I used to play baseball simulations all the time, but then they started looking a lot alike, and they didn't change much from year to year, and so I stopped for a while. When I picked up Out of the Park Baseball 13 (OOTP 13), the latest baseball sim from Out of the Park Developments, I was surprised to see that I hadn't played one since OOTP 9 in 2008. So I was more than ready to get involved again, and perhaps that's one of the reasons I enjoyed OOTP 13 so much. Or maybe it's because the game has so many options, it's almost guaranteed that you can adjust it to create a game you want to play.
In OOTP 13, you can do pretty much whatever you want with a baseball franchise -- from the past, present, or future, in any baseball league. You can jump into the 2012 season and take control of your favorite team (as manager, GM, or a combination of the two), and lead it for as many years as you want (assuming you don't get fired). You can start out as a free agent manager and work your way up to the big leagues. You can organize the World Baseball Classic. You can see whether the 1927 Yankees would have won more or fewer games under your supervision. You can guide a team in the Federal League or the Negro Leagues. Or you can scramble up all of the players and rules and create something completely new. And you can do all of these things with your friends online, or by yourself against AI-controlled teams. It's up to you.
Better yet, you can adjust the league rules and the balance between hitting and pitching to keep the leagues realistic. That means if you play a season from the 1930's then you'll see a lot more offense than in the 1960's. And if you play a season from baseball's early years, then you can turn off the DH and turn on the Reserve Clause, and keep your players at your mercy. The game even has the most recent rule changes. It knows that there are going to be two Wild Card teams this season, and that the Houston Astros are going to move to the AL next season. Heck, it even knows that Magic Johnson is the new owner of the Dodgers (well, more or less).
When I play a baseball sim, I always focus on running a franchise as its GM, and so that's how I played OOTP 13. I took control of the Dodgers in 2012, and I ran them for six years, winning the World Series once. OOTP 13 includes both the major and minor leagues, giving each franchise several teams to worry about, and you can control them as much or as little as you want. I mostly focused on signing free agents, making trades, putting players on the disabled list, and running drafts (including the Rule 5 draft), and I let my managers and my coaches (who you have to hire and possibly fire) deal with the day-to-day stuff.
You can simulate each season day by day, including the off season. Each day during the regular season, you might manage a game (or just simulate it), respond to a trade quest, read news stories about what's going on, or try to sign a player to a contract extension -- or do all of the above. During the off season, you mostly have to worry about negotiating with free agents, but this is handled extremely well, and it's almost as much fun as the "real" part of the game. Each free agent states his demands, and teams submit offers, but you usually have no idea what those offers are, and so it's tricky knowing if you should increase your offer, stand pat, or avoid making an offer at all and hope that the player's demands lessen and you get a better deal. That is, it's pretty much just like real free agency.
Since OOTP 13 is a baseball sim, it doesn't have much in the way of graphics or sound. You get some crowd noises when you manage or watch a baseball game, but there isn't any music or dialogue, and so mostly the game is silent. And as for graphics, OOTP 13 includes some fake logos for each team (I'm guessing the real logos would have cost extra money), but that's about it. Luckily, the game is easily moddable, and some industrious fans have put together useful mods to allow you to see player faces (or reasonable facsimiles of), real team uniforms, real team logos, and even images of real baseball parks. The very first thing you should do when you play the game is go to the Add-ons Central and download and install the "All-in-One" mod, which takes care of all of these additions for you.
Still, even with all the mods in the world, a baseball sim is still mostly about text and numbers. Fortunately, Out of the Park Developments did a nice job of presenting this sort of information clearly and cleanly. You can see whatever stats you're interested in (including lesser known ones like BABIP and WARP), using whatever splits you like (including by month and by left vs. right), and the numbers are often color-coded so you can see at a glance if they're "good" or "bad." Plus, the interface automatically adjusts itself to your screen or window size (including wide screen resolutions), so it can show you as much data as possible for each situation.
One of the most important things about a baseball simulation is how well it imitates real life, but this is always tough to judge, just because weird and nonsensical things happen all the time (as the Red Sox and Braves showed last year, and Albert Pujols is ably demonstrating this year). So I can only go by how realistic my playing time seemed to me, and OOTP 13 fared pretty well. Players had years that were reasonable for their abilities -- for example, Stephen Strasburg struck out a lot of guys, and Dee Gordon stole a lot of bases -- and nothing too crazy happened. My only issue with the game is that it seemed like there was too much variance to player performance, where the results edged a little too close to being random, but just like with every other aspect of OOTP 13, this is something that you can adjust, and you can make it so players are more consistent if you want.
I also simulated the 2012 season ten times (with the AI controlling everything) to see how OOTP 13 thought the season would turn out, and the results made sense. Eight different teams won the World Series, including surprises like the Marlins and the Indians, but the playoff entrants were pretty consistent, with seven teams appearing at least seven times. Only the Braves and the Rays made the playoffs every year. Sadly, the Dodgers didn't manage to make the playoffs even once (obviously, they just need me at the helm).
Each season I played in OOTP 13 took me somewhere around 5-6 hours to complete, but even with the 30-40 hours I spent with the game, I didn't even scratch the surface for what it can do. And that's both OOTP 13's main strength and its biggest weakness. Hardcore simmers can probably make the game do whatever they want and enjoy the process. But for more casual players, who might just want to take control of a team and not worry about things like player options, secondary rosters, and Super 2 status, the game can be a little bit intimidating. Even with my experience with baseball sims, it took me a couple of seasons to get comfortable with the interface and the ins and outs of the game. But I think with OOTP 13, if you're patient with it, and if you survive the learning curve, then it's the sort of game that will reward you over time, and you'll enjoy it more the longer you play it.
And so clearly I liked OOTP 13 quite a bit. It's got an addicting quality to it (more than once I only planned to play it for a few minutes and then got sucked in for an hour or more), and while it doesn't have flashy sound or 3D graphics, it presents information well, and it does a great job in making you feel like you're really controlling a Major League franchise. OOTP 13 is easily the most realistic baseball simulation that I've ever played, and it's a game that I expect all baseball fans will enjoy.
This review is based on a digital copy of Out of the Park Baseball 13 for the PC provided by Out of the Park Developments.