In many ways, this past console generation was a brutal one for sports video games. While other genres flourished, sports gamers were subjected to an irreversible thinning of the herd during the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/Wii era, losing MLB 2K, 2K Sports football, NHL 2K, both NCAA basketball franchises, and seeing arcade sports games all but vanish. Competition, which breeds innovation, is weaker than ever. But that’s not to say some standout games didn’t arrive as well.
Given the much smaller pool of games, picking 10 titles to celebrate in the sports category was tough when following our End of an Era rule of excluding multiple entries from the respective franchises. If we took the other approach, the list would be littered with multiple entries from the MLB, NBA 2K, and FIFA series. We feel the final list presented here is much more interesting. If you’re looking for action sports entries like SSX, Tony Hawk, and Skate, you won’t find them here. For better or worse, Game Informer has traditionally classified those as action games.
Without further delay, here are our 10 best sports games of the generation.
10. College Hoops 2K8
The death of college basketball games hasn’t killed the spirit of the final offering from 2K Sports. Thanks to the 2K Share functionality that allows players to create rosters and upload them for others to download, players continued to update the game well after its first year. Even after 2K shut the servers down, passionate fans have found new avenues to share rosters for each season. The signature 2K presentation featuring ESPN, an updated passing system, and the recruiting system keeps players coming back for more – as well as the fact that nobody is making new games to service this fan base.
9. All Pro Football 2K8
After EA locked up NFL exclusivity and killed off the fantastic NFL 2K series, Visual Concepts eventually left the gridiron. Before it did, however, the developers made one last game centered on a fantastic idea – building an ultimate team of NFL legends. The single-player mode and lack of NFL insignias hurt the game, but it shined online as users created diverse rosters showcasing greats like Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, and Deacon Jones. We’d love to see this idea revisited with a deeper roster of players and all-star teams for each pro franchise.
8. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
While Tiger Woods the golfer has struggled in recent years, Tiger Woods the video game has fared better. The Masters edition is our favorite edition of the past generation for many reasons. The introduction of caddies and a unified career structure made a big difference. EA integrated Tiger Challenges directly into the career path, and tied equipment upgrades to meeting sponsorship challenges.
7. Madden NFL 13
EA Tiburon got off on the wrong foot with Madden NFL 06, and despite the lack of competition, the studio was seemingly playing from behind for most of this console generation. Some incremental improvements helped the game find its footing toward the end of the era, but no change was more welcome than the introduction of Connected Careers in Madden 13. Featuring a news hub keeping you abreast of league news, social media chatter, online franchises with a full-fledged feature set, and a new RPG-style player progression, Connected Careers is a good foundation for EA to continue to build on with future franchise modes.
6. MLB 11: The Show
No series demonstrated more consistency over the course of the generation than The Show. Each subsequent year honed the fantastic animations, excellent broadcast presentation, and addictive single-player mode that has you play your way through the minors and into major league ballparks. We give MLB 11 the nod over the other entries thanks to the introduction of analog controls for hitting, pitching, and fielding.
5. Fight Night Champion
This ambitious effort from EA Canada took video game storytelling to a new level with a narrative campaign following the boxer Andre Bishop. After being set up by a corrupt promotor, Bishop must survive prison, restart his career, and face some personal demons on the way to contending for the title belt against one of the best villains of the generation. In addition, the game featured a deep roster of legendary and current fighters for players to spar with and a deep online mode.
4. NCAA Football 11
For much of this generation, the best football game on consoles was not the big brother Madden, but NCAA. Many innovations introduced to the gridiron came from the college ranks, including icing kickers, defensive player lock, gang tackling, the great Team Builder, NCAA 11’s fantastic online Dynasty Wire. This web interface let you chronicle your league’s accomplishments with articles, photos, and uploaded replays on a dedicated website – a perfect way to take trash talking with friends to a new level. On the gridiron, the game took some important steps forward as well with improved animation system and reworked blocking.
3. NHL 09
FIFA and Madden may get the bigger budgets and larger development teams, but for a while during this generation the much smaller NHL team at EA Canada was outpacing them quality-wise. The best of its efforts, NHL 09, is remembered fondly for introducing two new ways to play the game – Be A Pro and the six-on-six online league known as the EASHL. These new modes made the underwhelming franchise mode easier to stomach. Refined defensive tools like checking, stick lifts, and improved poke checks gave NHL 09 the best controls in sports games at the time, making it one of the true standouts of the generation.
2. NBA 2K11
The NBA 2K series may have struggled with online modes for much of the generation, but you can’t deny the franchise’s presentation polish, continually improving gameplay, and boldness to introduce new modes. The best of these efforts was NBA 2K11’s Jordan Challenge. This trip down memory lane tapped the rich historical vein of sports, which for some reason is left largely untouched by most sports series. Letting you relive the biggest moments of Michael Jordan’s career wasn’t only informative; the challenges made you realize that he played the game of basketball like someone cheesing in a video game. NBA 2K11 also won points for its stellar Association mode, which at the time was the best franchise mode in games.
1. FIFA 14
After FIFA 10, the gameplay on the pitch just kept getting better, and FIFA 14 is the apex with improved player movement, better team intelligence, and cooperative season. We could have picked any FIFA game from this window, but 14 is a jack-of-all-trades game excels no matter how you want to play. Versus online, career modes, Ultimate Team, training drills – each of these deep modes created by EA Canada offers a compelling experience. We dare you to find a better bang-for-the-buck sports game.
source: Matt Bertz /gameinformer