Name: MLB Front Office Manager
Genre: Sports Management Simulation
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
I unabashedly love sports. I love watching, reading, studying, and playing both the real and the video game versions of all the major sports. To me, there’s no better sport to follow than baseball. Sure, my beloved Phillies are the champs… excuse me, world [fucking] champs, and they’re the team I follow most religiously, but I’m the guy who loves the sport so much I bought an XM radio just to get their exclusive MLB coverage 24/7, 365. It should come as no surprise that when the opportunity to review the Billy Beane-endorsed MLB Front Office Manager from 2K Sports arose, I jumped at the chance. Other than being on the field, is there anything a fan of the game dreams of more than being in charge of a team in the big leagues?
Normally relegated to the PC, true manager simulations are no-frills attempts at giving armchair GMs a chance to see if they have what it takes to win the World Series with their virtual team. Spending a few hours pouring over statistical pages before even starting the actual game isn’t uncommon. Console versions of GM mode are typically tacked on to whatever Franchise mode the game implements, and have little or nothing to do with your actual skills on putting a complete organization together. As soon as I put the MLB Front Office Manager disc in, I started thinking about which players were getting offered arbitration, who was getting the big extension, and who was getting shopped around. Then the game started up, and any and all excitement I had was flushed down the toilet.
In a game where you’ll easily spend 95% of your time looking at menus, you expect that the developers would put a little effort into ease of use, let alone the look. Sadly, menus in MLB FOM are not only boring, but they’re also pretty difficult to navigate. For example, in your typical sports game, when you’re viewing your team’s roster, free agent pools, draft listings, or trade proposals, the player stats are readily available. Front Office Manager does everything in its power to prevent you from looking at the skills your players possess. In a game where all that matters are the numbers, the menus and stat pages must be clear of clutter, and easy to navigate. Let’s say you get an email about a player going on the trading block. You probably want to see what that player’s stats are like, right? You’re going to have to back out to the roster page, open that particular team’s roster, find that particular player, then click on him to view all his stats. Then, if you like what you see, you can back out, and do the whole process all over again, but in the trade menu. What should have been more clearly designed to work with as little as three button presses takes way more navigation than is necessary, almost making the trade offer not worth the effort. Of course, there’s no way to know how interested the other team is in your trade until a few days later when you receive another email either notifying you that you’ve gotten the player, or that your offer wasn’t good enough. No counter offer. No negotiations. And here I thought this was supposed to be a management simulation.
Poor menu design isn’t the only thing holding this game down. MLB FOM starts you off in November 2008; right before 2009 free agency begins. You’ll have opportunities to resign players, as well as offer arbitration to eligible players. Those you don’t make a move for will be placed in the free agent pool, and are considered up for grabs for anyone. While the layout of the free agent menu is a mess, the biggest issue comes from not being able to track players you’ve made an offer to. This is a feature that’s been in games like Madden NFL for close to 10 years. In fact, it shouldn’t even be considered a feature at this point anymore; it’s a mandatory inclusion. Anyhow, the only time you’ll be notified about how your signings are going is by receiving an email once the player either agrees to your terms, or someone else’s. What, you expected to be able to make a counter offer? Ha. Keep dreaming. Supposing you actually tolerate this game long enough, you’ll make it to spring training. Where depending on how the game feels at that particular moment, you’ll lose anywhere from two to three players from your roster. They’ll just vanish from the game entirely, unless you fool around with the game a bit longer and find out that you must always allow the computer to set your line-up, pitching rotation, 25-man, and 40-man rosters. After every game. But surely, getting to play an actual game must be at least mildly entertaining, right? Oh, you’re such an optimist.
You don’t actually get to play any games in this game. I knew that going in. You are allowed to manage games for your team though. Which would be a nice break from continuous menu scrolling had they put any work into it. That statement may seem a bit unfair, considering that some people at 2K probably put a lot of work into this game, but the in-game action looks like a bright and sunny PS2 game. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the horrible “management” options available to you while watching your team play. For example, if you tell a player to bunt, they will bunt for the entire at-bat. There’s no way to call it off. The other in-game options work the same, and it’s disappointing that I can’t call individual pitches, or call for a steal deep in a count (you can only call for a steal on the first pitch of an at-bat). Of course, none of these things bother me all that much compared to the fact that starting pitchers only have the stamina to throw about 50 pitches (or 2-3 innings). And before you start complaining about just adjusting the settings, let me say that I shouldn’t have to. When Roy Oswalt makes it to the All-Star break having started 14 games, but only having pitched 36 innings, something is horribly wrong with your game. Particularly when you consider that opponent pitchers have normal stamina (around 100 pitches/6+ innings). It’s absolutely absurd, and a slap in the face to players to expect them to deal with problems that should’ve been worked out in testing. I don’t care if it is a $40 budget title.
To say MLB Front Office Manager was a good attempt at a console management simulation is like spitting on your dirty dishes and saying they’re washed. I wish I had the twelve hours I spent playing this game back. The nicest thing I can say is that there are tons of tips for newcomers courtesy of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. Though if you were looking to spend money for some baseball management advice from Billy Beane, you’d be better off spending the seven bucks on Moneyball. Stay far away from this game. It’s terrible.