First, the basics for those who have never played OOTP before. It's a text-based simulation game that runs on PC/Mac/Linux and offers you complete control of...everything. As the player, you decide how you want to play. Want to start with the 2011 season, complete with Opening Day rosters? Click "New Major League Game," create your General Manager, and hop right in. Want to re-start the record books from scratch by starting a sim in 1871? Go for it. Want to start your own league in Liechtenstein with no foreign players allowed? You can do that, too. No matter what type of sim you choose, your "career" is unlimited, unlike some other games where the mode is finished after 20 or 30 years.
Even if you're start with 2011 Major League rosters, that doesn't mean you have to play with 2011 Major League rules. Right from the start you can kill the DH, install a hard salary cap, or fiddle with roster sizes. Continued from last year are the "evolving league" options -- with these enabled, the league will change on its own as you progress in the game. Teams could relocate, the league could expand, stingy owners could die and leave the team to their free-spending sons, or the length of DL stints could change, for example. Personally, I loved this feature last year and I'm glad it's back, as it prevents the game from getting boring and repetitive as you play into the future.
What I've always liked about OOTP is that they don't just settle when the previous year's version was good. OOTP 12 has a list of new features that add even more realism to the game.
First, there's the new injury system. In the past, injuries were one area of the game that lacked a bit of realism. I can't begin to count how many times I lost a player for 6-8 weeks due to a pulled (not torn) hamstring. The injury diagnosis was always known immediately after the game, too -- while this was nice from a roster management perspective, it wasn't entirely realistic, either. This year, you'll still have your "obvious" injuries that are diagnosed immediately, but you'll also come across a few injuries that take some time to diagnose.
For example, in playing a season with the Brewers, Craig Counsell suffered an injury in early May. I got an e-mail informing me that Counsell would be unavailable for a few days, but the diagnosis was not yet complete. This puts me in a bit of a bind -- do I put him on the DL right away and bring in reinforcements for the infield, or do I just see if it's a day-to-day injury he'll be able to play through? I elected to wait, hoping for the best. A few days later, I got an e-mail from my medical staff that Counsell tore a meniscus and would be out 4 to 6 weeks. I was able to put Counsell on the DL retroactive to the day he got hurt (another new feature this year), and called up a replacement.
Another new feature that I really enjoyed: instant response to contract offers in free agency. When offering a FA contract, you can ask for an immediate response to the offer before officially submitting it. In the past, you could always see what the player was demanding, but if your offer was for less, you would have to wait a few days for the player to get back to you on your offer. By the time that happened, it was possible another team swooped in with a better offer and signed him away. Now you can see right away what the player thinks about the numbers being discussed before formally submitting the offer, along with the player's "negotiation mood" -- if you keep lowballing him, he'll eventually get fed up and refuse to negotiate.
There other new features when it comes to contract negotiation, too. When offering a minor league contract to a player, you can also include the option of an out clause if the player isn't promoted to the majors within 30 days. You can also negotiate the player's salary once he gets promoted to the majors. When it comes to major league contract perks, you can now promise a role to a player to sweeten the pot: if you see a middle reliever on the market that you think would make a good closer, you can promise him the closer's job if he signs with you. You can also add vesting options to contracts, so if you want to pull an Omar Minaya and offer a closer $17.5 million for the last year of his deal if he finishes an x number of games, you can do that, too.
Even the stats have been improved in OOTP 12. In the past, there were some advanced metrics like VORP for those of us who don't like to judge players based on batting average and RBI, but if you wanted to calculate WAR you were out of luck. This year, batting and pitching WAR are included on the league leaderboards. Defensive stats still leave a little to be desired, but on from a talent evaluation perspective, you're probably better off judging players based on their ratings than their numbers, anyway.
Simulation results can vary from year-to-year depending on who gets hot and who stays on a season-long slump, but for the most part the simulation engine looks accurate. Simming through a season with the Brewers, allowing Cyber Ron Roenicke to make all strategy decisions, the 2011 Brewers finished 88-74, winning the NL Central. Based on the talent level of the "real" Brewers, that's pretty accurate. Prince Fielder had an MVP-type season, hitting .309/.421/.623 with 44 HR and 117 RBI, and finished the year with a WAR of 7.5. In the end, OOTP had the Brewers losing to the Red Sox in the World Series, 4-1.
Overall, OOTP 12 offers so many different options and ways to play that it's hard to stop playing. The fact that everything is customizable -- right down to the ability to download and import real logos and player pictures -- gives the player so much control that it's almost intimidating. As a whole, OOTP is probably one of (if not the) best baseball games on the market -- it's more in-depth than Baseball Mogul and more realistic than the console games.
You can download OOTP 12 from the OOTP Developments website for $39.99. The website also features screenshots and videos if you want a closer look.