The lights are on
As is to be expected at this juncture in the console cycle, most of the development teams working on sports games are in their comfort zone, making subtle tweaks to pre-existing foundations rather than making wholesale changes or introducing big idea innovations. This was reflected in our reviews, as MLB 2K11 and Madden NFL 12 were the only major sports games that scored under an 8.0 from Game Informer this year. MLB 11: The Show introduced analog pitching. Tiger Woods solidified its career mode and included The Masters for the first time ever. The criminally underrated NHL series took a slight step back, but still offers a good experience for hockey fans. FIFA had a banner year, and NBA 2K12 would have if it weren't for the league lockout and the embarrassingly broken online experience. Read on to see which games earned our year-end sports awards.
Best Franchise Mode: NCAA Football 12
No franchise mode made a drastic leap in quality this year, but NCAA Football 12 tweaked Dynasty mode’s solid foundation with a long-requested feature that injected coaching drama into the mix. The coaching carousel allowed users to start as an offensive or defensive coordinator and work their way into a head coaching offer by producing results on the field. Combine this with a deep recruiting system that accurately distributed talent across the teams and the ability to customize conferences, and you have a mode worthy of praise.
Best Career Mode: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
Centering the career mode on The Masters tournament finally gave Tiger Woods PGA Tour a cohesive structure that chronicles your rise from amateur to PGA Tour champion. Players start in the amateur ranks and must perform well to work their way onto golf’s biggest stage. The revamped sponsorship system demands you perform at a certain level to preserve your contract, and EA finally introduced the mid-round save so you don’t have to finish a leg of a tourney in one sitting.
Best Multiplayer: FIFA 12
No sports game made bigger advances in online competition this year than FIFA. Though the popular Virtual Pro Clubs and Ultimate Team mode went virtually untouched, EA Canada drastically overhauled the interface for head-to-head matchups. Now users can choose their teams, kits, and lineup changes before jumping in an online match, and the matchmaking is smart enough to pair you with a team of similar quality, which encourages fans of less-talented teams like, say, Leeds United, to take their favorite squad online. Top it off with a clever Support Your Club feature that tracks which team supporters most fervently play FIFA, and you have the makings for a destination online experience.
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