Much like the FPS and Action Genres, Sports games this year were dominated by sequels rather than brave new IPs. Oh wait… that’s the case every year, isn’t it? Games in this genre have traditionally had the tougher task – convincing people to buy an updated version of the game they bought last year, which is why the yearly improvements become so vital.
Even then, aside from a few failures here and there, developers have managed to improve their games significantly this year. This was an awesome year for sports games, make no mistake about it – we got franchise reboots, licenses changing hands etc. Still, there were a few games that stood out and left their mark on 2010 and they are our nominees for Sports Game of the Year 2010.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 (360/PC/PS3)
Konami’s football franchise’s heyday still brings a twinkle to the eye of most football gamers. However, Pro Evo has struggled with the switchover to the current-gen while EA Sports’ FIFA has been taking big strides and has completely taken over the title of “Best Football Game on the Planet”. The last three confrontations between the two series have been total washouts – Pro Evo just couldn’t compete with the overall polish of FIFA. But that trend ended this year.
Pro Evo vs Fifa – Messi vs Ronaldo again?
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 saw Konami bring its A-Game. The introduction of 360-degree dribbling and passing, the overall improvement of the passing system, improved defense AI and just the general slowing down has made the gameplay seem incomparable to the previous editions. The addition of Online Master League to the lineup of already solid Master League and Be a Legend modes saw the game grow in its replay value, especially because online multiplayer was polished up quite a bit this year.
Is the King back? No… not really, not yet. But Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 has moved the franchise from being a lowly knight to a prince battling over ascension to the throne. Which I say, and I'm sure the fans would agree, is its rightful place.
F1 2010 (360/PC/PS3)
When it was announced the F1 license was changing hands after years of inactivity on the games front, fans of the motorsport rejoiced. Even more so because the license was going to Codemasters, tried and tested publishers who’d put out a slew of racing titles like Dirt, Grid and so on. They didn’t disappoint – F1 2010 featured some fantastic visuals, great gameplay, an immersive career mode and fun multiplayer. Adding to this was the fact that the game was extremely accessible yet challenging – something that would please sim racers and casuals alike.
Yeah, alright. It’s a racing game – but one that features a motorsport, so that makes it a pretty valid entry.
NBA 2k11 (360/PC/PS3)
Visual Concepts and 2k Sports’ entry last year was a game oozing with potential but one that was brought down by innumerable game-breaking bugs. They got it right this year though, as NBA 2k11 was a highly polished title with outstanding presentation, fantastic gameplay and great game modes. In terms of improvements, it was completely unrecognizable from last year’s effort – and for a sports game, saying that can only be a good thing.
2k11 brought the Heat this year
Oh and did I mention Michael Jordan? MJ23 plays a huge role in this game, as you have the Jordan challenges, where you try and better Jordan’s accomplishments in several key games spanning his glorious career. Nostalgia for the win, I say!
Football Manager 2011 (PC)
Sega and Sports Interactive’s Football Manager games have always had to contend with one statement their fans threw at them – “It’s uber-realistic and great, but it’s still not as fun to play as Championship Manager 01/02”. For a series that was an evolution of Championship Manager, I’m sure it was a hard pill to swallow. So SI went back to the drawing board and brought out a game this year that maintained that incredible detail which football fans loved so much about the series, and also managed to make it very fun to play.
Oh so immersive, even if it doesn't look very impressive
Improved staff/player interaction, real-time negotiations, the inclusion of agents and their personalities (which are a huge part of real-life deals) and the overall refinement of the gameplay made this year’s FM the best yet – and for a series this good, that’s a pretty strong statement.
MLB 10: The Show (PS3)
Sony San Diego’s PS3 exclusive has been the undisputed king of baseball games ever since EA lost the baseball license and stopped making MVP games after 05. The MLB 2k series has never once looked like legit competition, so they would’ve been forgiven for taking it easy for a year (okay, maybe not but you know what I mean). That’s not how they roll though, so MLB 10: The Show brought some vast improvements and an absolutely insane amount of content to the table.
Baseball at its very best
The Gameplay has nearly been perfected for a couple of years now, but the few changes they made didn’t hurt. The Franchise mode has incredible depth to it, and the game also features Road to the Show which is the best career mode in sports games – bar none. This game could have you playing for months, like it had me hooked for nearly six months after I got the game. Really, Sony’s MLB series is underplayed, under-rated and undervalued – to the point that it’s almost funny. Most of that could be attributed to baseball’s lack of popularity outside the US, but that rings hollow because you don’t even need to be a fan of or enjoy baseball to like this game – it was that good.
So that does it for the nominations and without further ado, here’s the winner:
The moment I saw His Airness, Michael Jordan staring me in the face before I even saw a single menu screen of the game, I knew Visual Concepts were onto something special. I’ve always been a fan of the NBA 2k series, but even I didn’t expect such a triumphant return to form following last year’s bomb.
NBA 2k11 was, in a word, incredible. Fantastic visuals and presentation aside, the gameplay was a delight and a glorious throwback to the series’ heyday on the PS2. Add to that the already solid Association mode and a My Player mode that’s finally fulfilling its potential after the bug-ridden no-show it was last year, and NBA 2k11 becomes a fitting winner of our Sports Game of the Year 2010.
To be honest though, this was a really tough decision. MLB10 was a lock-on for this award and maybe even overall GOTY because of how much I played and enjoyed it until NBA2k11 came out. However, the salary bug in the Franchise and Road to the Show modes brought it down a notch and when two games this good are going up against each other, even the smallest of things can turn the tide.
Still, this leaves me with plenty of excitement for 2011. There are plenty of awesome games coming out, yes, but the sports games should be right up there too. Come March and we should have MLB 11: The Show with Move and 3D support, which are pretty awesome inclusions in a baseball game. Of course, we’ll still have the big hitters later in the year and there’s still the slim chance of absolutely massive franchises like Madden and NHL coming back to their best.
Oh boy, I cannot wait. 2011’s going to be great and it’s only a couple of days away! Season’s greetings everyone, and have an absolutely ballin’ New Year (don’t forget the games).