was put on the disabled list with an “undisclosed injury that happened when he decided to party excessively”). But other times, they just don’t match up. I can’t tell you how many times, during the two MLB seasons I played out, I saw a headline touting a “huge deal” that ended up being something like Jack Taschner for Chris Duncan. Not huge in any circumstance, with the possible exception of the Taschner or Duncan households.

And while the game is available for Windows, Mac or Linux, the license doesn’t allow for use on all three systems. Mac and Linux fall under the same license, but Windows is a separate ticket. This means if you’re like me and have both a PC and a Mac, you’d have to shell out twice to be able to use the game on all your machines.

All in all, OOTP is probably the best fictional baseball game out there, and a very good simulation as well. With essentially two games in one, OOTP certainly represents value for money. Just play the game with a clock nearby, or else you’ll find yourself “sucked in” too.

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