Posted: July 17, 2014
A review for FM/CM players (I've read a few Football Manager players ask questions about the game so thought I'd write a suitable review! If you're not a FM player you should probably read another review!).
I've been a long time Football Manager/Championship Manager addict (owning every version since they arrived on the Amiga, and I continue to buy it each year) and bought this on a whim, despite not really knowing anything about baseball at all. It is simply great, I can't stop playing it!
As anyone who's watched (or read) Moneyball will know, baseball is a game that lends itself well to stats. It is all about the numbers. Before you know it you'll be swimming in stats and sabermetrics; RBI, BABIP, ERA, ERA+, WHIP, WAR. Page after page after page of accroynms and numbers to pour over (and, at first; stare at blankly!). It is a revelation when it starts to all make sense!
There is no doubt that this is a deep sports simulator (with complete teams and drafts going all the way back to 1871, and you can jump in at any point you want and play out all of the "what if..." scenarios your mind can conjure up), but hiding away underneath all that is a complex mathematical puzzle. If you like maths, you'll love sabermetrics, and you'll love this game even more because it gives you the chance to act out Moneyball (in any league, in any era, anywhere in the world! Select a country, how many teams/divisions you want and the game will fill it with cities from your country. I've found playing classic MLB is the most fun, as you have the real life achievements and player stats to compare your own game against).
In many ways this game is like Championship Manager <2005, before the rock-paper-scissors approach to tactics, media interviews and player (and as extension of that; team) morale took hold. Championship Manager was once a game where you could fill a positition with a player with specific high attributes and you knew he'd "buy" you wins. Repeat that process across your team (within the confines of your budget) and you would have a succesful team; hopefully!
Without wanting to turn this post into a FM/CM bashing post; the game has moved away from what made it succesful. Without a winning tactic you will get nowhere. Even when you've found a winning tactic, you need to micromanage your team, the players, the media, the board, etc, etc. Sure, you can assign some of those tasks to staff members (who you also have to micromanage!), but there's always an underlying feeling that other things are at play aside from your 11 players v the opposition. It often seems like the game engine is constantly number crunching numbers you not only can't see, but have no control over.
FM was once described (not entirely unfairly!) as a "spreadsheet with graphics". That description is no longer accurate, so much goes on behind the scenes that it can be difficult to guage what you are doing right (or worse; what you are doing wrong!), even with the cut down "Classic" mode.
Trust me when I say I mean this as a compliment; OOTP is more of a "spreadsheet with numbers" than recent iterations of Football Manager have been! If you are losing constantly you can look through the stats and you WILL see why you are losing (if you look hard enough). You will see that your 2nd rotation pitcher is causing you to lose every game he plays, or that a player or two in the middle of your batting lineup are hitting way below average, or that a star player is picking up too many injuries, or he is a season or two beyond his prime (or even that your coach is beyond his prime; the game moves on and alters through the years. The slider tactic settings that your coach set may no longer be effective. You can override him, or sack him, or get the bench coach to set the tactics. This is just one small example of the depth of the game!). This is the same numerical conundrum that FM/CM used to be, it is just packaged up as a different sport. I'm being absolutely serious when I say that this game reminds me more of Championship Manager of old than the current version of Football Manager does! (Oh, and there's no microtransactions and/or built in game cheats!).
The game has player morale, but morale is slightly affected by the type of players you sign (there are a whole range of player personalities and interests, but you don't need to micromanage them so much as make sensible choices about who to sign in the first place!) and they are affected a LOT by their own skill level and expectation and how the team is performing. If you're performing at a reasonably high standard your star player is going to be happy with his lot (and, if you're not, maybe it's time to rebuild anyway?).
The game has depth, but it can be as "light" or as complicated as you want to make it. If you just want to act as a GM and draft players and trade players you can zoom through 100 years of game time in a few days (or as fast as your computer can handle) if you feel like it. If you want a full hands on approach you can micromanage every small detail of the team, from hiring coaches in the minor leagues, setting the scouting/coaching budgets, ticket prices, etc, etc. The attention to detail is astonishing, and if, like me, you are a football (soccer) fan, you'll be green eyed with envy that nobody ever thought to make a football game with this level of historic detail.
There is certainly a learning curve (especially if you know nothing of baseball!), but the game does well in introducing new players. You are first greeted with a pop-up windown, which takes you to online videos (recommended!), an instruction manual, the forums. You can start in commisioner mode (allowing you to change anything and everything on your save game. A sandbox mode by anyother name) and change things to your hearts content. The on line community is great, you'll find other players are eager to help us newbies, even the developers respond to (what must be for them) pretty basic questions to get you going, both on the Steam forums and on the OOTP forum.
I've gone a bit mad this past year game wise, taking advantage of all the Steam sales, Xbox 360 games being reduced to virtually nothing, buying an Xbox One (and Wii U!). I've played a lot of good games (and a lot of bad), this game is right up there with the best of them. It is certainly the most surprising (the amount of time I've put into it has caught me somewhat off guard! The "just one more game" element of FM is certainly in effect here), and I might even put it into the debate of the best game on any platform in the past year! (and remember; I'm a European dude who has never seen a game of baseball in his life!).
If you yearn for Championship Manager of old (i.e. CM4), you need this game in your life!
P.S. Just a tip; you may have read the game comes without real team names when starting a "live" game (all historic teams are properly named, as far as I can tell). Just click randomise 3 (maybe 4) times and all team names will be real.