MLB Front Office Manager

The Baltimore Sun

$39.99 for Sony PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Rated Everyone ** (2 STARS)

Let us state the obvious: This game isn't for everyone.

In fact, baseball fans, unless you've memorized cold the science of everything from Rule 5 drafts to the difference between someone who's designated for assignment and out of options, the first version of MLB Front Office Manager probably isn't for you, either.

It's not for lack of trying. On the surface, Manager appears to have everything a good general manager simulator needs. You immediately can inherit any Major League Baseball team you want, and with that comes full management of that team's entire farm system. A full complement of statistics stands at the ready. You can conduct trades, call-ups and signings as you like. And if you prefer to see your work in action, you can elect to watch and even manage whichever games you wish. A fantasy draft mode lets you completely rearrange the complexion of both leagues, and the truly insane can take on up to 29 friends in a custom-designed online fantasy league.

But all these wonderful choices come with almost no instruction whatsoever, and if you don't even know what some of this stuff means, you'll have to crack open a book or Web browser and figure it out yourself. Manager's interface is a menu-driven mess, and between the clutter, redundancy (particularly where roster management is concerned) and the unsatisfactory level of documentation, even baseball gurus will have trouble figuring out how to execute certain maneuvers. Everyone else can simply forget it.

Unfortunately, the very people equipped to wade through Manager's menu maze are the same ones who will grumble over the game's shortcomings. You can't, for instance, conduct three-way trades, nor is there any way to negotiate a trade involving players with even partial no-trade clauses. The ability to "level up" your created GM's stats initially seems novel, but it merely adds an artificial (and intrusive) level of statistical imbalance to a game that should settle everything on the field. Naturally, because those stats are low at first, you're contending with bouts of bad luck while simultaneously trying to figure all those menus out.

Blue Castle is onto something with Manager, and knowledgeable, patient baseball nuts can rest assured that the game does enough right to suffice until a more polished version comes along. If that isn't you, keep waiting. More traditional baseball games have their own GM modes, and until Manager can produce something that's heads and shoulders better, no reason exists for casual fans not to opt for one of those games instead.

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