Out of the Park Baseball gets a little bit better every year. The Cadillac of text-based sports sims entered its 11th season this spring, highlighting yet another lengthy list of subtle improvements to its unique take on big-league baseball. At first glance, this doesn't look like a must-have sequel, as owners of last year's game could probably live without the minor enhancements here like MLB rosters out of the box, an overhauled interface, and upgraded historical simming. But many of these additions and tweaks really grow on you, improving gameplay in so many modest ways that you soon won't be able to get along without them.
Historical games don't seem all that historical when you're looking at a modern ballpark in the background and listening to heavy metal between pitches.
At the heart of OOTP11 is the same major league baseball simulation that has been released on a more-or-less yearly basis since the late '90s. You sign up with the ballclub of your choice at the start of a managerial career, then guide it through the nooks and crannies of as many seasons as you like, either solo or online as part of a multiplayer league. All of the big decisions are yours to make--setting daily lineups, choosing the starting pitching rotation, figuring out the structure of the bullpen, making trades, renewing contracts, issuing offers to star-free agents, picking young talent in the draft, and so on. This is a complete baseball universe, where you can do just about anything that the Buzzie Bavasi wannabes do in real life on a daily basis around the majors. Or you can even go further afield and take over minor-league teams in North America, as the game supports every organization imaginable from development-league rookie ball all the way to AAA in the international league. The only catch is that all of this outstanding depth is relayed through a text-based HTML interface that you navigate in the same way you'd use a Web browser. Seeing that might be a bit jarring for those coming over from glitzy console baseball games like the MLB: The Show and MLB 2K series. There is no visual chrome here. The closest you even come to "graphics" is in the manual simulation screens, where you watch games played over a rudimentary diamond and follow the action by reading textual play-by-play.
New refinements to the interface make it very easy to find your way around, though. This is the friendliest OOTP yet. Even though you spend much of your time studying dense lists of player ratings and stats, the game practically takes you by the hand on opening day by laying it all out for you. It's nearly impossible to get lost because hints are generously doled out. The manager screen has been completely reworked with icons for key functions and even a calendar that shows big team events in the upcoming few days. Drop-down menus let you access any function with just one or two clicks. Screens can be bookmarked, allowing you to instantly make your way back to menus that you find yourself utilizing on a regular basis. Immersion has been ramped up with more customizable news feeds while the addition of league news and standings updates to the simulation screen keeps you in touch with what's going on around the league when simming games. If you want to ditch some responsibilities, you can always delegate decisions to your bench bosses in both the majors and the minors. Sim times are the zippiest yet, allowing you to plow through a week of action in no more than a few seconds and roar through a season in mere minutes. This is a far cry from the somewhat sluggish OOTPs of the past. Some baseball knowledge is, of course, helpful to get going here because this is a very detailed game. You can get bewildered by the stat acronyms alone because the game now delves into esoteric territory, such as ERA+, OPS+, and FIP. But you don't have to be a walking, talking Hall of Fame fanatic to settle in and quickly start building a pennant winner. All you really need is an interest in the national pastime and a willingness to learn.