2015 Reviews in Review: Sports Games

One thing that really separates sports games from other genre is the fact that year after year, a company can put out a reworked version of last year’s game and sell it for 60 bucks, often with no more than a few minor changes. This is not to detract from the immense effort put into these games, though – the steady evolution of sports games, especially in long-running franchises like Madden NFL, is one of the most interesting phenomena in the video gaming industry. These games are almost always on the cutting edge of technology, which means that 2006’s NHL game is going to be a lot different from 2016’s. We’ve come a long way since the days of Tecmo Bowl – or Super NFL Football on the Intellivision for that matter. Plus, who doesn’t want to get a chance to coach or play as the hottest new players of the year?

For the purposes of this article, we're going to be treating racing games as sports games – mostly because there's not really anywhere else to put them, but also because they lend themselves towards similar audiences, including people who don’t otherwise play games and people who enjoy getting in fights with their friends. So keep reading to see what we covered this year in sports and racing games.


Mario Kart 8

Of course we’d start here, huh? Mario Kart has been the social game par excellence since the first installment on the Super NES way back in 1992. Since then, the series has evolved in several different directions, some of them welcomed among players, others not so much. Mario Kart 8 adds several new features to this old standby, and features almost 40 playable characters when you include unlockable characters, DLC, etc. And then there’s the amiibos, of course.

Whether you're playing solo, split-screen with up to four players, or online with up to 16 players, Mario Kart 8 is always fun and always a challenge. Most of the new features involve the tracks themselves – in particular the anti-gravity aspects, which turn your kart into a sort of hovercar. There are also lots more colors, lots more curves, and just more design in general. The graphics are way better than in previous Mario Kart games, and you can really see how much love and attention to detail Nintendo put into this one.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour

It took about two years since EA put out a new major golf game, replacing Tiger Woods with 26-year-old Rory McIlroy as their title golfer for the PGA Tour series. Woods had been the feature player since 1998, and fans were looking forward to seeing which new direction EA Tiburon would be going in for their first 8th-gen golf game.

Unfortunately, we felt that the new game was a bit limited in comparison to what EA had promised (big surprise there!), though the graphics are of course, excellent. A major problem – as we see it – is that EA has decided to change their previous “once a year” release timeline in favor of a system where they keep building upon the current game with regular content updates. And playing the current version, it didn't take long for us to see how desperately these updates are needed, as the scope of the game is disappointing on almost every level, and without new content to add some depth to what is currently a pretty shallow base game.

Compared with other recent titles in the series, EA Tiburon has trimmed down the interesting content in just about every aspect of the game, instead replacing it with unnecessary features like Quick Rounds in career mode. However, it still remains to be seen how often we'll be able to expect the significant content updates that will flesh the game out enough to keep it alive. We did find a few things impressive, like the “Night Club Challenge” mode, but as a whole, there isn’t much to get excited about there – yet.


NHL 16

EA Sports’ NHL 16, developed by EA Canada (because, of course), is the latest installment in a series that has been running for over two decades. Well received by critics as an improvement over NHL 15, the game features a variety of game modes and an insane amount of detail for players who like to really get into the nuts and bolts of things.

“Be a GM” is exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to manage your own team and take them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s also a “Hockey Ultimate Team” mode, which is a carryover from EA’s massively popular FIFA series, where you can build your own dream team by collecting player cards, then face off against other players online.

NHL 16 won us over with its ability to create exactly the right atmosphere for a hockey game, thanks in no small part to excellent graphics and sound design. The wide variety of options available guarantees that there's something in it for everyone, and since each one has its own unique set of challenges, you can play through more than one simultaneously, switching back and forth whenever you feel like it. The fast-paced matches themselves are a ton of fun and a hell of a challenge, especially at higher difficulty levels. All in all, NHL 16 is a really entertaining game that should definitely please hockey fans, and anybody thinking about becoming one.     



Madden NFL 16

For decades now, Madden NFL has been the official game of the National Football League and all the hype that goes with it. The latest game in the series does not disappoint. Madden NFL 16 looks amazing, and does a bang-up job of bringing the NFL experience to home consoles. The the sheer multitude of options when picking plays, drafting players, managing your team's abilities, and adjusting the game settings are breathtaking, though a bit daunting for players who aren’t extremely familiar with the sport. If you think you might be able to just jump in and start playing without first learning a thing or two about strategy, tactics, time management, and basic terminology, you're going to be disappointed, though Madden does offer an introduction to the world of football – but only if you're prepared to put in some effort on your part.

The amount of detail that goes into all these things is amazing, highlighting the fact that this truly is “the greatest show on turf”, as some in the NFL so humbly describe it. And of course, the graphics and sound are second to none, which is one area where EA does not usually disappoint. Anyone who's willing to put the time in is going to discover a game that's supremely entertaining, one with a whole lot of depth and replay value.


Pro Evolution Soccer 2016

Since most people are only going to buy one soccer game each year, if they buy a new one at all, Konami has their work cut out for them, as most people just spring for FIFA. Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series has done what it could over the past several years, flourishing even in the shadow of its rival.

While 2015’s game was kind of a let-down, we were highly impressed with PES 2016. The overall experience is extremely authentic, with realistic gameplay, awesome graphics, and a brand new pair of commentators. Game modes include “Become a Legend”, allowing you to live out the career of a single player, and “myClub”, Konami’s answer to the FIFA Ultimate Team Pendant, is an online league where you can play quick online matches against friends.     

While some top-level leagues are still noticeably absent (such as the German Bundesliga), they kind of make up for it by including lots of exclusive UEFA leagues and leagues from South America and Asia, as well as licenses for individual teams in the leagues that aren’t available. And there are also national teams, including the current champions.


Each year, just as surely as you can expect an exciting match between Barça and Real in El Clásico, you can count on EA Sports to put out a new version of their hugely popular soccer franchise FIFA. This year’s most interesting new feature has to be the introduction of 12 women’s national teams for the first time ever – they look extremely authentic, too, and most importantly they play a bit differently from their male counterparts.

But more than that, just looking at the list of stuff EA Sports included in FIFA 2016, it’s pretty much everything you could ask for. More than 650 clubs and 30 whole leagues made it into the game, all with official licenses. This includes the top 4 English leagues including the Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga 1 and 2, the American MLS, and many more.

EA did pretty much everything right with this one. An extraordinary amount of minor innovations and improvements included a totally overhauled FIFA Ultimate Team Draft system, a coach that helps beginning players, new tricks, and new animations. They’ve also done a great job improving the defensive behavior of AI-controlled players on both sides of the ball. Graphics and sound play at the highest levels, and combining these with the official licenses, EA has managed to create an experience that is absolutely authentic. However, there isn't much daylight between FIFA 16 and PES 2016, and players are going to have to decide which one they want to buy based more on personal taste than hard data.

World of Fishing

World of Fishing is a free-to-play MMO that’s currently in open beta. It’s a fishing game, so it’s mostly targeted at people who enjoy fishing but don’t like cleaning the fish they catch. The game’s MMO aspects come in the form of fishing statistics that show which players have made the biggest catch, and also in competitions where several different teams vie for the biggest and most exotic specimens. It features a wide variety of different fish species, settings, and character customization options.

As our reviewer put it: Even though I don’t fish, World of Fishing kept me hooked for several hours, driven by the desire to catch my first shark. The basic gameplay is very simple and suspenseful at the same time, and sometimes you can just let the game run in the background while you go check your email or something before you cast your line again.

Need for Speed               

Need for Speed is the most successful racing franchises out there, and the series saw a major reboot in late 2015, developed by Ghost Games. It’s a good game, but it does have several annoying features (or lack thereof), including a completely out-of-control rubber-band AI and an obligatory online component, not to mention a lame, yet over-the-top storyline.

On the positive side of things, it’s a decent open-world racer with some awesome graphics, great sound effects (and soundtrack), excellent tuning options, an empty, but impressive-looking city, and a huge selection of licensed cars that all handle differently. And one more cool thing is that all future DLC packs are going to be free, and EA is working hard on patching bugs and other issues. Is it a worthy reboot of the Need for Speed series that captures the essence of the earlier games? No. But is it a good arcade racer with a ton of content that you can have fun with for a long time? Sure it is!



Well, that's it for the sports games we reviewed in 2015. Hope you enjoyed, and Happy New Year!

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2016-01-09 09:51:57... - Юра

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