I wouldn’t class myself as a “gamer”. Heck, I’ve only ever played Call Of Duty once! What I do do however, and religiously at that, is play sports games. It’s probably that tiny, tiny part of me (and if any sports “gamer” says they don’t have this, they’re lying!) that still thinks I could cut it in a professional game; as either a player, coach or manager. Whenever I watch a sport, that part of me screams out both figuratively, and occasionally literally, “I could do better than that!” I think it is this that fuels my addiction to sports games.
I’ve played what feels like every title under the sun, from NBA 2K to Smash Court Tennis. If there’s a sports game out there, I’ve probably played it! Therefore, as the majority of franchises start to bring out their latest installments over the next few months, I’m going to take you through my personal favourites. Now, it must be noted that this isn’t by any means a definitive list, I’m sure my choices will anger some and please others! But this Top 5 contains the five franchises I personally enjoy the most and that I think will produce the best games this year.
5. WWE 2K
Anyone who tells you that professional wrestling isn’t a sport is a liar. The men and women employed by WWE have to push their body’s to the max every night to ensure that the thousands of people who fill arenas to watch them are entertained. The likes of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, John Cena, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, and Randy Orton have all become household names thanks to WWE.
The WWE 2K franchise brings these wrestlers to life on your television screen, players can take control of their idols and can use all the signature moves they wish. There have been countless classic WWE (or WWF as it was previously known) video games over the years, but the WWE 2K franchise has taken it up a notch, particularly with regards to last year’s WWE 2K15. For the first time there was the opportunity to create yourself, or a custom wrestler, and advance through “an unprecedented and authentic WWE career spanning countless hours of gameplay”. This puts you in among your idols, fighting the living legends that established their careers long before you even started. This feature will only go on to improve in it’s second year as developers have had 12 months to identify areas which require improvement.
Scanning technology has also enabled the characters in the game to look as close to their real-life counterparts as possible and that just makes the experience even more real when you’re getting up-close and personal in the ring.
4. Madden NFL
Madden is a game that many will have heard of but not many will have played. When it comes to American Football, all that people here in the UK really know are two things: that once a year there’s a big game called the ‘Superbowl’, and that the Miami Dolphins once lost their mascot dolphin and had to hire Ace Ventura to get it back again.
Madden is a tricky game to get to grips with if you don’t really follow the sport and are unfamiliar with the rules and how it works, but nevertheless it can be really good fun to mess around with.
The Madden Ultimate Team feature is quickly increasing in popularity and will soon be at a similar level as the equivalent feature on EA Sports’ flagship franchise, FIFA. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the feature basically allows you to build a ‘Dream Team’ built out of your favourite players, and allows you to play in tournaments and leagues both on- and offline in order to strengthen your team. Once you have played a few seasons in the regular season modes, Ultimate Team is a great way to change the game up a little and try new things.
As with most games since the release of the new generation consoles, the improved graphics take the game to a new level. Scanning technology makes the players look just like they do when you see them live on the television, and additional camera angles during gameplay makes Madden feel like you really could be watching a live NFL game and not just sat on the sofa playing a video game.
3. PGA Tour
This could be a slightly controversial choice at No.3, especially considering that EA have cut ties with golfing legend Tiger Woods and replaced him with Irish supremo Rory McIlroy.
The franchise did have a bit of a dip in the mid-to-late Noughties and as a result suffered in terms of its popularity, however in recent years their have been new features introduced and improved visuals. Some gamers may recognise Frostbite-3 from games such as Battlefield. The software basically allows EA game designers to make their games look amazing, specialising in outdoor effects, which arguably makes it perfect for a golf game. EA say: “The power of the engine allows us to include the little things to create denser environments. From pinecones to butterflies – the game feels more alive than ever before.” And that is certainly the case now.
Somehow, the PGA Tour franchise manages to inject life and fun into what is arguably one of the slower sports. And if you’re someone who likes to play classic versions of games (Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, FIFA Street) or aren’t too worried about playing with the most up-to-date players, then I’d also highly recommend Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005. Check it out.
What can I say about FIFA that you probably won’t already know? It’s the largest played sport’s game on the planet, with sales rising by almost 23 percent year on year. By 2010, the franchise had sold over 100 million copies, making it the best-selling video sports game franchise in the world and easily the most profitable EA Sports title.
If you go back nearly ten years, you could be forgiven for preferring the games biggest rival, Pro Evolution Soccer, due to the fact that the people at Konami weren’t willing to rest on their laurels and tried to drastically improve the game year after year. However, now Pro Evo isn’t in the conversation – FIFA currently reigns far superior. In the last five years or so the game has dramatically improved and is arguably one of the most realistic sports games out there (apart from the odd publicised glitch, but that’s all part of the fun).
The two most popular game modes, ‘Career Mode’ and ‘Ultimate Team’ provide countless hours of obsessive play. The former allows you to control every aspect of a club and puts you in charge of your favourite team. Each year EA try to make it more and more realistic so that it starts to feel like you really could walk into a Premier League club and tell them what to do. The latter meanwhile is probably the widest played mode, as it’s online tournaments are easily the most fun. Building and molding your own dream-team around the best players in the world, you can go out and thrash any team in the world.
FIFA 16 will also be the first time that women’s teams have been included in the franchise. This is bound to increase sales amongst female gamers and I would comfortably put money on them developing women’s domestic leagues in the future.
1. NBA 2K
This is easily my number one pick. Many gamers, particularly here in the UK, would never have thought of playing NBA 2K. But the truth is, the franchise has been heads and shoulders above all others in terms of both gameplay developments, and just how realistic it is overall.
NBA 2K was the first game I played where every member of the crowd was unique; they had their own clothes, they moved individually, you even had a guy selling popcorn walking up and down the stairs! 2K Sports were doing this way before the new generation consoles came out, which is when the likes of EA started to change their ways and put a lot more emphasis on the virtual people watching the game. This realism makes the game so much more enjoyable as the crowd constantly react to how well, or how badly, you are doing.
Every player in the game looks like their real-life counterpart. Yes, there are only 30 teams in the NBA and only 12 players in a squad, compared to the hundred of teams and thousands of players on the likes of FIFA, but this just helps you to believe that you are actually controlling real players as you aren’t just controlling a generic figure.
It also helps that basketball is one of the best spectator sports in the world. There is hardly a dull moment in the game as it is so quick paced and there is guaranteed to be a score at the end of it. As a result, this makes the game a lot more exciting. Close games in basketball are a lot more tense than close games in any other sport.
This year, director Spike Lee has worked with 2K Sports to develop the story-line of the MyPLAYER mode. This means the mode will be more detailed, more intricate and more like real-life. You can create yourself and work from the bottom of the pack, to the top of the league. Too often though these modes are too easy to get through, but not on NBA 2K. If you have a couple of bad games, that’s it, you’re dropped.
NBA 2K is the most realistic sports gaming franchise out there, and even if you don’t watch basketball, I honestly couldn’t recommend it more.